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You are reading: What is Normal Wear and Tear?

April 11, 2024

What is Normal Wear and Tear?

Daniel Berlind

Let’s say one of your renters is moving out, and you discover during the walk-through areas with scratched or peeling wall paint in the living room. Or perhaps the carpet is thinning a bit too much in the bedroom. What about missing blinds, broken bathroom tiles, or a cracked window?

Do you know the difference between normal wear and tear on your rental property and excessive damage?

The definition of “normal” rental unit wear and tear is essential for both landlords (and renters) to understand before signing on the dotted line. It’s a term that frequently comes up during the move-in and move-out process and ultimately plays a substantial role in determining who’s responsible for repair and maintenance costs.

In this blog post, we uncover what’s perceived as normal wear and tear in rental properties and how it impacts both property managers and landlords.

Let’s First Define Normal ‘Wear and Tear’

Normal wear and tear refers to the gradual deterioration of a property resulting from everyday use, aging, and, in some cases, exposure to the elements. It’s normal when it comes to owning a rental property and is very different from damage caused by a tenant.

Here’s a breakdown of common types of rental damages:

Carpet & Floors: Light wear on carpets – think minor stains that you can remove with a steam cleaner – and minor scratches on hardwood floors due to daily use are instances where it’s likely normal wear and tear. However, extensive staining, tears, or deep marks and scrapes are commonly considered damage caused by a renter.

 Paint & Wall Damage: Fading, small knicks, and little nail holes are usually considered normal wear and tear. On the other hand, larger holes, excessive fading, or substantial damage caused by carelessness fall under the tenant-inflicted damage category.

Appliances & Fixtures: Over time, appliances and fixtures, such as worn-out gaskets on refrigerator doors, can deteriorate naturally. However, if a tenant breaks a handle or damages an appliance through irresponsibility, they must repair or replace it.

 Aging & Weather: It’s no secret that as rental properties age, different exterior facets deteriorate. Examples can include the natural fading of outside paint, weathering of a roof, or the foundation settling. In this case, these damages are almost always considered normal wear and tear and are a landlord’s responsibility to resolve.

Examples of Normal Wear & Tear

·       Loose door handles

·       Sticking door locks

·       Loose sink faucet handles

·       Faded curtains (from the sun)

·       Minor wear on kitchen countertops

·       Faded painted numbers on stovetop range

Examples of Property Damage

·       Juice or wine stains on carpet

·       Torn wallpaper

·       Broken door locks

·       Missing appliance knobs, handles or switches

·       Broken windows

·       Crayon, pen, or marker stains/unapproved painting

·       Broken appliances

·       Burns or holes in carpet or furniture

Who Is Responsible for What? Landlords vs. Tenants

Understanding the distinction between normal wear and tear and damage caused by renters is critical for both landlords and renters.

Property Managers/Landlords: Responsible for maintaining the property and ensuring it remains fit to live in. They are expected to cover the costs associated with normal wear and tear. As such, landlords must conduct regular rental unit inspections, address maintenance issues immediately, and ensure the property’s overall upkeep.

Tenants: Without question, tenants must use the property responsibly, carefully preventing excessive damage. Renters are responsible for immediately reporting any maintenance or repair issues to the landlord. Unfortunately, failure to do so can result in them being held responsible for damages that could have been eliminated with prompt communication.

The Great Security Deposit Debate: Implications for Normal Wear & Tear vs. Property Damage

Property managers and landlords often find themselves asking if they can charge for normal wear and tear or if it only applies to actual property damage scenarios. And can they deduct routine maintenance fees and normal wear and tear from the security deposit? Or only if there’s true damage?

In a dispute over normal wear and tear, the key is communicating clearly. Open, respectful conversations often lead to an agreeable resolution without bringing monetary implications into the mix.

However, if a resolution can’t be reached between landlord and tenant, local laws and regulations, in addition to the original, signed lease agreement terms, should be consulted to guide the dialogue.

The landlord or property manager must collect a security deposit before a tenant moves into a rental unit. A security deposit serves as a form of insurance against potential damage and is a means to cover any renter damage caused by negligence. The bottom line is that it can be a form of true motivation for renters to look after a unit carefully.

A security deposit amount is frequently valued at one month’s rent and collected at the same time as the first month’s rent – typically before the tenant moves into the property. If there’s no property damage when the renter moves out, the landlord must legally return the security deposit to them. Failure to do so entitles the tenant to seek legal action.

Here’s a normal excessive wear and tear checklist that property managers and landlords can include in their lease agreements so there’s no confusion at the end of the lease.

What Landlords Should Do If They Discover Property Damage

If property damage is discovered, the landlord is required to share a list of deductions as repair expenses with the renter. This written documentation can rationalize the reasoning why the security deposit is only being refunded partially or in some cases, not at all.

How Much Can You Charge Tenants If There Is Property Damage?

The answer to this common question ultimately depends on the kind of damage involved. Typically, there is not a legal maximum on damage-related fees, simply because the price tag is determined by the type of repair required to bring the unit back into its original state before the renter moved in.

The charges, however, do have to be considered “reasonable.”  For example, if a fee is in excess of typical local rates for the type of repair work required, it could actually be considered unreasonable.

In most cases, property managers and landlords get estimates from contractors and research repair costs. That way, they have written proof illustrating the expense related to repairing or replacing the issue.

Always Document Normal Wear and Tear

To avoid disputes, meticulous documentation is vital. Here are some steps to consider:

  • Conduct a thorough move-in inspection with the renter before they move in and a move-out inspection when they give their notice. Always take pictures and/or videos and make notes of the rental unit’s overall condition to develop a baseline.
  • Both landlord and tenant should have a written lease agreement that defines responsibilities and expectations clearly regarding regular maintenance and potential repairs.
  • Keep track of all maintenance and repairs performed over the lease term. This can validate what’s considered normal wear and tear and renter-caused damages.

Can You Charge for Normal Wear and Tear?

In a nutshell, the answer is typically no. Any damages that result from normal wear and tear is in fact the landlord’s responsibility. However, conversely, tenants are responsible for excessive damage. Keep in mind, as a property manager or landlord, you can only make deductions to a renter’s security deposit if they have caused damage that exceeds what’s considered normal wear and tear.

Can You Deduct Routine Maintenance Fees and Normal Wear and Tear From The Security Deposit?

Be sure to check your state and local laws, but the answer is almost always no. The security deposit is meant for unpaid rent, repair of damages to the property beyond normal wear and tear, and any cleaning needed to get the property back to the level of cleanliness it was at move-in.

Prevention is Key

As a property manager or landlord, truly understanding normal wear and tear is essential. A more proactive approach to maintenance, such as regular check-ins and preventive measures like pest control, can help reduce tenant complaints and legal disputes in the long run. Check out our property management tips article for more advice on how to run a smooth multi-family operation.

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