Dave’s here to answer your questions every Wednesday, so send them to him at tenant@sfappeal.com, here’s what to make sure to include in your letter.

carpet.jpgWhen we moved in, our landlord warned us that the carpet ‘easily stains’ so we must take our shoes off. We do but after two years of living there, the carpet is definitely worn down.

Now she claims that the carpet should not be so dirty and that our upstairs neighbor has the same carpet that is very clean. We also have had a few accidents which we know we are responsible for- a few burn marks and a nail polish stain. The landlord is claiming that because of how dirty the carpet is in addition to the marks, we will be responsible for replacing the entire apartment because she does not want ‘seams’!

If the carpet is thoroughly cleaned when we move out, and all that remain are the few marks we are responsible for, can she make us replace the entire carpeting?

Ah, carpets…one of the big three, along with hardwood floors and ovens. If all landlords are attracted to a dirty ovens like Sylvia Plath, then those with carpets must surely be dubbed Wall-To-Wall-Aladdins. “The tenants made the lovely shag carpet (it’s forty fucking years old) lose its magic!”

My first, unrelated, question is: How the hell does your landlord even know about the “dirty” condition of the carpets? What, do you just let her in when she knocks? Is that okay with you? If it is, get a fucking backbone and understand that landlords must give notice–written, legal notice–to enter your apartment.

The dispositive question one must ask is, “How old is the carpet?” That’s important because carpets don’t last forever. Here’s an example from the California Department of Consumer Affairs:

Carpets and drapes – “useful life” rule
Normal wear and tear to carpets, drapes and other furnishings cannot be charged against a tenant’s security deposit. (Civil Code Section 1950.5(e).) Normal wear and tear includes simple wearing down of carpet and drapes because of normal use or aging, and includes moderate dirt or spotting. In contrast, large rips or indelible stains justify a deduction from the tenant’s security deposit for repairing the carpet or drapes, or replacing them if that is reasonably necessary.

One common method of calculating the deduction for replacement prorates the total cost of replacement so that the tenant pays only for the remaining useful life of the item that the tenant has damaged or destroyed. For example, suppose a tenant has damaged beyond repair an eight-year-old carpet that had a life expectancy of ten years, and that a replacement carpet of similar quality would cost $1,000. The landlord could properly charge only $200 for the two years’ worth of life (use) that would have remained if the tenant had not damaged the carpet.

There aren’t many carpets that have much more life expectancy than ten years. When you apply the same formula above to the “I’m walking on roadkill” (think Katrina and the Waves) carpet, your landlord ought to owe you some dough.

But in your case, if the carpet is relatively new, you may owe the landlord some money if you move and she deducts it from your security deposit.

Just between you and me, and this ain’t legal advice by any stretch of the imagination, I’ve repaired carpets myself. One can do things like carefully trimming off the burned top of the pile on the carpet. Or, cutting out a little piece of the carpet in a closet and gluing it in a small stained area that one has carefully removed like a hair plug. I’m talking small area here, like at most an half an inch square. Don’t try to replace the blood stains from a Goodfellas-style beat down.

Ask an expert. There are plenty of tricks to repair carpet that won’t involve a security deposit deduction.

Make sure you take photos when you move out. If the landlord attempts to deduct from your security deposit, go to the San Francisco Tenants Union to discuss how you can sue her for maximum damages.

Finally, ask yourself, “What kind of asshole would have a carpet in a rental unit that ‘easily stains’ except a Cheese Ball who relies on her tenants to pay for its replacement every time they move out?” Should you have rented from that asshole in the first place?

Dave Crow is an attorney who specializes in San Francisco landlord tenant law. However, the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice, and the information is general in nature. Consult the advice of an attorney for any specific problem. You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Dave Crow or his firm, Crow & Rose unless they have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this site with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

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the author

Dave Crow is an attorney who specializes in San Francisco landlord tenant law. However, the opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author, do not constitute legal advice, and the information is general in nature. Consult the advice of an attorney for any specific problem. You understand that no attorney-client relationship will exist with Dave Crow or his firm, Crow & Rose unless they have agreed to represent you. You should not respond to this site with any information that you believe is highly confidential.

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  • Greg Dewar

    I have a question that’s sort of the opposite of this – what if after living in a few years in a unit that had so so carpet to begin with, the carpet becomes useless and a possible health hazard? can a tenant ask that the carpet be repaired?

    I have a friend that’s been living in a unit since the 1990s and even back then it was old , but now it’s super beaten down and she’s been in the unit the entire time. I realize the witty rejoinder is “why not just move” but she’s got a good deal and can’t afford to move out right now.

  • Greg Dewar

    I have a question that’s sort of the opposite of this – what if after living in a few years in a unit that had so so carpet to begin with, the carpet becomes useless and a possible health hazard? can a tenant ask that the carpet be repaired?

    I have a friend that’s been living in a unit since the 1990s and even back then it was old , but now it’s super beaten down and she’s been in the unit the entire time. I realize the witty rejoinder is “why not just move” but she’s got a good deal and can’t afford to move out right now.

  • Dave Crow

    Greg,

    It is my understanding that Housing Inspectors are reluctant to violate carpets unless there are obvious safety issues–big holes, tripping hazards, etc. I think if one could demonstrate that a wall-to-wall carpet was permeated with mold that would probably fly as well. Unfortunately landlords and many inspectors treat old carpets like wet dogs–they may stink, but they’re okay unless they bite you.

    Of course, the case law is also like an old dirty carpet–worn, gray and not tenant-friendly.

    You don’t need a violation to show a decrease in services at the Rent Board, but the evidence should be compelling–graphic photos or a sample of the carpet that reeks, or better yet, moves.

    Dave

  • Dave Crow

    Greg,

    It is my understanding that Housing Inspectors are reluctant to violate carpets unless there are obvious safety issues–big holes, tripping hazards, etc. I think if one could demonstrate that a wall-to-wall carpet was permeated with mold that would probably fly as well. Unfortunately landlords and many inspectors treat old carpets like wet dogs–they may stink, but they’re okay unless they bite you.

    Of course, the case law is also like an old dirty carpet–worn, gray and not tenant-friendly.

    You don’t need a violation to show a decrease in services at the Rent Board, but the evidence should be compelling–graphic photos or a sample of the carpet that reeks, or better yet, moves.

    Dave

  • Rogre’

    A carpet that “Moves” is good.

  • Rogre’

    A carpet that “Moves” is good.

  • Tim Rogers

    Dave,

    I see that the useful life rule uses a hypothetical where the carpet has a useful life of ten years. Is that a guideline, or does CA law state that’s the useful life?

  • Tim Rogers

    Dave,

    I see that the useful life rule uses a hypothetical where the carpet has a useful life of ten years. Is that a guideline, or does CA law state that’s the useful life?

  • Allison Stevens

    We moved in with ” new carpet”. Our landlord is a notorious cheap skate, and our carpets started tearing and ripping a week after we moved in. I have never had or seen worse carpet. We are planning on staying a year. How much should we expect as a ” reasonable deduction”?

  • Allison Stevens

    We moved in with ” new carpet”. Our landlord is a notorious cheap skate, and our carpets started tearing and ripping a week after we moved in. I have never had or seen worse carpet. We are planning on staying a year. How much should we expect as a ” reasonable deduction”?

  • Mel Melanie Luna

    can they charge me for replacing a carpet and not actually replace it?? they haven’t replaced it and we have proof of it, can they really just keep my money and replace it when they feel it’s ok for them? (aka charging all the future tenants for the same damn spot that they probably made themselves to steal from all of us?)

    • 94103er

      The law doesn’t pertain to what the landlord does with the money. It only stipulates that you can’t be charged for ‘normal’ wear and tear. So if you made a small stain and got charged for replacement, that’s illegal.

      As for an existing stain, if it’s there when you moved in you have to remember to document it, i.e. time-stamp photos or whatever. That way you can prove in court that you didn’t make the stain in the first place. Which, I recognize, is a huge pain in the ass, but that’s how the system works.

      • Mel Melanie Luna

        so basically I don’t have a case on the fact that the carpet hasn’t been changed??

        I am reading the whole section in the california Law and nowhere does it say they are allowed to repair after the 21 days. If the repair can’t be done in those 21 days, then they have to present me with an estimate of the cost and reimburse me or leave it at that when they actually do the repair. Since they haven’t changed it, it looks to me like they are trying to scam me.

  • Kevin Smith

    Really do you want to deal with a lawyer who spits out words like fucking and asshole in his copy?

  • Lili

    you say the normal expected life of a carpet is 10 years. How about a nice expensive Persian rug? those simply last at least 50 years or so. How shall one calculate the damage on that?

    • Tyrant-Osaurus Wrecks!

      If you have a persian rug in a rental, you’re a tool.

  • mike

    im paralyzed in wheelchair k ive lived in this apaertment 21/2 years in a wheelchair. the old carpet is damaged can the landlorsd pay for wooden floors or do i have to pay