Damage to the Au Pair Room: Should we have a security deposit?

by cv harquail on November 2, 2011

We’ve had some funny and not so funny stories about damage to our homes by au pairs who were clueless (at best), careless (most often) and intentionally destructive (nightmare). Everything from soaked ceilings under the au pair bathroom, to hair dye on the bathroom walls, to nail polish on the fancy sheets.

We have a decent handle on what to expect when an au pair damages a car…. usually we ask the au pair to pay half of all of the damage up to the $509 deductible, and we use insurance to cover the rest. (That’s the ‘official’ policy, anyway).


But damage to our homes is another story.

We don’t have a built-in mechanism like insurance with a deductible, and it doesn’t happen often enough that we have much experience. And, there are many shades of gray–

what’s reasonable ‘wear and tear’, and what’s outright damage?

This host mom writes with her question about damage to the au pair suite. Her au pair is still with them, so they still have time to address the situation. But, they are in rematch (early ending) since the relationship wasn’t going well. Thus, there are all the usual tensions related to frustration, anger, resentment, impending relief, and self-questioning, that have to be factored in before she knows how she wants to respond.

And, dear readers, she’d like advice from you.

Dear AuPairMoms–

I need some advice.   We are new HPs who have ended our relationship with AP after 9 months. We’re one of those newbie HPs who ignored some major red flags in the beginning hoping our AP would turn around, but we just got emotionally drained dealing with AP as she continued to make the same serious mistakes in month 9 as she did in week 4 with our kids. So, we ended the match.

The AP had our in-law suite downstairs, and she really decided to make it her own space. It’s a pretty big room – in suite bathroom, bedroom and den. She covered nearly every square inch of wall space with posters of models, women working out, motivational sayings about weight lose, etc. Our AP is 21, but her room looks like that of a typical 14 year old (as you can see, lack of maturity was a big issue).

As her room became more cluttered, we were tempted to direct her to take down the things on the walls fearing what all of that tape would do to the walls. However, we knew she had some major self-esteem issues, and we had some performance issues that were more pressing that we were in the midst of addressing. Therefore, we decided to leave it alone, and let her carve out her own little space in our home.

As expected, upon taking down the posters in preparation for her departure, she damaged some of our wall space. Of course, the mature thing to do would be to come to us and let us know. But she has yet to say a word although we can clearly see the damage. This is not the first time our AP has damaged something in the house, and hoped that we wouldn’t notice.

What do other HPs do when an au pair has damaged the bedroom?

I’m sure there are APs who have damaged living space during their stay. The first time our AP damaged something she also tried to hide it, and when we found out, we dinged her pay for the repair cost. We will definitely point out the wall damage to her, but is this just the cost of having a non-considerate AP, or do HPs try to ding the cost of paint/repair from the weekly stipend?

At this point, we just want her out of the house, but curious as to how others would handle this situation … Thnx, 3/4HM

[3/4HM — be sure to read this post: Checkout Task List: Back by popular demand]


See also:

Something’s Missing: Not the GPS, but her sense of Responsibility
When fault is contested, who pays for damage to the car?
Can you guess what prompted this tip?
Your Au Pair’s Room: How much mess can you take?

Imgages:  My Bedroom AttributionNoncommercialSome rights reserved by Sweet-Rainbow, Damage Attribution Some rights reserved by Pink Sherbet Photography


Anna November 2, 2011 at 5:13 pm

I don’t think you can or should take money from her for repainting the walls.

You provide room and board, and when the room is being used, sometimes usage shows. She didn’t know the posters would do damage to the walls, you also either didn’t know, didn’t warn her, or didn’t include it in your handbook of rules. I don’t think it would be fair.

We had an au pair tear the shower head out of the wall (when fighting with my daughter, and then tried to blame my daughter). Water dripped through our living room ceiling, and we also had to pay the plumber to fix the damage and put in the new shower head. We have finish taken off the walls of the au pair room from posters… we didn’t charge our au pairs for that. If something in her bathroom breaks, we fix it. If sheets wear out or are too stained between au pairs, we replace it. It is the cost of someone living in your house. Repainting is something that is done every few years anyway; she didn’t make a hole in the wall or something unusual like that. I think the most you could ask, is for labor in assisting with painting the walls – but with her leaving, it might not be feasible.

Maybe for next time you can put those cork rails along the walls to make attaching stuff without damage easier…

PA AP mom November 2, 2011 at 5:27 pm

Our first au pair dyed her hair in our bathroom. She got black all over our freshly painted, one week prior to her arrival, bathroom walls. Hubby repainted it and asked her to please not dye her hair in the bathroom anymore.

6 months later, we went away for the weekend and when we came back there were big black dots all over our light green bathroom walls. Hubby asked her about it and she denied knowing how it happened, even though she was the only one who used the bathroom and the only one home over the previous 4 days.

Hubby went to the garage and got her the can of paint and 2 different paint brushes and asked her to repaint it. She did and she never colored her hair in there again, or at least she was careful.

Should be working November 2, 2011 at 5:30 pm

Our handbook states that blue painter’s tape has to be used to attach anything to the walls. I would always specify what may and may not be done to the AP room, and with what means.

I agree that repainting is the cost of the HF, but be sure to get every penny related to other costs. You might also consider that the repaint job can be done cheaply and does not have to be super-professional, esp. if you give the next AP latitude to decorate (using specified materials).

Taking a Computer Lunch November 2, 2011 at 8:28 pm

Okay – AP #1 – her best friend spilled something on a car floor mat and they brought it to wash and dry in my house! Yup, I could not get the oil off my dryer wall, and I complained. Other than that, there has been no damage done by an AP that mother nature didn’t do twice to my house. Sure, there was the inexplicable red stain on the sheets AP #5 used, but heck, I just bought new sheets. Every AP has failed to tell me about some little mishap – the window that won’t close, the bath drain plug that comes out that is a snap to put back in, and regular wear and tear. No one has taped anything to the walls (my guidelines say please don’t) and nothing is so bad that it couldn’t be undone (thank goodness).

Wear & tear is wear & tear, unfortunately, and as angry as you are at this AP, you cannot seek damages because her tape ripped the paint (I hope it wasn’t wallpaper – rule #1 – only use vinyl wallpaper that will be used by a succession of APs). The fact that you know about it means that you have been in her room (I always get surprised because I almost never enter an AP’s room during the course of her year with us). If you think the paint is going to be an issue – then get hi gloss – it washes easily.

My expectation is that I am going to have to repaint and arrange to have the carpet cleaned for every 4-5 APs. It’s just life. I must say that I spend about 10 hours after each AP thoroughly cleaning the room – washing mattress pad, duvet, pillows and sheets, vacuuming every corner, washing down walls, wiping out dressers, and scrubbing the bathroom — and all of them have been neat freaks in a way that I am not. I want each arriving AP to come into a clean room that she will be able to make hers, even if the perfume of the exiting AP still clings.

OB Mom November 2, 2011 at 8:36 pm

I agree that wear and tear is just part of life. Imagine if your children had to move out of their rooms every year, would you charge them? My kids just put a hole in the wall and let’s not mention their carpet! (I have my own carpet cleaner to address these issues).

Our biggest issue with our AP’s has indeed been the carpet. While the room has an en suite bathroom, it also has a mirrored closet door and I get a sense that they put on make up near that mirror rather than in the bathroom (I did the same in my parents house). I usually ask my AP’s to clean the carpet (themselves) once during the year and then again as they move out. If she has damaged the walls, do as PA AP mom did and give her a paint brush to fix.

Otherwise, just realize that it is one of the “hidden” costs of having an AP instead of taking your kids to day care.

Best of luck.

Original Post November 2, 2011 at 9:52 pm

Thanks everyone for the comments. I’ll definitely include “room decoration” in our Au Pair handbook, and will look into painters tape and the cork idea ~ great suggestions!

Au Pair November 2, 2011 at 10:46 pm

Oh wow… I’m an AP and I have to say I’m really impressed with some of the HM opinions about that post. If I were a HM I’d mind about all the damages caused by the APs as well as any member of the family. I work hard to pay everything I have and sometimes I have to plan and wait patiently to buy something I want, and I know things are not made to last forever, but I want them to last as long as possible.

I think that a good talk about “keeping things clean, organized and in the same way you found we you got here” is a good precaution. After all Au pairs are suppose to stay at your house for a period of time, they’re not at their own home, others are coming after them. I think it’s little bit more than just buying things again or fixing them it’s about the HP hard working to build and buy everything they have.

AnonHM Europe November 3, 2011 at 3:56 am

I span some nylon chord at random over the walls of the AP (and the kids) rooms. (Nails put into the wall vertically on either side of the decorating space). With the help of paper clips it was no problem for the APs to decorate and redecorate the room within their year. In the beginning, we put some “Welcome” posters up, followed usually by the APs family and friends photos (we told them to bring some, in order to feel more “at home”). During the year pictures of the kids and photos of their year followed, plus tickets, little notes etc. After their time with us, all could easily be removed and were taken with them.
Yet, after some 2 or 3 years I would repaint the walls anyway. I agree, thats just hidden costs for an extra person living in our house. Yet some costs I would ask the AP to pay for: Lost mobiles, the third or fourth ruined garment (if told so before), lost (stolen) bike if unlocked somewhere etc. Our handbook was clear about that.

5kids=aupair November 3, 2011 at 9:51 am

Well, after AP1 spilled nail polish on the new carpet and stained the new vanity with her hair dye and a temp AP got hair removal wax all over the duvet, I have a LOT of rules in our handbook. We have no hair dying, hair waxing, nail polishing rules in our handbook. LOL We already had the wall stuff covered from the au pair document we started with. Each year there are more rules for the new AP, poor thing.

I do think I’m going to put in a new clause this upcoming year, though. For any damage to the house that is specifically covered in the document and despite the instructions given to properly care for said item, the AP will pay 1/2 to fix or replace it.

I harp on this topic endlessly. The APs don’t have the personal attachment to our things and have no idea how much things cost or what they may mean to us or that a little bit of effort to take care of things goes a long way. In the beginning, I try to walk them around and tell them which things are really expensive and they should treat with kid gloves.

Mom23 November 3, 2011 at 10:18 am

I think that repainting is a cost that the Host Family incurs. We have had to repaint many times.

That said, there are damages that I think the au pair should pay for. We had one au pair who we liked a lot. We arranged for her and some friends to stay in my in-laws guest house in California. They evidently washed their car with my in-laws brand new guest towels, a fact my FIL will not let me forget. We hinted to the au pair that she and her friends should replace the towels, but they never did, so we ordered some nice new monogrammed towels and sent them. It is sad, but no future au pair has been or will be invited to stay there again.

In terms of a “security deposit,” we have always set aside $10/week for an au pair gift to be given at the end of the year. When our au pair finishes her year with us, we give it to her ($500 bonus). However, we had one instance when an au pair damaged the car multiple times which was not covered by insurance. In that case we covered some of the damages from that fund. Having such a fund can act as a “security deposit.” We typically do not tell our au pair that we intend to give her a bonus at the end of the year. So an au pair who gets $300 instead of $500 will still see it as a nice gift, not as something that has been taken away.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 3, 2011 at 9:43 pm

This is a good idea – and a relatively painless way to save! We usually give a cash bonus at Christmas and send a box home at the end of the year (value substantially less than $500 for both).

I must say, that our APs have generally been exceptionally careful with their rooms and the “AP” car. Dishes and stuff do get broken, but no more than anyone else in our house in a given year.

Ex - Au Pair November 4, 2011 at 1:06 am

So there isn’t an exactly law on the Au Pair Program that requires the au pair to pay for the damages on the room? I was an au pair with a family for 1 year and 3 months and when I left in January this year (2011) they didn’t pay me the last two weeks (the suppose re-matching time) stating that wast go for the cleaning of the room’s carpet. It was about $280 dollars that I never got, I remember calling the agency LCC about it and she said she didn’t know if they could do that or not, so she just assumed that they could. I always felt betrayed for that time, since I was working full time those two weeks and was counting on my salary, then my last day there they said they wouldn’t pay me and I just and to leave without it. What do you ladies think about this? Was it right to do that to me? (A lot of people tell me to talk to a lawyer about it but I just don’t want to deal with them anymore and I’d rather have peace. But it still hurts me and looking at this post today made feel it all over again. =/)

AnonHM Europe November 4, 2011 at 3:39 am

You break it – you pay for it => that’s the usual responsibility of every teenager/adult in most countries. But (!) cleaning the rooms carpet is not something the AP should pay for. Normal usage of the rooms (including bed-sheets, curtains, carpet etc.) is part of the AP-deal. So except you spilled dark red wine over a white carpet, or caused any other stains/odours on the carpet to “ruin” it in the eyes of your family, you should not have been made to pay for the cleaning.

Taking a Computer Lunch November 4, 2011 at 7:15 am

Without seeing the carpet, I would say no, you should not have had to pay to clean it. However, you state that you were going into rematch 3 months into your 2nd year, so my guess is that your relationship with your HF was at a nadir. So, your HM was not feeling well-inclined toward you, saw the state of the carpet, and got angry and made you pay to clean it? If that sounds like the scenario you experienced, then there’s not a lot you can do about it.

We have carpeting in our AP’s bedroom that was newly installed 4 years ago. So far there has been no staining, just typical wear. I’ll probably schedule a cleaning between AP #7 and AP #8 just to freshen it up, but I must say, the 3 APs who have lived in the room have been exceptionally careful with it – including taking off their shoes before going into the room (they have an entrance straight from the outside). I expect that AP #4 has been just as careful.

In general, HF will forgive a lot of things as long as their relationship with their AP is going well. If it sours, then the least mistake will set them off. BTDT.

Ex - Au Pair November 4, 2011 at 8:42 pm

I was their first Au Pair, I knew that the carpet wasn’t exactly clean, but it wasn’t bad. I’ve never spilled anything on it, the kids were allowed to play in my room and they’d watch TV there and sometimes eat. Milk from the babies bottle would spill a little but I would clean it. I’d say yes, it needed carpet cleaning, plus, the 2 years before me they had 2 guys living in that room and I’m sure they didn’t clean it when I first came in. But, they were about to move, their moving date was 2 weeks after I left, they were selling the house so I assume they would’ve cleaned it anyway. I’m not sure if I’m ever going to do anything about it, our relationship really wasn’t going great and that is the smaller of the things they did to me when I left so it isn’t a big deal, I just always wondered if they had the right to do that, thanks a lot for the answers!

one au pair December 2, 2011 at 2:38 pm

wow reading all of these comments surprised me because even if I am the au pair, I am the most organized and carefull in the house. My HM says that also haha I have been here almost 2 years and nothing has hapend to my room, bathroom, car or kids.. while my host mom has made steins in the carpets tousands of time, and my HD has hurt the kids playing more than a tousand times hhaha but I am not judging or criticizing

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