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Does "normal wear and tear" include painting the unit after you leave it and shampooing the carpet after you leave the unit?

Seattle, WA |

My rental agreement for The City of Seattle says that "soilage" of the carpet is NOT considered "normal wear and tear". If you come in from outside with your shoes on IT WILL make the carpet dirty. If the unit has to be painted after you vacate the premises a landlord-tenant attorney told me IT WAS considered "normal wear and tear". Could you please tell me if these ARE "normal wear and tear"?

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Attorney answers 1


I've seen that words in rental agreements. What in the world is soilage, anyway? Are you responsible to replace burnt out lightbulbs? No! Just as if you were in a hotel and a lamp was not working, you would call for a replacement, not blame yourself and replace it on your dime. Similarly, soilage is an undefineable term much beloved of landlords because it is meaningless.

Contracts are always construed against the drafter. The RLTA is specifically exempted from the WA Consumer Protection Act, but there is a sub-statute that says that no contract can evade the protections built into the RLTA without the relevant term being unenforceable.

I have litigated the issue of whether it is reasonable to impose a "painting charge" in the absence of any evidence that the tenant damaged the walls such that the walls needed repainting. The mere passage of time is not the tenant's fault. The landlord is receiving rents that are supposed to cover things like paint. Now if the tenant without permission uses the walls to create a Jackson Pollock mural, then I could see the landlord demanding compensation to return the walls to their pre-mural condition.

As you are aware, Seattle has a climate where people routinely wear shoes and go outside into conditions that include leaves, muddy bits, rain, and occasionally snow. Those same people then go home into their rental units and have the temerity to walk on the floors, even the carpets. You are absolutely correct that leaving the outdoors and coming inside will, even with the best standards of care, normally transfer dirt to the carpet. Thus, that's normal.

Now if you decided to make a Jackson Pollock mural on your floor with paint and india ink, that's damage.

So the attorney you consulted is correct and the landlord has to demonstrate that the reason they had to paint is damage, not normal wear and tear. This is also why tenants should clean the oven and the icky bits out of the refrigerator, but are not required (no matter what the landlord says) to clean the refrigerator coils to remove the dust. Dust is normal. Fossilized broccoli is not.

The objective of the landlord is to reduce costs. "Turning" an apartment is the work necessary to take the apartment from the last tenant and make it sparkly- clean for showing to prospective new tenants. If the landlord can guilt the previous tenant into doing the work for him, then he saves the cost. Never mind that ordinary maintenance is a deprecable line item for a landlord, and damage is covered by insurance.

My suggestion is always, always, to find a professional apartment-cleaner to come to your place on your final day to clean the place. They will give you a nice, professional receipt so you can show what they did and what you paid for to have it done. THEN be present for the walk through and point out each punch list line item for the manager/owner. With any luck that will be the end of it. I've written a couple of legal guides on this subject and I hope they will help you.

Okay, off my soapbox now! Cheers - Elizabeth Powell

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