Normal Wear and Tear for Rental Properties: A Landlord’s Guide

Cody Cromwell
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Normal Wear and Tear vs Damage

Normal wear and tear is due to normal use of the rental property. It can range from everyday wear and tear to a landlord fixing damage. It can change from one lease period to another depending on the use of the building.

Renters should be aware that hardwood floors can have scratches, splinters, gouges, and dings. These are normal changes in a hardwood floor and do not mean the floor is damaged. In fact, hardwood floors are very durable. If there is damage to a hardwood floor, it should be repaired promptly by the landlord.

If something in the building breaks, including dishes, a stove, windows, or doors, the tenant should call a contractor to repair it. Repairs should be done immediately. If there is damage that needs repair, the tenant should take pictures to show the damage.

Tenants need to keep in mind that if the landlord or anyone else in the building breaks something, it is the landlord’s responsibility to repair the damage. For example, if a tenant drops a vase, the tenant is not at fault for the damage. But if an inattentive tenant accidentally breaks a window, the tenant is at fault for the damage and should contact a lawyer as soon as possible.

Differences Between Normal Wear and Tear vs Damage

There’s a simple answer to this question, –Normal Wear and Tear vs Damage.” Let’s take a look at the differences between the two. –


Anything you could potentially cause damage to will be considered damage. The damage, whether it stems from normal wear and tear or something else, can be quantified in terms of price. For example, if a piece of furniture is damaged, then the cost could be simple as fixing the damage or replacing the furniture, depending on your budget.

Normal Wear and Tear

Normal wear and tear is a bit of a trickier situation. The term implies that the item hasn’t had contact with anything that would cause damage. However, there is technically nothing preventing this from happening. Such is the case of normal wear and tear of carpet in a rental property. As the carpet gets worn out, the coloring and fibers change and the carpet gets worn. The wear is not necessarily caused by dirt or anything that would damage the carpet. This wear could very well be normal wear and tear.

Normal Wear and Tear vs Damaged Carpet

Wear and tear of a rental property is normal due to normal rental life cycle of a property. Over time, carpet tends to show wear and tear and requires periodic carpet cleaning. Damaged carpet is a problem because it can cause black mold and other problems. There are different types of damages to carpet, such as burn holes, cut or puncture holes and tears. When rent is paid on time and in full, a landlord is not responsible for damages other than normal wear and tear. Renter is required to fix by repairing or replacing damaged carpet before move out.

Carpet Care:

Landlords should provide carpet care instructions in the rental agreement. If signs of damage or mold are problematic before move-in, recommend professional cleanup before move-in. When cleaning rental property, always use clean water and a low amount of detergent – never use regular carpet shampoo. Vacuum thoroughly after cleaning to remove all detergent suds. When moving out, remove all furniture and clean carpets by vacuuming with the hose attachment. Do not use a steam cleaner or hot water. Do not use industrial strength carpet cleaners, shampoos or Bleaches.


Bleach damages carpet fibers and is not recommended to be used. However, cleaning the carpets with hot water prior to moving out, may serve as a temporary solution to clean carpets.

Normal Wear and Tear vs Damaged Paint

Normal wear and tear refers to any small imperfections or damage that are typically seen in any rental property. For example, the paint on the walls may start to peel on occasion and normal wear and tear includes this issue. Damaged paint refers to physical damage that has caused paint to be removed in a rental unit. For example, if a renter had a fight with a friend and left a large scratch on a wall, it would be deemed damaged paint. Normal rough utility usage does not include physical damage.

Letting a rental property flat may be the most difficult aspect of your job as a landlord. How do you keep a tenant renting a property when it has been a while since the unit was last rented and you don’t have the money to paint it? And yet, how can you continue with providing rental income for the purpose of keeping cash flow positive and with the purpose of allowing you to pay down your mortgage? The answer is normal wear and tear.

If there is evidence that a renter has caused physical damage to the unit, you must have evidence of this before starting eviction proceedings.

How to Deduct Expenses from a Security Deposit

For a landlord, dealing with tenants who keep moving in and out can be frustrating. Many landlords have had tenants who have moved out and not cleaned out their apartment.

Just think, if you constantly have to make an effort to clean up after them, who knows what may be lying around… you’re running the risk of getting sick!

On top of the frustration of cleaning up after renters, landlords also risk losing money when they receive less than the full rent. Although most tenants do a good job of paying their rent on time, some may pay at a later time or even not pay at all. And even though it isn’t the landlord’s fault, this money isn’t coming back if you don’t deduct a security deposit.

This can be a big financial loss for a landlord, so it’s important to make sure you’re taking the proper steps to store and account for the security deposit as soon as the tenant moves out.

First, how much do you need to take from the security deposit?

Example of Security Deposit Deductions

A security deposit is a prepaid rent deposit that landlords require of renters when they sign a lease agreement. These deposits are carried over to the end of the lease (except in California) and are generally returned to tenants when they return the keys to the property.

As with any prepaid rent, your landlord can legally deduct any and all charges (even ones he or she isn’t legally required to pay) from your security deposit as the payment of the damage of the apartment.

Examples of damage that need to be deducted from your security deposit include broken windows, broken fixtures (e.g. door locks, broken bed frames), and damages that were caused while the tenant was living there.

Tenant’s insurance usually covers the cost of repairs, so be sure to get insurance when you sign up for a new tenancy. In the event that you do need to make a payment (on your own or through your landlord’s insurance), you should have the permission of your landlord to do so.

When a security deposit is immediately returned to the tenant once the lease ends, the security deposit can usually be used in one of three ways:

  • Complete the damages to the property at the end of your lease
  • Balance the security deposit and apply any fair deductions to the total deposit

Spread the deductions evenly across all charges for all charges.

How to Avoid Landlord Tenant Disputes

Avoiding disputes with tenants is a best practice for any property manager or landlord. These type of problems can escalate and quickly become costly to remediate. Landlords and property managers can be sued for 3 things in a lease:

Damages for breach of lease Repair and deduct from the security deposit Unpaid rent

The first step in avoiding disputes is ensuring that all parties understand the terms and conditions under which the tenant is occupying the leased premises. It is critical that the tenant’s signature contains the name under which the tenant leases the property and that the tenant’s name on the lease matches the driver’s license the tenant presents at the security deposit retention. This is just another data point to help you manage your property.

To ensure that the tenant isn’t overstaying their lease, that the tenant is paying the required amount of rent and that the tenant is not causing noise violations, there are a number of tenant-related items to monitor and enforce, including:

Treat management and owner access rights the same

Create a written procedure that explains who has management and owner access to the property. For example, have the same person and times for maintenance and property inspections. This will help prevent arguments about who has the right to access under the housing regulations and will make it easier for the tenant to understand their responsibilities under the lease.

How to Document Wear and Tear vs Damage

It’s critical as a property owner to know how to differentiate between normal wear and tear and actual damage and remedy when damages occur.

You’ll definitely want to know which costs you’ll be expected to cover and which ones you should write off.

In a sense, wear and tear is exactly what you’re used to seeing. In this case, a property owner is responsible for repairs and replacement where damage has been inflicted to a rental home while it is occupied.

However, there is a clear distinction between wear and tear and damage. Wear and tear occurs over time, whereas damage occurs as a result of abuse or neglect. Damage can be attributed to wear and tear, but only if the damage is considered abnormal and result of negligence on the part of the owner.

Often, property owners can bear the cost of repairs and replacements for wear and tear, but damage could come out of their pocket.

When to Document Wear and Tear

One of the biggest questions a landlord will face is how to document a claim for wear and tear.

In a sense, you’re already documenting wear and tear by keeping a repair log or keeping a record of what is repaired and with what type of repair.

Step 1. Conduct Landlord Tenant Move in Checklist

Before you build a relationship with a tenant, a key part of the process is to conduct a courtesy inspection to get a feel for the condition of the rental property. The tenant will be responsible for paying for the inspection, so it’s in their best interest to ensure that the property is in a good condition. To schedule an initial inspection, request a call back with details of who will be conducting the inspection and when you will be available and in touch.

Once the date and time of the inspection is confirmed, explain to the tenant that they must call you when they want to do the inspection. This way you will know when they will be coming and can always be available to help if needed. Finally, make sure the inspection day is arranged so it is convenient for both you and the tenant.

Conduct Inspection in Person

When the inspection arrives, make sure that the owner or tenant who will conduct the inspection is present. The inspection should be conducted in a professional manner and note any concerns, problems, or defects.

You might want to ask the tenant to sign a form so that both you and the tenant are aware of what was covered during the inspection. At the end of the inspection, thank the tenant for conducting the inspection in a professional manner and include the inspection report in the file of the tenant.

Step 2. Conduct Regular Maintenance

The most important part of the regular maintenance process is to keep a record of all of the maintenance issues that you have addressed. Sounds surprisingly easy, right? Well, it’s not. The problem is that no one system is ideal for everyone. You can use a notebook or a spreadsheet to track maintenance issues and resolutions.

A general maintenance checklist might include:

  • vacuuming and washing
  • linen cleaning
  • cleaning of bathrooms and removing dirty or used towels
  • cleaning of range hoods and exhaust fans
  • general cleaning

You can also create maintenance checklists that are specific to individual systems like HVAC or electrical.

If you do not have a maintenance checklist, you should make one immediately. A comprehensive maintenance checklist will provide you with a detailed and easy-to-use record of your property’s condition. It will also keep your property manager or property manager from you from adding more unnecessary expenses.

You can go crazy putting the maintenance checklist together. Try finding one here.

Do not forget to create your maintenance checklist as soon as you move in. If you don’t have one it is easy for all the maintenance tasks to get pushed to the back burner. In order to prevent this, make it a habit to take a few minutes right when you move in to prioritize your maintenance checks.

Step 3. Respond to Tenant Requests

When the tenant moves out, I am required to return the rental unit to the "original condition at the time that the rental agreement was entered into not waste, remainder, trash, garbage, debris, trash, or other liquid accumulation as a result of having been a tenant in the rental unit or otherwise".

But what does the "original condition" actually entail?

In the scenario where a rental property has been damaged by the tenant or a guest, the landlord might be required to make "substantial repairs" to the unit. This is something that should be considered (and confirmed) in the security deposit agreement. It’s also something that you would have to demonstrate any time that the tenant tries to withhold the security deposit.

For non-damaging "normal wear and tear" I’ll have to check my lease. Ideally, if the lease requires it, the tenant should sign off on any maintenance requests in a mutually agreed upon schedule. In practice, however, it’s not uncommon for a tenant to sign a month to month lease. In that situation, the landlord is free to fix anything that the tenant has broken as long as the tenant has given the landlord 30 days…or more…to fix it!

Step 4. Conduct Landlord Tenant Move Out Checklist

This is the last step to the tenant move out checklist. This is where you walk through the house and get it ready for sale. This includes things like a deep cleaning, swiping the keys, and making sure that the lock box is still accessible. This is the most important step of the tenant move out checklist, because your rental home needs to look attractive and clean. If any of our checklist items were overlooked, it can change your landlord tenant move out cost to very expensive.

The last step in the landlord tenant move out checklist is to make sure that you’ve notified your potential new tenants of the move out time and date. Without this step, you’re going to be scrambling to find somebody or your property will sit empty as people are looking for a house.

Bottom Line

Normal wear and tear can be divided into two categories – routine and unexpected – and is very different from damage caused by discrimination or abuse.

Routine wear and tear will be removed by your landlord automatically by the Manufacturers Warranty. For example, the manufacturers warranty covers the worn and torn edges on the underside of any carpet in the rental. This area will also be replaced by the Manufacturers Warranty. Here’s another example – the Manufacturers Warranty will cover the worn and torn sections of the carpet if this occurs.

Also, regardless of landlord or tenant, damages caused intentionally because of race, sexual orientation, nationality, religion or disability will cause an additional insurance premium to be charged. In these situations, your landlord will still need to keep all records available of these actions and the costs associated with repairs and replacements.

In the event of a claim, your landlord may request a certification that you’re looking for housing. They may also request utility and tax bills or a copy of your rental agreement. This type of request will be made to protect their interest as landlords. Request for these approvals should not be viewed as harassment or discrimination and should be seen as an action to protect your landlord’s interest.