Q: I have a tenant who lived in my rental for 2 year and smoked inside. The smoke caused discoloration of the walls, requiring me to repaint the unit at a cost of $2,500. The paint was brand new when he moved in. Can I charge this full amount to the tenant?

A: You have to take into account how old the product was, how long the tenant was in the unit, and how long the product should have lasted. In other words, for products that have a certain lifespan, you are not entitled to the full amount of the cost of replacement, but you are entitled to collect the pro-rated amount that was lost due to the acts of the tenant. This includes items such as carpet and paint. To determine the proper amount to charge the tenant, you have to have an expert give you an estimate of what the expected lifespan would be for the specific product you are using. For example, many carpet sales people will tell you that in a rental unit, you can expect paint to last 5 years. If that is the case for the situation above, the tenant used 2 years of the paint, but ruined 3 years of the life of the paint. Therefore, the 2 years would be considered normal wear and tear, and the tenant would be liable for the amount equal to the remaining 3 years. In this case, when the paint cost $2,500, the landlord would have a good faith basis to seek $1,500.

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