Normal Wear and Tear vs. Property Damage: A Landlord’s Guide

April 7th, 2021
Normal Wear and Tear vs. Property Damage: A Landlord’s Guide

When a tenant moves out of your rental unit, they likely won’t leave it looking the same as it did when they moved in. It’s not uncommon for landlords to make minor repairs or send in a cleaning crew after a tenant’s lease expires, and routine maintenance is almost always necessary to keep a unit in good condition. However, it can sometimes be difficult to tell the difference between normal wear and tear and property damage when inspecting a unit between tenants. 

Fortunately, most state laws define wear and tear and outline acceptable tenant charges in the same way. Below, is more information on the difference between normal wear and tear and property damage, along with tips for maintaining your rental units between tenants.

What is Normal Wear and Tear?

Normal wear and tear generally refers to the expected deterioration of a unit caused by a tenant’s everyday use. This could include things like wobbly doorknobs, worn carpet, or small scratches on walls and flooring. Because minor wear and tear is unavoidable, tenants generally cannot be held responsible for damages that fall into this category.

Examples of Normal Wear and Tear

The specific damages that fall under normal wear and tear can vary slightly by state and jurisdiction. To give you an idea of what to look for during your inspections, we’ve provided a list of the most common examples of normal wear and tear in rental units.

  • Worn or faded carpet 
  • Scuff marks on hardwood and linoleum floors
  • Warped door frames and windows
  • Sun-faded blinds and curtains
  • Dirty or loose grout around floor tiles 
  • Small scuffs on walls from door handles

T-chart comparing normal wear and tear vs. property damage a semi-clean bathroom and a trashed living area with a couch, television, and stains

What is Property Damage? 

Unlike normal wear and tear, property damage is caused by abuse or neglect and can sometimes cost a lot of money to repair. Tenant damages can include things like flooded bathrooms, broken doors, and chipped or broken countertops. Depending on the timing and severity, property damage could cause tenants to lose their security, deposit, receive a notice to vacate, or face eviction.

Examples of Property Damage

As a landlord, you’ll likely find that defining damages gets easier over time as you become more familiar with your rental properties. Below are some of the most common types of property damages to consider when inspecting a unit for the first time.

  • Burns or pet stains on carpets 
  • Holes in doors or walls 
  • Unauthorized paint or wallpaper 
  • Ripped or missing curtains or blinds
  • Broken windows or missing screens 
  • Broken enamel on sinks, toilets, or bathtubs

List of ways to maintain a renal unit with small icons

How to Maintain Your Rental Unit

As a landlord, it’s your responsibility to keep your rental unit in good condition for current and future tenants. Consider employing a pet screening for tenants with pets. Knowing exactly what constitutes normal wear and tear is an important part of maintaining your units, but it’s only the first step. Read through the steps below to learn how to minimize damages and properly document them when they do occur.

Perform Routine Maintenance

Creating a regular maintenance plan can save both you and your tenants time and money. This could include steps like regularly updating appliances when they reach the end of their lifespan, ensuring that your building is up to code, and keeping all utilities in working order. Consistently responding to tenants’ maintenance requests will also save you from any surprises after they move out. Just be sure to provide a simple process for submitting requests, and ensure that your tenants know how it works.

Perform Walkthrough Inspections

Performing a walkthrough inspection of your unit before and after a tenant occupies it is a good way to keep track of new and existing damages. During your inspection, take the time to photograph all damages and thoroughly document them. You will also want to photograph and document undamaged parts of the unit, then use them to create a rental inspection checklist for your new tenant to sign before moving in. This will ensure that you have proper evidence if your tenant decides to dispute damages in a small-claims court after they move out.

Create a Tenant Damage Charge List

Once you have performed your inspection and documented any damages after a tenant moves out, you’ll want to create a detailed list that clearly outlines the nature of the damage and associated repair costs. Sending this list to tenants required by law if you plan to withhold money from their security deposit, so try to make the list as accurate as possible.

Normal Wear and Tear in Rentals FAQs

Identifying and dealing with tenant damages can feel complicated, but it gets easier over time as you hone your process. To learn more about handling tenant damages, review the following list of common questions related to normal wear and tear in rental units.

Can a Landlord Charge for Normal Wear and Tear?

No matter what state or jurisdiction your property falls under, you cannot legally charge a tenant for deterioration caused by normal wear and tear. To avoid incorrectly charging a tenant, try creating a regular maintenance plan and familiarizing yourself with your local laws and regulations. It can also help to outline examples of property damage in your lease agreements to avoid any future confusion.

How Much Can You Charge a Tenant for Damages?

While you can’t charge a tenant for normal wear and tear, you can hold them responsible for any property damage they inflict while occupying your unit. How much you can charge a tenant depends on the cost of repairs, so it’s a good idea to hire a professional cleaner or contractor to give you an estimate before settling on a price. If you have to make an estimate yourself, be sure to consider things like original cost, age, and replacement value of an item when putting together your charge list.

What Can a Landlord Deduct From a Security Deposit?

Security deposit laws vary slightly by state, but they generally allow landlords to deduct from the deposit for property damage and cleaning fees. If you have to withhold part or all of a tenant’s security deposit to cover damages, remember to send the tenant a detailed charge list that includes all repairs and associated costs. If you skip that step and the tenant decides to dispute the charges, your argument might not hold up in a small-claims court.

Are Nail Holes Normal Wear and Tear?

Both landlords and renters sometimes struggle to determine whether nail holes fall under property damage or normal wear and tear. Unfortunately, there isn’t always a clear answer. A few small holes from nails or tacks are generally considered normal wear and tear unless explicitly stated otherwise in the lease agreement. However, large screw holes or multiple holes that cause significant damage to paint or drywall could fall under property damage. 

As a landlord, you’ll quickly learn that dealing with both normal wear and tear and tenant damages is inevitable. Fortunately, knowing the difference between the two and taking the proper steps to maintain your unit will help minimize the financial strain and streamline your repair process. You also want to make sure you're updating your rent roll sheet once repairs or renovations are completed.

If you’re looking for a better way to avoid bad tenants and reduce damage to your properties, try using a tenant screening service for your rental applications. Once you find the right tenants, offering them quality renters insurance options could further protect your property and save you and the tenant money.