How much to charge for damaged engineered hardwood floors?
August 9, 2016 11:24 AM   Subscribe

Our tenants recently left and we discovered they've badly damaged the engineered wood floors. The only way to restore it would be to replace it completely, which we do not plan to do. What should we charge for damages?

We are located in Seattle. These tenants have been generally okay in the year they stayed in the house, so I want to be fair. But I also don't feel like we should bear the burden of them not putting padding on their furniture legs. (We have not withheld more than $100 before for damages, other than a door that obviously had to be replaced, where we only charged for materials, not time. But for this tenant, we will already have to charge several hundred for a cleaning fee, which we paid toward a professional cleaner.)

We have had tenants previously who have done "normal wear and tear" to the floors. This is excessive. 1/4" deep gouges in numerous places, in every room. The floors were replaced 5 years ago. They are 50 year floors, but I believe IRS depreciates them at the 27.5 year residential schedule.

Since it's engineered wood floors, we cannot sand and refinish. They are wide plank Acacia and bought originally at >$5/sq ft. To restore it, we would have to replace the entire flooring, which would cost probably around $10k (or more with the current construction boom). We do not have the time nor the inclination to do this. We can get quotes from flooring people if we need to.

Instead, we have done our best to cover up the gouges. We have spent about 6 man-hours doing this already and will probably need to spend more. It is less visible, but not "restored." (My husband is a very proficient handyman, who could probably easily charge $100/hr for his services. In our full time jobs, we make $50-$150/hour, but it's not with maintenance work.) However, we're DIYing this, so will not have receipt to show that we paid someone else for the labor.

We also believe that we can no longer charge as much for the unit, as the floors were a huge selling point.

How should we proceed in figuring out how much to charge them?
posted by ethidda to Law & Government (19 answers total)
It depends on your jurisdiction. In mine, you cannot charge a tenant for your own labor; you can only charge for labor receipted by a 3rd party professional service.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:29 AM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

There are services who specialize in repairing damaged wood surfaces (floors, furniture, etc.). I'd hire one of them to fix it, and then charge that amount. I personally would not try to repair this myself. I've hired professional wood repair people, and they are both artists and magicians. It's not a "handyman" task if you want it to look really good, IMHO.
posted by primethyme at 12:02 PM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

I am not sure what I'd do, probably charge for the time to restore the floors as well as is possible. In the future, I might put something in the lease requiring the use of furniture leg pads. I am not an idiot, but I've never lived with engineered wood floors and I would have no idea that I'd have to use padding to mitigate damage.
posted by stormygrey at 12:03 PM on August 9, 2016 [29 favorites]

2nding stormygrey. I might wonder about it after the first gouge, but I might also figure it was "normal" and that something so easily gouged would be inexpensive to replace...

_Maybe_ 50% of your actual cost to replace, maybe nothing more than their existing deposit. You're making money on rent, you expect there to be some risk, and it is not a non-owner's place to cover 100% of the costs of you doing business. You have a piece of property at the end of all this, they don't.
posted by amtho at 12:07 PM on August 9, 2016 [5 favorites]

Since it's engineered wood floors, we cannot sand and refinish

Just to verify, you've checked this with the manufacturer of your floors? Because we're in the process of thinking about installing engineered wood floors, and one of the attractive features of the ones we've been looking at is that they *can* be refinished at least once---it's 3/8'' veneer on top of plywood going the other direction on top of some other wood going the original direction. But the cross-ply construction shouldn't prevent at least one (and maybe two) refinishings.

posted by leahwrenn at 12:09 PM on August 9, 2016 [7 favorites]

I thought it was the case in most jurisdictions that you can only charge tenants for repair work that you actually do, not for work that you theoretically might have done but didn't. Is there a reason why you can't just bring a flooring repair person in to give you a price to do a quick-and-dirty repair job (since you say the right way to fix it is total replacement and you don't want to do that) have them do it, and then charge your former tenants that amount?
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 12:24 PM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Just fyi, we recently sold our house, and had great success sanding and refinishing the engineered wood floors before we put the house on the market.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 12:42 PM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Where is the damage? Is it in places that will be covered by the next tenant's furniture (say, gouges where the bed frame sits) or did they drag appliances through the center of the living room? Without knowing exactly what you put in, it's possible you may not have made the best choice for a rental, if it can't be repaired without complete replacement. How much was their deposit? Is it high enough to cover such a situation?
posted by sageleaf at 12:48 PM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

WA state law says that you can charge fair-market value of your own labor and must provide receipts for everything (so, no speculative charges for reduced value of future rent). So far as I know there are no Seattle-specific regulations that restrict you further.

Probably your big issue here is that if you charge a serious amount, the tenants may challenge it in court and then you have to wait and see if the court agrees with you that this is not covered as 'wear and tear'.

I am assuming that you already know that you must return the deposit or provide them with receipts for why you are keeping it with 14 days of their move out. You can send them further charges later, but if you don't handle the deposit within 14 days you may not keep any of it.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:53 PM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

In my jurisdiction, I can do my own repairs and deduct a reasonable cost, if I send a certified copy of those costs. It can include materials and labor, but cannot be for repairs of damage that amount to "normal wear and tear". Without seeing the scuffs, it's difficult for me to assess whether this would count as damage beyond normal wear and tear, but if it did, you could charge for materials and labor at a market rate. If $100/hour is a reasonable market rate, and the damage is beyond normal, in my city, that would be a reasonable allowable deduction from the security deposit, even if the repaired floor is distinguishable from the new floor. I would feel comfortable doing that--damage deposits are intended to help you maintain the property in marketable condition, regardless of how unintentional the damage was.

It sounds from what the agents of KAOS posted that the law in your place is similar to the law in mine. And the question here is less what is reasonable to deduct from the security deposit and more is this damage the sort that security deposits protect you from.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:57 PM on August 9, 2016

I think in order for anyone to respond adequately, you need to describe the damage better and provide some photos.

We have very nice cherry engineered flooring and after 10 years it's pretty scuffed up. The first scuffs and scratches verged on heartbreaking.

"To restore it, we would have to replace the entire flooring...", to me indicates real damage the the overall material. Are the gouges through the laminate and into the base material?
posted by humboldt32 at 1:15 PM on August 9, 2016 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you for your responses so far.

In response to humboldt32: "I think in order for anyone to respond adequately, you need to describe the damage better and provide some photos." I am not asking people to give me a dollar amount to deduct. I'm asking how I can most fairly determine how much to deduct (how to calculate labor cost, if I can charge for it? how to determine percentage above wear and tear if we don't plan to replace it right away?).

We have a lot of experience fixing/building/maintaining houses. Please take my word that there is definitely damage above normal wear and tear and that it cannot be fixed without replacing the entire thing. (The gouges are deep enough that it cannot be sanded.) We don't plan to replace the entire flooring. We do not plan to (nor want to) charge the tenants an amount even close to repairing the entire flooring. However, we want to charge some amount since it is significantly above wear and tear.
posted by ethidda at 1:32 PM on August 9, 2016

Have you considered presenting your tenants with an estimate to completely replace the floor (minus the five years of wear, so roughly 80% of the total) and then negotiating from there? I think you are much more likely to find success if you frame this as you billing them for the replacement cost and then negotiating a lower amount than trying to find some way to justify the reduced value. It sounds like you are within your rights to claim the floor replacement, so use that as a starting point and then figure out a number that will make you happy and negotiate with an eye on that amount. I think your tenant is way more likely to pay $2500 if they get a bill for $8000 than if you try to charge them $100/h for your own labour fixing the floors.
posted by ssg at 1:47 PM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

You won't know how much to charge the tenant till you settle on a way to get an acceptable result. I suggest that you call a couple of floor-refinishing places and ask for someone to come and give an estimate. The will talk about options and costs for filling the gouges in a durable way and making the areas blend in with the rest of the floor. In talking with the people from these companies, you might learn things you can use in repairing the damage yourself. You'll also find out how much it would cost to have the work done by someone other than you.
posted by wryly at 1:50 PM on August 9, 2016 [2 favorites]

One of the selling points of engineered flooring, particularly the high-dollar stuff, is that you can get one full sanding and refinishing out of it. The point of the pictures is that others would be able to give you feedback on your conclusion that they need to be fully replaced. You're still at the stage of having yet to determine the best fix and it's cost.
posted by humboldt32 at 1:54 PM on August 9, 2016

OK, so what do you plan to do for a repair? Can you not just hire someone to do it and then charge the tenant the fee, or do it yourself and then charge the tenant cost of materials plus market rate for labor? (Which would be about $75/hr where I live, in suburban MA.) If you plan to do nothing, I'm not sure if you can charge them anything.

Basically, what do you plan to do to remedy the situation, if not replace the floor? I'm not really familiar with quick-and-dirty repairs on engineered flooring since my company would lean heavily toward replacing the whole floor, but we're a remodeling company so our priorities are different. I think you need to come up with a plan for a repair and then base the charge on that.

Have you looked into patching the floor where it was damaged? Some types of engineered flooring can be patched, though not all. The patch is unlikely to look identical to the original floor, but it might be an improvement.

You could also consider filling the gouges with an appropriate wood filler and then sanding and revarnishing the area. Again it would look far from perfect, but might be an improvement.

If you don't know what to do with the gouges, talk to a professional and get an estimate. There must be a flooring person in Seattle who would be willing to attempt a repair, if you explained that you were willing to have the repaired floor not look perfect. Yoh might be surprised what a qualified professional could accomplish.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 4:34 PM on August 9, 2016

Did you ask them to use pads under their furniture when they moved in? Unless you specifically asked them and they ignored you and it was written into the lease I don't think you should charge for this as having to use pads on floors like this is not common knowledge.
posted by hazyjane at 5:11 PM on August 9, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm not in the US so perhaps this is totally off base but when my housemates and I burned a hole in the carpet of our rental many years ago the landlord claimed it on some kind of insurance and we paid for the uncovered amount of the claim.
posted by jojobobo at 1:56 AM on August 10, 2016

Response by poster: We talked with a couple flooring companies. They said they can either pull apart the floor and replace the damaged pieces with extra pieces (which we do not have enough of), which would cost around $12k. Or they could sand and refinish the entire thing for $6k-ish. They did not offer a cheaper option.
posted by ethidda at 10:17 AM on August 10, 2016

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