Landlord Guide: What Is Considered Normal Wear and Tear?

Navigate the fine line between wear and tear and tenant damage with ease. Discover the key distinctions that safeguard your investment and ensure fair security deposit practices.

Key Takeaways:

  • Understanding Wear and Tear: Recognize natural property deterioration as unavoidable and not chargeable against a tenant’s security deposit.
  • Identifying Tenant Damage: Learn to differentiate damages that exceed normal use, which are the tenant’s financial responsibility.
  • Security Deposit Wisdom: Know what can and cannot be deducted from security deposits to avoid disputes and ensure fair treatment.
  • Effective Communication: Employ clear dialogue with tenants about property condition and security deposit expectations from move-in to move-out.
  • Documentation Is Crucial: Maintain detailed records of property condition at tenancy start and end to support any security deposit deductions.

When tenants move out of your property, the property will look different than when they first moved in. The security deposit returns to the tenant may be affected when considering damage and wear and tear.

Why is that?

The law allows landlords to deduct portions of the security deposit to cover the cost of damages caused by a tenant. However, landlords cannot deduct from the security deposit to repair everyday wear and tear or the average depreciation of a property.

There’s one big problem with this for many landlords: It’s hard to determine what is considered normal wear and tear vs damage in many situations. Wise landlords soon learn the difference to avoid tenant disputes and receive fair compensation for actual damages.

Do you know how to recognize the difference between these two types of damage and why it matters so much? Today, you can learn just that.

A Table Of Contents On Wear And Tear Vs Damage

When managing your first rental or getting deeper into the rental business, you’ll need to learn how to differentiate between damage and wear and tear. Beginning with these topics will help set the necessary foundation for your future growth.

What Is Wear And Tear?

What Is Wear And Tear?

All rental properties will suffer some deterioration, even with the best of tenants. Wear and tear is the inevitable decline of a property’s overall condition due to time and usage.

There is nothing wrong with wear and tear happening to the property. High-quality components will wear out more slowly, but everything eventually degrades and needs to be replaced. By being used, things like the sinks in your property are gradually breaking down.

These changes are expected to happen while a tenant lives on a property. The longer a tenant lives in a rental property, the more cases of wear and tear you should expect to see around the property when they move out.

As these are natural changes in the property and not caused by neglect or misuse by the tenant, the tenant should not be held responsible.

List Of Normal Wear And Tear Examples For Renters

What is considered normal wear and tear encompasses the expected deterioration of the property’s condition from daily use, such as faded curtains or loose door handles, not resulting from tenant misuse. You’ll see a complete list below, but these are some of the most common types of wear and tear seen at rental properties:

  1. Scuff marks or worn patches on linoleum
  2. Wear patterns on the carpet
  3. Carpet seams unglued or unravel
  4. Warping of doors and windows
  5. Wall dents from door handles
  6. Broken strings on blinds or curtains
  7. Cracked light switch plates
  8. Cracks in walls or ceiling from settling
  9. Sun-faded or heat-blistered blinds or doors
  10. Wobbly toilet

How Does Normal Wear And Tear Affect The Security Deposit?

Should normal wear and tear affect the amount of the security deposit that’s refunded to the tenant?

No; it should not. These common wear and tear issues should never be deducted from the tenant’s security deposit. Instead, landlords should plan on covering these costs involved in refurbishing the rental unit for the next tenant.

As mentioned, normal wear and tear is something that happens through the regular use of the property. The items are not degrading because of any mistake by the tenant; they simply have a limited usage lifetime.

For that reason, you are not able to withhold anything from the security deposit to cover the cost of repairing any normal wear and tear issues before you rent the property out again. Instead, you should budget the expected cost of repairing these types of things into your overall business model so they do not detract from your profits.

As you gain more experience turning over properties, you’ll have a better basis for understanding what you can expect from wear and tear.

Security Deposit Guidelines: Distinguishing Between Wear and Tear and Deductible Damages

Should normal wear and tear affect the amount of the security deposit refunded to the tenant?

No, it should not. When assessing the security deposit wear and tear, landlords must differentiate between unavoidable aging of the property and tenant-inflicted damages, ensuring fairness in deposit deductions.

Ordinary wear and tear issues should never be deducted from the tenant’s security deposit. Instead, landlords should plan on covering these costs involved in refurbishing the rental unit for the next tenant.

As mentioned, normal wear and tear happens through the regular use of the property. The items are not degrading because of any mistake by the tenant; they have a limited usage lifetime.

Therefore, you cannot withhold anything from the security deposit to cover repairing any normal wear and tear issues before renting the property out again. Instead, you should budget the expected cost of repairing these things into your overall business model so they do not detract from your profits.

As you gain more experience turning over properties, you’ll have a better basis for understanding what you can expect from wear and tear.

What Is Considered Normal Wear And Tear?

The best way to understand normal wear and tear is to break things down into smaller categories. As you know, there are a lot of different areas that make up an entire rental unit! Looking more specifically at subcategories can help you understand normal wear and tear. Below is a comprehensive list of normal wear and tear for renters, including faded paint and minor carpet wear, assisting tenants to understand what’s considered acceptable changes to the property over time.

Guidelines for Charging Tenants for Floor Damage: When Is It Justifiable?

When considering flooring, you can understand what normal wear and tear is and what tenant damage is by thinking about the lifetime of the type of flooring.

High-quality hardwood floors, for example, have a lifetime of around 20 years. It would be expected to see light wear and fading from sunlight on the floors, but a large hole or gouge would be unexpected damage. Charging tenants for hardwood floor damage involves evaluating the damage extent against the floor’s expected lifespan, distinguishing between repairable wear and significant damage requiring full replacement.

Carpet, on the other hand, only has a lifetime of five years and should be replaced by a landlord at this time.

The following conditions are common types of wear and tear in flooring:

  • Fading from sunlight
  • Wear in high-traffic areas
  • Peeling from less durable types of flooring, such as linoleum
  • Dirty grout around tiles
  • Worn areas of the carpet from furniture

Anything that can happen through the continual use of an item cannot be considered tenant damage. However, issues like cracked tiles or ripped-out floorboards caused by excessive force or neglect are considered damage.

Normal Wear And Tear To Walls

Paint naturally wears out; most paint jobs last around three years.

The following are considered normal wear and tear:

  • Peeling paint
  • Fading from sun damage
  • Minor scuffs from normal daily living
  • Ceiling paint issues from leaks (if reported and not caused by tenants)

Unpatched holes, excessive marks, or painting over the rooms in an unapproved color can all be considered tenant damage as they go above and beyond what would typically happen. Everything has to be judged case-by-case, but you will gain some perspective over time.

Normal Wear And Tear To Appliances

Like the other items covered, you’ll want to consider the useful life of the appliances provided in your properties. A freezer, when kept up properly, for example, can last for 15 or 20 years. If you just replaced a freezer last year, and it’s now suddenly broken, that may be a case of tenant damage.

Of course, appliances are complex items that can sometimes break without any apparent cause. These cases can be difficult to stomach, but the tenant should not be blamed for appliance durability issues. Instead, consider ensuring the appliances are properly maintained and insured to reduce the impact of such occurrences.

Normal Wear And Tear To Plumbing And Fixtures

Certain parts of the plumbing system will naturally wear out from regular use. Plumbing has regular small leaks from fittings and washers wearing out. These should be easily replaced as part of routine maintenance. Faucets and showerheads can wear out over time from mineral buildup; that is also a natural problem.

However, a large stain on the floor or ceiling from an unreported large leak or overflowed tub would not be normal wear and tear. Similarly, broken toilet bowls, seats, or lids are not expected issues and should be considered tenant damage.

Normal Wear And Tear To Other Items

As you can see, each category has many similarities in thinking about natural wear and tear. Think about the following for each area or item:

  • How long can I expect this to last?
  • What type of maintenance does this item need for upkeep?
  • Is the tenant responsible for this upkeep, or will I do it?

All of these things should be clear to you, and you should communicate the necessary aspects to your tenants through the lease agreement. This will help to prevent miscommunication.

What Is Considered Damage To A Rental Property?

Understanding what is considered damage to a rental property is crucial; this includes damages like broken windows or significant carpet stains resulting from tenant abuse or neglect.

Damage to a rental property occurs due to unreasonable use, abuse, or accidents. This can also include intentional alterations the tenant made without approval. Even if the tenant didn’t do the damage but rather one of their guests did, the tenant is still responsible for the cost of repairs.

Tenants are responsible for damages that exceed the scope of normal wear and tear, such as holes in walls or broken appliances, which are not covered by the lease agreement. In some cases, tenants will report damages when they happen. In other cases, you will discover them upon tenant move-out.

What distinguishes wear and tear from tenant damage in rental properties?

Wear and tear refers to a property’s natural and inevitable deterioration due to everyday use, such as faded paint or minor floor scuffs. Tenant damage involves harm that exceeds regular use, like significant holes in walls or broken appliances, which landlords can deduct from security deposits. Understanding these differences is crucial for fair security deposit management and avoiding tenant disputes.

Tenant Damage Charge List: 10 Common Damages and Estimated Repair Costs

What are the common types of damage at rental properties? Below is a list of damages landlords can charge tenants for, including 10 of the most common problems in rental properties. This list outlines several common damages, including cracked tiles and unauthorized paint jobs, clarifying the financial responsibilities tenants face for repairs beyond the scope of everyday use.

A landlord damage charge list should itemize repair costs for damages beyond normal wear and tear, providing transparency and accountability in how security deposits are utilized for repairs. All of the below issues are likely to be considered tenant damages and should be charged accordingly:

  1. Holes or tears in linoleum
  2. Burns or oil stains on the carpet
  3. Pet urine stains on walls and carpet
  4. Holes in walls, not from doorknobs
  5. Torn or missing curtains
  6. Broken windows or missing screens
  7. Watermarks from overflowed sink or bathtub
  8. Cuts or burns on countertops
  9. Unauthorized painting
  10. Broken toilet seat, tank, or handle

How Does Damage Affect The Security Deposit?

What happens to the security deposit once you have determined tenant damages at the property?

There are a few things that need to be done.

Document The Damages

First, you’ll want to ensure clear documentation of the damages. If you do a move-in and move-out inspection, you can keep both on file as proof of the damages. Documentation is essential in case the tenant challenges your claims.

Estimating Costs

Next, you must estimate how much it will cost to replace or repair the items. Some states require that you have a quote from a third-party repair party; others allow you to detail the cost based on averages.

In all cases, you need to be sure you only charge the tenant for the applicable amount of damage caused rather than the total cost of the item.

For example, let’s say your property contains a five-year-old fridge due to be replaced in five years. The tenant damaged it, so it needs to be replaced now. They should only be charged for 50% of the value. Half of its usable life had already passed, so they are only charged for what remained.

Returning The Deposit

Finally, the deposit, less the amount kept for repairs, should be returned to the tenant within the allotted time. This ranges from two weeks to one month in most states.

How To Talk To Your Tenant About Property Damage

Depending on your relationship with your tenants, you might be nervous about withholding part of your tenant’s security deposit to cover damages. If you like the tenants, you might even feel guilty doing so even though it is well within your rights as the property owner and landlord.

How can you talk to tenants about property damage in a comfortable yet professional way?

The key is setting up the precedent for the damage conversation from the beginning of your relationship. Then, maintain the same attitude and coverage of the issue as the tenancy continues. This makes it easy for both parties to be fully informed about damages and who is responsible.

Before Tenancy

Make sure your lease agreement includes specific details about the following:

  • Security deposits
  • Move-in inspection checklists
  • Move-out inspection checklists
  • What is considered normal wear and tear, and what is not
  • Maintenance that the tenant is responsible for (i.e., cleaning appliances)

By including all of this in the initial lease agreement, both you and the tenant will know what the expectations are for the tenancy. Eliminating the chance for surprises will make it less likely to face disputes over withholding the security deposit.

Before the tenant moves in, do a complete and thorough move-in walkthrough together. Both you and the tenant should look for anything that isn’t in perfect condition and include it on the checklist. Take pictures as well.

This process lets you get complete documentation of the property’s appearance before the tenant moves in. When they move out, you can compare the two scenes if necessary.

During Tenancy

Throughout the tenancy, make sure you keep up with any regular maintenance that falls under your responsibility or that you have decided to take care of the long-term health of the property.

For example, ask the tenant if you can stop by every five or six months to quickly check the plumbing, appliances, central heating, and air conditioning systems. This allows you to ensure these systems are correctly used and monitored according to your lease agreement.

During The Move-Out Process

When moving out, complete a move-out inspection with your tenant. You will be repeating the same process as when they moved in. This time, you are looking for anything more damaged than expected.

As you come across anything that you believe to be tenant damage, take this time to ask the tenant about the damage. Let them know if you plan to withhold funds for its repair in the moment if possible.

How Wear and Tear Affects the Apartment Deposit: What Landlords and Tenants Need to Know

While the specifics differ from state to state, a landlord generally must include a list of deductions and any refunded portion of the security deposit. If the landlord has done a thorough move-in and move-out inspection with the tenant, there should be few surprises on either side.
The wear and tear apartment deposit consideration ensures that tenants are not unfairly penalized for natural property aging, protecting their rights while maintaining the landlord’s property value.

Security Deposit vs. Damage Deposit: Understanding the Distinctions and Landlord Responsibilities

The debate between security deposit vs. damage deposit highlights the importance of understanding lease terms, where the security deposit covers potential damages and unpaid rent, serving as a financial safeguard for landlords. Disputes often arise when a tenant defines a deduction as wear and tear while a landlord considers it damage. A tenant may have a strong case if they can show that a landlord deducted damages on something that is normal wear and tear.

When delineating what damages tenants are responsible for, it’s important to distinguish between intentional or negligent actions that lead to property degradation beyond normal wear and tear, such as substantial holes in walls or extensive water damage from negligence.

As long as the landlord can give reasons for a reasonable interpretation of the differences between basic and normal wear and tear versus accidental or intentional damages and outline the damages to the tenant during the move-out inspection, disputes can be minimized.

Seeing A Dispute In Action

What does it look like when a security deposit is overcharged and needs to be returned?

In this episode of “Attorney Advice,” we have attorney Don Krupens, a landlord attorney in California. He shares his thoughts on refunding security deposits. Before becoming a landlord, he faced a situation where his security deposit was wrongly withheld.

His advice from both sides of the fence is invaluable:

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Wear And Tear Vs Damage: Get It Right!

It can be stressful to enter a property for the first time after your tenants move out to catalog any damages in more detail. The move-out walkthrough is a great time to highlight potential damages, but it can take time to find everything.

If you’re still having trouble delineating between damage and normal wear and tear, think through these questions:

  • Could this damage happen naturally over time?
  • Did natural forces cause this to happen?
  • Was this item already old or worn out before the tenant moved in?
  • How long should this item last?
  • Did the tenant do something with excessive force or neglect to damage this?

By working through these questions, you can start categorizing the type of problem areas. Anything you struggle to justify as tenant damage should be left as wear and tear; you should be able to easily prove damages to a court if necessary.