The definition of repairs given in the preceding section is clean-cut and definite; but even here difficulty may be experienced, particularly in connection with the time when repairs are made. In the case of the renewal of the roof of a dwelling, if that dwelling has been erected by the concern and carried for a considerable period on its books, the matter is clearly one of repairs. On the other hand, if the concern bought an old house knowing that such repairs were required immediately, the cost of the new roof would be chargeable to Improvements, for the poor state of repair of the building was undoubtedly considered when the price of the property was agreed upon.
Consider, however, a case between these two. A dwelling supposed to be in good condition is bought at a fair market price. After a couple of years it is found that a new roof is necessary. To what shall its cost be charged? The property is already on the books at a fair and proper value. The new roof adds nothing to the supposed condition of the building, and the cost thereof may bring the total cost of the house fully up to, or even above, the price at which it could be sold. In such case the Repairs account would be the proper place for the entry.
The above remarks are based on the assumption that the new roof is of the same character as the old one. If the new roof is of tiling or slate and the old one was of shingles, the difference between the cost of a new shingle roof and a new tile roof is, without doubt, chargeable to Improvements account.
Professor Cole, in "Accounts, Their Construction and Interpretation,"* deals with another difficulty, encountered when a building is altered for its tenant, who, in consideration of these alterations, pays an increased rental, but leaves at the end of a year and the new tenant requires the premises restored to their original condition. If such changes were continued, and the cost charged to "Improvements," the result would be a fictitious value, ultimately expanding to infinity. This question is fully dealt with by Professor Cole, and further discussion here is unnecessary.
This brings us directly to the difficulties contained in the definitions of "improvements" and "betterments." A change in property which may result in an increase in value or excellence for one purchaser, may destroy its value or excellence for another. Examples could easily be multiplied, but enough has been said to show that, given full knowledge of any particular case, honesty and good judgment will direct the charges to their appropriate place. This disposal of the question, however, only emphasizes the necessity for a careful scrutiny on the part of an auditor to see not only that subordinates or principles have made fair distributions, but that no one is misled or deceived.
•Chapter VII (Rent Records. Section 36. Record Of Leases Given).