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  • Writer's pictureRon Riddell

Normal Wear and Tear vs. Damage at Your Rental Property: How to Tell the Difference

Updated: May 13

Depending on how long tenants stay at your rental property, it’s natural to see some wear and tear of the unit over time. However, this doesn’t necessarily mean the property has been damaged.

While normal wear and tear is an expected part of renting, excessive damage may warrant deductions from the security deposit to cover repair costs.

So, what are the differences between normal wear and tear and damage? Here, we help landlords determine when it’s appropriate to retain the security deposit for actual damages.

Defining Normal Wear and Tear

Normal wear and tear refers to the gradual deterioration of a property and its components that naturally occurs over time with regular and reasonable use. It can include:

  • Faded paint

  • Loose door handles

  • Minor scratches on floors

  • Scuff marks on walls

  • Worn-out carpets

Typically, tenants are not responsible for repairing or replacing items suffering normal wear and tear at a rental. This wear is to be expected and is not a reason to retain the security deposit.

Recognizing Property Damage

Damage, on the other hand, goes beyond normal wear and tear and refers to any excessive or negligent harm caused to the property. Damaged components can include:

  • Broken windows or light fixtures

  • Burn marks on floors or furniture

  • Cracked tile or water damage on hardwood floors

  • Damaged appliances

  • Large holes in the walls

  • Pet damage, such as deep scratches in the floor or chewed furniture

These types of damage are not considered normal and will cost you money to fix, so you may end up keeping some or all of the security deposit for repairs.

Factors for Determining Who’s Responsible for Damage

Sometimes, damage that requires keeping the security deposit is obvious. However, sometimes, it’s not immediately clear who should be responsible for the damage.

When considering whether to keep part of a tenant’s security deposit for repairs, it’s important to consider:

  • The duration of tenancy. The longer a tenant resides in a rental property, the more likely it is that normal wear and tear will occur. However, severe damage over a short period of time is unusual.

  • Condition prior to move-in. The condition of items before a tenant moves in plays a significant role in distinguishing normal wear and tear from damage. For example, worn-out carpets in an older property may be considered normal wear and tear, while the same level of wear in a newly renovated unit might be viewed differently.

  • Intentionality or negligence. Accidental spills or minor scuffs are common and considered normal wear and tear. However, if damages are a result of negligence, misuse, or intentional actions, the responsibility shifts to the tenant.

  • The lease terms. Your lease should be clear about what damage would necessitate keeping part or all of a tenant’s security deposit. Double-check the lease to determine if the damage would be reason to retain the deposit.

Conducting Thorough Inspections

It’s crucial to conduct an inspection prior to move-in to document the condition of the property. Use a checklist and take photos or videos to support your assessment. This way, when it’s time for the tenant to move out, you can do the same inspection and compare any damages that exceed normal wear and tear. This information will also help support your claims for deducting from the security deposit, if necessary.

Be Proactive About Property Damage

Before your tenants move in, it’s important to conduct a walk-through with them and share your assessment of the property’s condition so the tenant can agree with it.

You can also provide recommendations for regular maintenance and emphasize the importance of reporting problems as soon as they notice them. Also, be sure the tenants understand what damage would require security deposit deductions.

This proactive approach can help set expectations and reduce conflict when it comes time to refund or withhold the security deposit.

Simplify Property Management With Promax

Understanding the differences between normal wear and tear and actual damage is essential for landlords to appropriately assess deductions from the security deposit. If property inspections and management take up too much of your time, simplify the process with Promax Management. Our decades of experience in property management keep your investment profitable without the hassle. Contact us today at (703) 642-5683!


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