If a landlord replaces a broken appliance with upgrade that costs twice, isn’t the tenant only responsible for paying for the cost of original?

UPDATED: Oct 20, 2011

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If a landlord replaces a broken appliance with upgrade that costs twice, isn’t the tenant only responsible for paying for the cost of original?

Tenant accidentally broke 15 year old toilet and landlord replaced broken toilet with an upgrade that cost more than twice as much as the original. He wants tenant to pay for the upgrade. Is this legal? Shouldn’t tenant be responsible for paying to replace appliance that was broken and not paying for an upgraded $500 toilet?

Asked on October 20, 2011 under Real Estate Law, California


FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

In general the answer to your question is that the tenant who broke the appliance (as in your case a toilet) is responsible for the cost of the item broken based upon its then current fair market condition taking into account wear and tear.

If the landlord in your case purchases a replacement toilet that costs well more than the cost of the initial one, it is not acceptable to charge the tenant for the excess cost.

To be sure with your position, you need to carefully read your written lease for your rental concerning replacement of damaged items. The agreement controls the obligations owed to you by the landlord and vice versa in the absence of conflicting state law. You need to make sure that there is nothing in the lease stating that you have to pay current fair market vale of an item damaged as a tenant of the rental.

Good luck.

SJZ, Member, New York Bar / FreeAdvice Contributing Attorney

Answered 11 years ago | Contributor

You are essentially correct. The tenant would be responsible for the current replacement cost of the broken appliance--i.e. the cost now to replace it with either the same thing (if available) or an appliance of the closest comparable available quality (if the original make/model is no longer available). This will (presumably) be more than the original cost, owing to inflation (15 years worth, in this case), but the landlord is entitled to the current replacement cost--he's not limited to receiving what it cost a decade-and-a-half ago.

If the landlord voluntarily chooses to upgrade the quality, the landlord would be responsible for the difference between replacement cost and upgrade cost. The exception would be if appliances of the quality of the original are simply not available anymore--then the tenant has to pay for the upgrade to the closest quality unit that can be found.

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