Is Normal Wear and Tear Different Than Damage?

When You Can Keep a Tenant's Security Deposit

Old wooden window damaged by weathering, flaking paint, Stuttgart, Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany
••• Olaf Kruger / Getty Images

While a landlord is responsible for maintaining the rental property, there is a certain amount of deterioration that is expected to occur as the property ages, known as wear and tear. Neither the landlord nor the tenant is responsible for this normal deterioration. Damage done to the property is a different story, and the person responsible for causing the damage will also be financially responsible for fixing it.

Definition of Normal Wear and Tear

Normal wear and tear is the expected decline in the condition of a property due to normal everyday use. It is deterioration that occurs in the course of living in a property. It is not caused by abuse or neglect.

Examples of Normal Wear and Tear:

  • A Couple of Small Stains on a Carpet
  • A Couple of Scrapes or Dings in a Wood Floor
  • Color of Carpet or Hardwood Fading Due to Exposure to Sunlight
  • Dirty Grout
  • Loose Door Handles
  • Silver Finish on Bathroom Fixtures Beginning to Wear Away

Definition of Damage

Damage is not naturally occurring. It is harm done that affects the value, usefulness or normal function of property. This damage can be committed on purpose, or through neglect.  

Examples of Damage:

  • A Smashed Bathroom Mirror
  • Broken Toilet Seat
  • A Hole in the Middle of the Door
  • Damaged or Missing Door Handles/Locks
  • Carpet Soaked With Pet Urine

Difference Between Normal Wear and Tear and Damage

The main difference between normal wear and tear and damage is that damage is unexpected based on the use or function of the property. Normal wear and tear is expected.

It is normal and expected for there to be some scuffs in the paint after a tenant moves out of a unit. It is not normal and expected for there to be a two foot hole in the bedroom wall after the tenant moves out of the unit. The scuffs in the paint would be considered normal wear and tear. The hole in the wall would be considered damage. 

Why Is Normal Wear and Tear Important?

Wear and tear is a term commonly used when dealing with rental property. Trying to determine the difference between normal wear and tear and damage to a rental usually becomes an issue when a tenant moves out of a rental and is looking for their security deposit to be returned. A landlord cannot make deductions for normal wear and tear, but the landlord can make deductions for damage to the property.

Security Deposit Disputes

A landlord and tenant do not always agree on the amount of the security deposit that should be returned to the tenant when the tenant's lease is over. A landlord may believe an issue at the property is considered damage, while the tenant may see it as normal wear and tear.

Tenant's Perspective:

The tenant believes the security deposit is his or her property and it should be returned to him or her at the end of the lease. The tenant has paid their rent on time and has not broken any terms of the lease, so expects the security deposit to be returned in full. 

Landlord's Perspective:

The landlord's goal is to make sure the rental property is maintained in good condition. If the landlord believes the tenant has abused the condition of the rental property in any way, the landlord will take deductions from the tenant's security deposit in order to fix this damage. 

Walk-Through Inspections

Walk-through inspections are one way to avoid security deposit disputes. 

Move In:

The landlord and tenant should walk through the property prior to tenant move in. Pictures should be taken to document the current condition of the rental unit

Any current damage or defects in the unit should be noted. Both landlord and tenant should sign the document, acknowledging that they agree with the current condition.

Move Out:

When the tenant is moving out of the rental unit, the landlord and tenant should again walk through the property to document any changes to the condition of the property. Pictures should again be taken. 

The landlord can point out any issues he or she has with the current condition of the property. The landlord can explain why he or she will be taking deductions from the tenant's security deposit to cover these damages. The tenant can agree with or dispute the landlord's findings.

Landlord Responsibility to Maintain Unit

Under landlord tenant law, every landlord has the responsibility to maintain their rental property. This includes:

  • Following Building Codes
  • Making Needed Repairs
  • Providing Proper Trash Receptacles
  • Providing Running Water

Damage Caused by Landlord's Neglect:

If damage at the rental property is caused by the landlord's failure to properly maintain the property, then the landlord cannot take deductions from the tenant's security deposit, even if the damage is inside the tenant's unit. For example, if a roof leak has caused the drywall in the tenant's ceiling to start to collapse, this damage is the landlord's fault, not the tenant's.