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Normal Wear and Tear in a Rental — Extensive Guide for Landlords

There are a few topics that can be as controversial for landlords and tenants as wear and tear. While renters strive to retrieve as much of their security deposit as possible to use it towards their next apartment, property managers might be reluctant to give back the deposit in full if the condition of the rental is less than perfect.

We know it can sometimes be difficult to tell whether the issue can be written off as wear and tear or considered to be property damage. Today we take a closer look at the concept of normal wear and tear and its examples to save you from doubts during the next move-out inspection!

What Is Wear and Tear?

First of all, let’s look at its definition and how it is different from actual property damages. Wear and tear is the normal process when a property’s condition slowly declines. It occurs naturally in any home — regardless of how well you look after it — simply due to everyday use of the amenities and the property itself. And, of course, the longer your tenant rents the place, the more signs of wear and tear you can expect during the move-out inspection.

Since normal wear and tear is inevitable and expected, tenant-landlord laws state that property managers cannot legally keep the security deposit when tenants move out. Instead, you can withhold a deposit (or some part of it) for the damages to the unit caused by the tenant’s neglect — don’t forget to provide them with an itemized list if you do so!

Normal Wear and Tear vs. Property Damage

Since there is a thin line between these two concepts, and from the outcome usually deepens who’s the one covering the repairs, property manager, or the tenant, let’s look closer at some common examples of normal wear and tear and damage. Here we tried to list some of the issues which landlords all around the globe face every day. 

Examples of Wear and Tear

Going through a move-out inspection and noticing some imperfections in your property’s condition, ask yourself if this could happen in your own home. Some landlords might be overprotective of their rental unit and expect tenants to leave the place in the same state as when they moved in. 

But, you should remember that this has been someone’s home for a certain time, people would use some areas a few times a day, and minor scratches and scruffs are bound to happen. These include:

  • Small stains or scratches on the walls
  • Chipped paint on the walls or cabinets
  • Few scratches or a couple of light stains on the countertops
  • Minor scratches or dents in hardwood floors
  • Worn or faded carpet
  • Loose doorknobs or handles
  • Dirty grout between bathroom tiles
  • Faded tiles or wallpaper

Examples of Damage

We all understand that there are situations when the property damage might have been caused by accident, not as a result of neglect or done on purpose. However, no matter how it happened, the tenant should be either fully responsible for repairs or at least paying for the maintenance. 

Some examples of negligent damage include:

  • Burn marks on the countertops
  • Noticeably chipped countertops
  • Cracked or chipped bathroom tiles
  • Significant stains on the carpet
  • Burns or holes in the carpet or floor
  • Broken mirror
  • Holes in the wall
  • Chipped sink or bathtub

Also, you can expect some additional damage from tenants with pets, such as:

  • Claw scratches on the doors
  • Scratches or teeth marks on the furniture
  • Ripped carpet
  • Stains from pets

Not only do you have the right to deduct from the tenant’s security deposit to cover damage, but you can also use it to pay for cleaning. If a tenant moves out, leaving a rental unit blatantly filthy compared to the day they moved in, you can deduct an amount needed to hire a professional cleaner. Of course, it goes without saying that this has to be written down in a list of damages. 

Why Understanding of Normal Wear and Tear is Important

As we mentioned before, every landlord (and, ideally, tenant) should know the difference between wear and tear vs. damage, either negligent or accidental. First of all, charging tenants for any issues that turn out to be normal wear and tear, you risk ending up in court, as it is legally prohibited. It is the landlord’s responsibility to fix up the unit in between tenants — paint the walls, polish hardwood floors, or replace an old worn out carpet.

On the other hand, you don’t want to end up paying for the damages caused by your renters. Being a landlord comes with plenty of expenses, from paying your property manager to HOA fees to insurance and taxes. The least you want is to cover the costs of your tenant’s negligence or intentional abuse of the rental unit. While the tenant might believe that the security deposit is just a formality transferred from one rental to the next, you should not be afraid to deduct from it if you believe there is a solid reason for it. 

Avoiding Disputes Regarding Wear and Tear

There are a few steps you can take to protect yourself from arguments with a tenant when they are moving out as well as guarantee that you will not be the one responsible for any extra damages. 

Establish a Walk Through Inspection Routine

Both move-in and move-out inspections should be a habit of any self-respecting landlord. When you give the keys to a new tenant, walk through the apartment together and take photos of any flaws that might be subject to dispute in the future. Also, create a checklist to mark the current condition of the unit. Similarly, strive to arrange a move-out inspection when your tenant is leaving, so you could notice if there is any property damage and address it right on the spot. Comparing the move-in checklist to the present state of the apartment would be the easiest way to notice any discrepancies.

Don’t Forget About Regular Maintenance

One of the best ways to sustain your rental in good condition is to dedicate some time, energy, and money to the maintenance. 

First of all, ensure the apartment looks well-tended when a new tenant moves in. Even if it’s an old unit or you don’t have lots of funds for top-notch materials and fixtures, there are certain things you simply cannot neglect. Everyone can see the difference between a place that is loved and cared for and the one on which the landlord has given up. 

Next, make sure to remind your new tenant that it’s their responsibility to let you know if any property-related issues occur. If you fix some small problems soon enough, there is less chance they will grow into a bigger deal in the future. Also, if the tenant knows that you care about the condition of the rental and are responsive to their inquiries, there is a high possibility they will treat it respectfully as well. 

Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Tenant Screening

Finally, one way to increase the chance of having the apartment returned in good condition is to find a responsible tenant in the first place. Ask for some references and contact their previous landlords to see if they were satisfied with the tenant. Also, you should request a background check to see if there were any evictions or other apartment-related issues with the renter in the past. 

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