Perhaps the biggest misunderstanding landlord’s have is the valuation of damages. Florida law controls how we are to valuate damages. We cannot get into the vast details of what the law provides regarding this topic, but here are few rules that we must follow.
We are not permitted to charge the tenant full replacement value for an item that has depreciated in value. The court will depreciate the item that is damaged, and the tenant would owe that depreciated value of the damaged item. For example, the tenant burns the carpet in the living room; and the carpet is 10 years old. The court will not order the tenant to pay replacement value of the 10 year old carpet; but will order the tenant pay for the depreciated value of the damaged carpet. For another example, if the tenant damages a 5 year old microwave beyond repair, the tenant is responsible to replace a 5 year old microwave of similar like and kind, not to buy a new microwave at full replacement value.
If there is a damaged item that needs to be replaced, we will depreciate the value of the item, but a fair market labor charge can be claimed for having to replace the item. We are careful not to include labor unrelated to the replacement of the damaged item.
There is a gray area of law regarding what constitutes “normal wear and tear”. There can be a fine line between “normal wear and tear” and damages. In general, courts do not consider normal cleaning costs to be “beyond normal wear and tear”. In general, if there is not enough proof that the tenant intentionally or negligently caused damages, the court may find that the damage that occurred was due to normal wear and tear, and thus will not hold the tenant liable. Where evidence cannot establish beyond a preponderance of the evidence that the matter in question is beyond “normal wear and tear”, we do not make a claim for that item.
There is a legal principle about “economic waste”. That is, if the court has a choice of ordering the tenant to pay the landlord a lesser or greater amount to make the landlord whole, the court will choose the lesser amount. For example, if the tenant damaged the front door, and it can be repaired by applying new paint, the court will not order the tenant to pay for a whole new door. The simple rule is, whatever the least amount of money it takes to make the landlord “whole”, that is the amount that should be claimed.
If the damages caused by the tenant exceed the security deposit claim, you have the following basic options:
file a lawsuit yourself for damages;
hire an attorney to file a lawsuit for damages; or
hire a collection company to collect for monies owed under the lease agreement.
There is no guarantee of success on any of these options. If the tenant does not have enough income, does not own sufficient assets, or files bankruptcy, you may not be able to collect. Thus, you should consult an attorney of your choice to determine whether or not the “juice is worth the squeeze”.