What Exactly is ‘Normal Wear and Tear’?

It’s expected that a rental property won’t be left in the same condition it was in when the tenant first moved in. As a landlord, you need to determine whether the damage is caused by normal usage over time or if it’s a result of renter’s negligence.

It’s your responsibility as a rental property owner to identify if the damage is caused by normal wear and tear or tenant damage. This way, you can decide whether to refund the tenant’s security deposit or use the security deposit to repair the damage.

While the law allows the property owner to deduct a portion of the security deposit to cover the cost of damages, lack of distinction between reasonable wear and tear and unexpected damage can lead to tenant disputes.

That’s why we’ve put together this article so you can be guided accordingly.

What is ‘Wear and Tear’?

Reasonable or normal wear and tear is the unavoidable deterioration of a property’s condition due to usage and time. Even with high-quality tenants maintain your rental property as their own, the property is still likely to incur inevitable damage.

The longer a tenant rents your property, the more cases of wear and tear are expected. As wear and tear is the expected outcome of constant use, tenants are not obligated to pay for this type of damage.

What are Examples of Normal Wear and Tear?

Landlords need to anticipate basic cleaning and repair costs due to wear and tear. These costs can be covered by your rental fees.

A landlord with blue overalls works to unclog a tenants kitchen pipes as they stand overhead.

Examples of normal wear and tear on your property can include:

  • Wallpaper that’s faded or torn slightly.
  • Holes or cracks in the wall from nails or pins.
  • Paint that’s cracking, fading or peeling.
  • Plaster that’s chipping.
  • Lamps or window shades that have become dirty or faded in color.
  • Floors needing new varnish.
  • Faded or worn carpets from walking.
  • Bathroom tiles or grout loosening.
  • Rusting on sinks or shower rods
  • Old pipes needing unclogging.
  • Old bathtubs, toilets or sinks with scratched or worn enamel.

What is Unexpected Damage?

Unexpected tenant damage is a result of negligence, carelessness or abuse of the rental property. If your tenants mistreated your investment property and their behavior resulted in property damage, they’re responsible for paying for any property repairs or associated costs.

Rental property upgrades done without landlord approval can also be charged to the renter. These types of damages are intentional decisions made by the tenants, sometimes without the landlord's consent.

If any property damage was caused by your tenant’s guests, your tenant is responsible for all associated costs. They’re responsible for their guests and their guests' actions. Renters are liable for any damage costs to your rental property outside of normal usage as the damage is considered intentional.

What are Examples of Unexpected Damage?

Property damage can require expensive reconstruction. Repairs due to tenant property damage can be subtracted from the security deposit.

Examples of tenant damages include:

  • Wall markings, paint or wallpaper that was not approved.
  • Big holes in the unit’s walls or plaster.
  • Stains, holes or burns in carpet or floors.
  • Loose door hinges or missing doors.
  • Missing fixtures or noticeable holes in ceilings from removed fixtures.
  • Chipped or gouged floors.
  • Toilets damaged or clogged from improper use.
  • Broken windows.
  • Bent or missing shower rods.
  • Broken or chipped enamel in bathtubs, toilets and sinks.
  • Bathroom tiles that are cracked or missing.
  • Missing, stained or torn lamp and window shades

A close up of a broken window pane is featured, shattered in the center of the frame.

Not all unexpected property damages are caused by the tenant's negligence. A landlord might be at fault for damages to the structural system of their property, faulty design or unmaintained plumbing, all of which might put tenants in danger.

Once identified or reported, these issues need to be addressed immediately so your rental space is safe, secure and comfortable to live in. Keeping your rental property well maintained means being compliant with state laws and local building and health codes.

How can Landlords Prevent Property Damage?

When it’s been proven that damage to your property was done intentionally or a result of the renter’s abuse, you might not need to refund the tenant’s security deposit at move out. Whether this is the case or not will depend on local laws.

Disputes can arise when the tenant and landlord define the damage differently. Conflicts happen when the landlord believes that the damage was a result of tenant negligence, but the tenant believes otherwise. Both the tenant and landlord have the right to pursue a legal case against the other.

To avoid these types of litigation cases, as well as unexpected property damage, you can follow the tips below:

Take Photos of the Property Before Tenant Move-in.

To know whether damage has been done to your property, it’s important to know the condition of your rental space before your renters move in. Take photos of all areas of your property and label and describe the photos so you can easily identify any damages after the move out.

Perform Move-in and Move-out Inspections.

Use a checklist when conducting move-in inspections so you don’t miss anything. Discuss your expectations with your tenant and the consequences or costs should there be any intentional property damage during their stay.

A paper move in inspection checklist is pictured as a property manager marks each box with a red checkmark.

We suggest conducting the same process when your tenants move out of your rental property. List damages if there are any and take photos to document them. Discuss the plan in having it fixed, including the cost it will entail.

Conduct Thorough Tenant Screening.

To avoid as much property damage as possible, it’s essential to carefully screen your potential tenants. If you’re unsure on how to do this, you can always hire a property manager like Rollingwood Management, Inc., with a proven track record in choosing the right tenants for you and your property.

Bottom Line: Normal Wear and Tear and Unexpected Damage

Normal wear and tear is expected damage caused to your property from regular use of the premises and appliances. Unexpected damage occurs when a tenant misuses or abuses your rental property and its appliances. Landlords are only responsible to incur costs for expected damages or normal wear and tear.

Are you still unsure about what normal wear and tear and unexpected damages include? Reach out to Rollingwood Management today for all your property management questions.

Our services include property inspections and maintenance, as well as tenant screening and selection. We’re also familiar with all relevant local and state laws and will help you avoid litigation cases related to security deposit disputes. Contact our team by dialing +1 (512) 327-4451 today to learn more!

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