Defining Normal Wear and Tear on Your Rental Property

apartment wear and tear

Image by kowaleski via Flickr

When a tenant moves out, going through the inspection process and returning the security deposit is a sensitive subject. To prevent any unnecessary disputes over damages, use a camera to take snapshots of a unit before the tenant moves in and right before the move out to assess any repairs that need to be made. Your renters are responsible for damages that are out of the ordinary, which you can deduct out of their security deposit, but they’re not held accountable for the normal wear and tear on the property. This is where things get confusing: exactly what defines wear and tear?

Here are a few guidelines for judging if some of the damages on your property are the result of everyday usage and should not be deducted from the security deposit:

Dirty carpets. Carpeting generally has a limited lifetime, especially if it’s a light color. Normal wear and tear consists of shoe markings in the halls and main walkways, or light stains, which are expected over the period of a few years. Tenants who return the unit to you with the carpets heavily damaged – stained with pet urine or paint, for example, would be responsible for the damages. If the carpeting was brand-new at the time of move-in and is severely stained at the end of a one-year lease, this could also be reason to deduct from a security deposit.

Scuffs on the walls. Minor markings on the walls from having furniture can be easily touched up or cleaned, but anything that changes the condition of the wall is not – such as nail holes, gouges, or nicks. Walls marked with crayons and markers would also be damage beyond normal wear and tear.

Cracked tiles and broken hardware. Damages to these items can be a judgement call. One factor to put into consideration is if they were old or new at the time of move-in. If the bathroom tiles were showing signs of wear and age prior to your current tenant, the cracking may be natural with more usage. However, if the majority of the tiles have cracked in a year or if they were newly installed before the move-in, your tenant would be responsible for the damage. Apply a similar policy to doorknobs, drawer pulls, and appliances. If the items were worn before move-in, it’s unfair to charge tenants for damages they didn’t cause.

Damages from pets. Stains on the carpet from urination, dug-up yards, and scratch or chew marks on any surfaces aren’t considered normal wear and tear. It’s normal for landlords to charge a higher security deposit for pet owners to cover any damages; look into including this in the lease if you haven’t done so already.

A clean apartment. It’s reasonable to expect tenants to return the unit to you in a clean condition. Make sure you give them prior notification of what’s expected before a move-out so they have time to clean and make any necessary repairs before the walk-through inspection. If the apartment is returned to you with dirty and smelly bathrooms, grimy countertops, and expired food in the refrigerator, it’s reasonable for you to charge a cleaning fee.