What Exactly is “Normal Wear and Tear”?

normal wear and tear

The furnishings you’ve purchased when your property is new are bound to deteriorate over the years. “Normal wear and tear” or “reasonable wear and tear” are terms used to describe rentals that have depreciated when a renter is occupying your rental space. This damage does not occur out of a renter’s abuse or neglect.

Landlords must be aware that damage stems from “normal wear and tear” which is their responsibility to address. If a renter caused property damage, then a landlord can deduct the repair cost from the tenant’s security deposit. It’s important to keep receipts for the repairs as proof as this can reduce conflicts when returning the deposit after the tenancy.

It can be confusing initially to determine if the damage was caused by wear and tear or neglect or abuse. Differentiating between the two is essential for a landlord to learn. If you would like to learn how to identify issues of normal deterioration versus neglect, keep on reading!

Wear and Tear in Comparison to Other Damages

Although “wear and tear” are defined in varying degrees by different states, in general, it points to the expected decline of the property over time due to its continual use. This covers the furniture and fixtures inside the property as well. 

rental home with dark wood floors and cabinets, with faded paint on walls

When one lives on a property, some areas begin to deteriorate as a result of everyday and ordinary use. Take, for example, flooring that appears new during the first year of construction. It won’t have the same spotless look in a few years. Given that renters continually walk on these floors, you can’t expect it to be scratch-free. It will also begin to look dull if it’s not well-maintained.

This decline is a normal outcome and happens from regular occupancy by the renters. You must also accept that the longer you have tenants living in your property, the more wear and tear it’ll be facing. 

Now when we talk about unexpected property damage, it can be a world different from wear and tear. You can see that it destroys the functionality of an object and decreases the value of the rental. It has an effect on the rental’s usefulness and stems from abuse and neglect. In other words, it goes beyond ordinary living in the unit. 

For instance, it’s unacceptable to find a huge hole in your rental’s wall. It may be a result of an accident but this does not occur normally in the course of a tenancy. It could also be done on purpose by a renter or caused by neglect.

living room with broken lamps and tv and books fell off the shelf

Ultimately, if the damage was caused by the renter then it’s appropriate to use the security deposit. If it resulted from normal wear and tear, then the landlord must pay for it.

Defining Wear and Tear

Since renters are occupying your unit, you can expect there to be a small amount of deterioration. The value of the items around the rental can also decline. Examples of normal wear and tear are:

  • Faded or cracked paint on your walls
  • Dull floors
  • Sticky doors and windows 
  • Minimal carpet stains
  • Worn enamel from sinks or old toilets
  • Loose grouting on the tiles

Defining Unexpected Damage

When we talk about unexpected damage, this refers to deterioration that one can avoid. It didn’t occur from normal everyday use of the property or the typical use of an item. It can result from an accident or neglect. The action leading to the damage can also be intentional.

Examples of unexpected damage include:

  • Unapproved wallpaper or paint colors in the unit
  • Stains or burns on the carpet
  • Chipped flooring 
  • A door off its hinges
  • Large scratches on the windows
  • Chipped enamel on sinks or the bathtub 
  • Clogged toilets

Often, renters are blamed for property damages. However, this isn’t always the case since some damages occur out of the landlords’ neglect of performing their maintenance responsibilities. For example, a renter may have reported a leak but it was ignored until heavy rains came and flooded the unit. The water damage could have been prevented in this situation.

plumber in blue hat and shirt tightening bolt connecting two pipes

Here are some other examples of unexpected damage due to landlord neglect:

  • Flooding that resulted from having unmaintained pipes
  • Repairs that should have been performed but were postponed 
  • Structural damage that must be fixed such as sloping floors

Issues that come from these damages could have been prevented if the landlord addressed the initial situation. Landlords are mandated to keep their rental properties habitable under state law. The rental property must be free from health and safety hazards and abide by building codes. It should also be maintained properly.

Using Security Deposits for Repairs

Landlords can ask for a security deposit from a tenant but it can’t be used at random. If you’re going to use the deposit, you must prove that the tenant was at fault for the damage.

A lot of conflicts can occur between tenants and landlords in this event. The definition of what constitutes damage may be disputed by both. It can even result in a legal battle. To avoid disagreements and keep the situation from escalating, a landlord can make use of a few of the following methods:

Documenting Property Damage Through Photos

A landlord can conduct a move-out and move-in inspection. Doing a property walkthrough allows you to explain what wear and tear and unexpected damages look like to the tenants. If you clearly define and agree on its definition then disputes will be minimal later on.

property inspector with clipboard checking structural integrity of wall

You can also record the present condition with photos to show the renter later if there are damages. It will make it easy to compare the before and after state of the property. Existing damage will also be captured in the photos, making it easier to assign repair costs.

Conducting Tenant Screening To Prevent Property Damage 

Landlords can also intensify their tenant screening procedure to ensure that only responsible tenants with no history of property damage will be welcomed in their rental units.

Bottom Line

Knowing that wear and tear is versus property damage will help you keep your rental in good condition and reduce conflicts with tenants. That said, maintaining a rental property can be a lot of work so it’s best to hire a property manager. 

Contact the experts at Home Choice Property Management today. We can help keep your renters happy while maximizing your ROI!