Whether you’re a budding property manager, landlord, or tenant, you may have wondered what consists of “normal wear and tear” in a rental property. Steven R. Kellman, a real estate attorney and consultant writer for The Washington Post’s Rentals Section, addresses this very question in a short but detailed 2004 Q and A indicating why “wear and tear” is often a bone of contention between landlords and tenants.
Though no blog can be taken as legal advice, the laws on this haven’t changed much since then. He states that the primary factor is going to be reasonable time frames that will be particular to the item in question. For instance, a plush white carpet may show “normal” signs of wear and tear much faster than, say, a tighter, darker carpet. Consequently, they will differ in what would be considered “normal wear and tear.”
The best way landlords and tenants can address this is by being clear from the start. For property managers, it’s important to be realistic about what will be considered normal wear and tear. This is especially true if you know you’ll be renting to tenants with children or pets.
For tenants, that’s understanding that regular signs of foot traffic and the like will be normal. However, allowing your beloved pooch to use the carpet for a toilet or a chew toy obviously does not consist of normal wear and tear. Open communication is definitely critical in these situations.
Normal Wear and Tear Defined
Wear and tear refers to the gradual deterioration or damage that occurs in a rental property over time due to normal, everyday use during the tenancy period. It is distinct from property damage caused by a tenant’s misuse, negligence, or intentional actions.
The specific definition of normal wear and tear can vary depending on local laws and lease agreements, but here are some common examples:
- Faded or worn paint or wallpaper
- Small cracks in walls or ceilings due to settling
- Small nail holes or minor wall scuffs
- Carpet wear in high-traffic areas
- Minor scratches on hardwood floors
- Faded or worn-out curtains or blinds
- Loose door handles or hinges
- Worn-out seals around windows and doors
- Gradual plumbing or electrical issues due to aging
- Deterioration of appliances with normal use
It’s both unrealistic and unreasonable for a landlord to expect tenants to leave the property exactly as it was when they first moved in. Normal wear and tear should be expected and is typically the landlord’s responsibility.
Landlords cannot charge tenants for repairs or replacements related to normal wear and tear. However, any excessive damage beyond normal wear and tear can be deducted from a tenant’s security deposit, subject to local laws and lease agreements.
When renting a property, it is advisable to thoroughly document the condition of the property before the tenant moves in and after they move out. This can help settle any disputes regarding the extent of wear and tear and ensure a fair resolution for both parties.
How Landlords & Property Managers Tell the Difference
Differentiating between normal wear and tear and property damage can sometimes be subjective, but landlords and property managers typically consider the following factors when making deductions to a security deposit:
- Duration of the tenancy: The longer a tenant has occupied the property, the more likely it is that certain items will show signs of wear and tear.
- Age and condition of the property: Older properties may naturally have more wear and tear compared to newer ones. Landlords consider the property’s initial condition and the expected lifespan of various components.
- Intensity and extent of the damage: Excessive damage that goes beyond what is reasonably expected from normal use is more likely to be considered tenant-caused and not normal wear and tear. For example, a small hole from hanging a picture would be considered normal, while large holes punched in walls would be considered damage.
- Negligence or misuse: Damage resulting from negligence, abuse, accidents, or deliberate actions by the tenant is not considered normal wear and tear. For example, a broken window due to a tenant’s negligence would be considered damage.
- Maintenance and repairs: Regular maintenance by the landlord can contribute to wear and tear prevention. If damage occurs due to the landlord’s failure to address maintenance issues promptly, it may be challenging to attribute it solely to the tenant.
- Local laws and regulations: Landlord-tenant laws can vary by jurisdiction and may have specific guidelines on what can be deducted from a security deposit. It’s important for landlords to be familiar with local regulations to ensure compliance.
To understand the difference between normal wear and tear and property damage further, we’ve put together this sample table indicating varying issues on similar items in a rental property:
To establish a fair assessment, landlords often conduct a move-in inspection with the tenant and create a detailed move-in checklist that documents the condition of the property. This can be compared with the move-out condition to determine any significant changes or damage that occurred during the tenancy.
Clear communication and transparency between the landlord and tenant can help resolve any disputes regarding deductions from the security deposit. Providing itemized lists and documentation of repairs or replacements can support the landlord’s claims, and tenants can raise concerns if they believe deductions are unfair or inaccurate.
Avoiding Issues Regarding Normal Wear and Tear
As you go about the business of property management, you should always understand that there’s going to be some depreciation in the condition of the rental home. You, as the property manager, need to make it very clear to your tenants from the start what your standards are. If possible, be very specific about what you consider as normal wear and tear.
For both landlords and tenants, it is a good idea to take note of the condition of the unit upon move in. Taking photographs of any issues is highly recommended, so they are documented from the start. For instance, if a tenant notices a stain on the carpet that wasn’t apparent during the initial showing, they should take a photo, note it, and let the property manager know before or during the move-in. This is also a good idea for management because it keeps things clear from the beginning.
Keeping accurate records of the items in your units is also beneficial, because then you can accurately track how old each item is. For example, when you install a new oven, keep the receipt. Not only is this wise for your tax records; you’ll also have reasonable evidence of damage beyond normal wear and tear if it is overly beaten up within a year.
Set standards in place from the beginning for your tenants so they’re aware of what needs to be taken care of while they’re renting your property. Not only will this encourage them to be more mindful; it also validates deductions from the security deposit if needed. When you do take those deductions upon move out, always be sure to note exactly what the damage was, including its relevant cost.
Of course, there can be instances when landlords and tenants will disagree about damage claims. Disputes regarding deductions in security deposits due to property damage are typically resolved through a specific process, which may vary depending on local laws and regulations. Both the landlord and tenant should refer to the lease agreement to understand the terms regarding deductions and dispute resolution.