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Key Lease Terms

The lease in this situation states, "Tenant agrees to return all items listed in the Report, including the leasehold premises, to the Landlord at the end of this lease term in as good and clean condition as when received, reasonable wear and tear excluded."

Other details which may be relevant

  • 18 month lease term
  • Property is in Seattle
  • Patio condition on move-in report is "no issues" (as it was pressure washed beforehand)
  • Upon move-out the patio could not be cleaned with sweeping or any light cleaning options. The dirt and soot was baked in throughout and required power washing.
  • [Edit]: The lease does not contain a clause requiring tenants to perform regular power washing

Question

Are the tenants responsible for cost to cleaning the patio given it was not clean upon move-out and in Washington State tenants are not responsible for normal wear and tear.

Arguments for normal wear and tear:

  • Dirt collects in outside spaces naturally and are not in the control of tenants

Arguments for beyond normal wear and tear:

  • Regular tenant maintenance (sweeping) of patio floor would have prevented the need for pressure washing
  • Were tenants required to perform maintenance on the outdoors areas of the property? There is wide variety in obligations, both default and contracted. – Nij Aug 29 '17 at 19:13
  • @Nij. No specific outdoor maintenance clauses are in the lease. Just that the premise be returned in good and clean condition as it was received excluding normal wear and tear. – Scott Lin Aug 29 '17 at 19:48
2

A lease can legally specify particular move-out requirements, such as carpet-shampooing; since you don't mention a patio power-washing clause, I assume there is no such clause. The obligation of the tenant is (RCW 59.18.130):

(10) Upon termination and vacation, restore the premises to their initial condition except for reasonable wear and tear or conditions caused by failure of the landlord to comply with his or her obligations under this chapter. The tenant shall not be charged for normal cleaning if he or she has paid a nonrefundable cleaning fee.

Then the question is whether the patio's condition constitutes normal wear and tear, which is undefined by the law. You would be responsible for specific damage that you caused, such as stains and breakage of the surface. If the lease specifically requires you to power-wash the patio on a regular basis, then you should have done that (again, I assume there is no such requirement).

The underlying principle is that you should fix any damage you inflict on the property. If you have dance parties on the roof and damage the shingles, you are responsible. If you simply live under the roof and the shingles degrade from constant rain, you did nothing and are not liable. Likewise if you gouge the paint on the house, you are liable, but if the paint just bubbles up on its own, that is not your responsibility. The question is whether the patio would be in that same condition if you had never used it.

Moss and general dirt are probably within the realm of normal wear and tear; soot on the other hand usually does not develop from natural conditions, though it could, so the question would be, "why is there soot?".

If the court found that a tenant had a duty to maintain some aspect of the residence but the tenant neglected the duty, the tenant could be liable for repairs. But there is no such duty created by statute for tenants, requiring them to wash windows, mow lawns, weed the garden, or anything like that. Since the outside of the house naturally gets dirty, it would be unreasonable to expect a tenant to maintain a rental unit in sale-ready shiny condition. An analog is gutter cleaning. A lease can require tenant to clean gutters, but such conditions are (reportedly: according to Jay Goldstein in this report) rare. So in lieu of an explicit requirement, it is the landlord's duty to clean gutters. The same would hold for patio sweeping.

  • The lease does not require regular power washing. I guess I'm specifically wondering if neglect to sweep a patio regularly, which over time will cause baked-on dirt to form, constitutes normal wear and tear in move-out situations. I understand the abuse arguments, but this is a neglect situation. – Scott Lin Aug 29 '17 at 19:42

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