Landlords and tenants frequently find themselves having to deal with a dirty or damaged carpet in a rental property. What’s next? Who should pay to clean or replace it?

A carpet is another asset in a rental property, just like a fridge, microwave, or dishwasher. All those assets are subjected to normal wear and tear.

Tenants can’t be held responsible for normal wear and tear. If there are no large stains, tears, or rips, and the carpet simply needs to be cleaned, that falls under normal wear and tear. In that case, the landlord would pay for the cleaning and not charge the tenant anything.

But when it comes to a carpet that is badly stained or damaged, a landlord can charge a tenant for cleaning costs, or even to replace the entire carpet if it’s that badly damaged or stained, and they can do it by withholding all or part of the security deposit.

Here’s some info and tips about how to best calculate a tenant’s financial responsibility when a carpet is damaged.

Take pictures

When new tenants move in, landlords and tenants should take pictures of the rental unit to document any existing problems or signs of wear and tear (this is a best practice for move-in and move-out). If there are stains on the carpet, or any other places where it’s not in perfect condition, document it with a photograph. This will help prove to the landlord that the damages were not caused by the tenant.

Know a carpet’s life expectancy

Carpets have a life expectancy of about 10 years. If you’re a landlord, be check the carpet’s warranty. If you’re a tenant, ask to see proof of how old the carpet is and when the landlord expects to replace it. You can even ask that this information be documented in the lease.

Pay a portion of the total costs

One of the most common, and fairest, ways to calculate a tenant’s responsibility is to charge the tenant for a portion of the total costs of replacing the carpet, based off how much the carpet is damaged, the carpet’s life expectancy, and how many years taken off the total life expectancy by the damage.

If the landlord has to replace the entire carpet two years before the end of the carpet’s life expectancy, then the tenant would pay the equivalent of two years’ worth of the carpet’s price. So, if the carpet has a ten-year life expectancy, the tenant would pay two-tenths of the carpet’s total price. If the carpet costs a thousand dollars, then a tenant would be responsible for two hundred dollars of that total.

Replace the entire carpet

If there are large stains—from spills from coffee, soup, or wine—that could not be removed, the landlord can charge the tenant for however much it costs to clean that specific section. If the stain can’t be removed, then the landlord can charge the tenant to replace that particular section.