Weigh the risk: Is a TV mount or new paint job worth losing your rent deposit?

A furnished bedroom for children

If you’re planning to move out of that $4,000-a-month Uptown apartment and buy a home of your own, you might want to think twice about knocking a hole in the apartment wall to mount your 70-inch TV set. Reconsider ripping out the kitchen tile or replacing all the light fixtures. At least, don’t do those things if you’re counting on getting your deposit back to help with the down payment on the new place.

As rents soar, deposits do, too. The typical deposit on a year-long lease is one month’s rent. That raises the stakes for tenants, who risk forfeiting their deposits to cover damages. The nation’s Realtors recently warned renters that landlords don’t like tenants mounting TVs on random walls. It was an important reminder, because we do love our big screens. Some of us can’t get by without one in every room.

The same is true in Charlotte, says T.J. Larsen of My Home Leasing, whose firm manages more than 600 units priced from $1,000 to $5,000 a month. What’s more, he points out, the stakes go up because it can cost more to repair and refurbish high-end properties.

“If you leave that TV mount there, or leave holes in the wall, that repair is not as simple as spreading some spackle,” he says. “You can’t just do spot touchup.”

Workers might have to make major drywall repairs and paint at least from corner to corner. Most of us wouldn’t treat a rented place as if we owned it—but some tenants do. And sometimes they don’t understand why they shouldn’t.

Larsen says one tenant removed and replaced all the light fixtures and window coverings in an apartment.

“It was just by happenstance that we caught that they weren’t the original fixtures and window treatments,” he says. “Then they were very upset their deposit was retained.”

Larsen explains that the lease stated clearly that the tenant couldn’t make such changes. The tenant said the new stuff looked perfectly fine. Another time Larsen was helping a client leave an apartment and buy a home of his own. When they toured the new place, the client told Larsen, “I hate that tile. I ripped it out of my last property.”

Yes, the client replaced tile in the rental apartment.

Larsen says it’s hard to have a rational conversation with a tenant who genuinely doesn’t comprehend the boundaries. “They don’t understand. They simply don’t understand.”

Other times, he says, they want exactly what they want—and are willing to “roll the dice” when it comes to how much it might cost them.

If you’re a renter wondering what you can and cannot do, here are a couple of tips: (A) Read the lease; (B) read it again.

Even that’s not perfectly clear cut, though. Some leases might say you can’t hang pictures with nails. Most of us would, and Larsen says state real estate rule-makers told his firm every tenant is going to hang pictures. Rule-makers consider that normal wear and tear.

If you want to negotiate something like painting, Larsen suggests, do it before you sign the lease. If you’re already in, call before you buy paint. Larsen says his firm’s property managers would want to see a color sample, and would want you to hire a professional painter.

“You never know what kind of job someone is going to do,” he says.

Do a sloppy job and you risk that big deposit.

Photo: Thinkstock


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