Q: My family moved out of our rental home in Eden Prairie three weeks ago, after having lived there for seven years and eight months. Our landlord just sent me a horrible e-mail saying that he was disappointed with the state the house was left in, particularly the carpet. This came as a shock to us, as nothing was mentioned during the final walk-through. In fact, the landlord thanked us for being excellent tenants, and gave us a lovely gift basket on departure.
I admit that there were stains in high-traffic areas. We are a family of five with two dogs. Our dogs are well trained to always relieve themselves outside. I believe that the poor state of the carpet falls under normal wear from a growing active family of five, with pets, who lived in a home for an extended period of time. However, our landlord is adamant that we are responsible for replacing the carpet. I have a feeling he may threaten or try to take us to court over the carpet cost. What are we responsible for, regarding the carpet? If this case does go to small-claims court, how do judges typically rule on issues regarding carpet?
A: In Minnesota, your landlord has 21 days to return your entire security deposit or send you a letter outlining the amounts withheld and why, along with the remainder of your deposit. Since you didn’t mention receiving this letter or check, I’m assuming it may be coming soon. The law states that your landlord may withhold from your security deposit only the amount reasonably necessary to cover rent owed or other money owed based on an agreement, or to restore the place to its condition at the start of your lease, with the exception of ordinary wear and tear.
You didn’t mention whether you had a move-in checklist, but you might have done one, since you did do a final walk-through with your landlord. If you have photos of the condition of the carpet at the time you moved in, or a move-in checklist of the condition of the carpeting when you moved in, along with photos of what the carpet looks like now, that could be used as evidence to assist you with your landlord. For example, if your move-in checklist notes that the carpet had some stains or was worn in places, that will be strong evidence to prove that the carpet wasn’t in perfect condition when you moved in.
Typically, tenants aren’t required to pay for new carpet, unless the carpet was new when they moved in, the tenants weren’t living there long, and the carpet shows a great deal of damage. Even if the carpet was new when you moved in, most judges realize that landlords depreciate carpets over a period of time, usually not exceeding seven years. Since your family lived in the home almost eight years, and seven years is generally the depreciation time for carpets, most judges would consider any damage to the carpet to be normal wear and tear. It seems unfair to have you live there more than seven years, with ordinary wear and tear on the carpet, while the landlord has the ability to write off the carpet depreciation, and then charge you for brand-new carpet. Most judges recognize this, and do not require a tenant to pay for new carpet in situations like yours.
If your landlord does take you to conciliation court, or withholds your security deposit to cover the cost of carpet replacement, then you should bring to court photos of the carpet, before and after, if you have any, along with a copy of your move-in and move-out checklist, and any other proof you have acquired over the years. All judges rule differently, but most courts would not require you to cover the cost of new carpet after living in your rental home longer than seven years, absent some intentional damage.
Kelly Klein is a Minneapolis attorney. Participation in this column does not create an attorney/client relationship with Klein. Do not rely on advice in this column for legal opinions. Consult an attorney regarding your particular issues. E-mail renting questions to firstname.lastname@example.org, or write to Kelly Klein c/o Star Tribune, 650 3rd Av. S., Minneapolis, MN 55488. Information provided by readers is not confidential.