The Ultimate Guide to “Normal Wear and Tear”

Written on September 19, 2016 by , updated on January 3, 2019

Normal Wear and TearThere’s a phrase in landlord-tenant law called “normal wear and tear” and it’s very difficult to define.

Georgia law (where I live) attempts to define it as such:

Okay, I got it. Landlords can’t remodel the property on the tenant’s dime. They need to return the security deposit as long as there are no damages beyond normal wear and tear.

Sounds good … until you really start to think about it!

Related: What Can I Deduct or Withhold From a Security Deposit?

What Exactly Is “Normal Wear and Tear?”


“I know it when I see it.”

Normal wear and tear is often as nebulous as Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous remark: “I’ll know it when I see it”.

But that excuse wouldn’t hold up in your local landlord-tenant court. Is there a more accurate way to know what is considered normal wear and tear? It’s a bit of both really.

Although there is a dictionary definition of the phrase, it’s still unclear as to what the term actually means. Merriam-Webster’s definition of wear and tear:

So here we go again … normal depreciation to a tenant might not be so normal to a landlord. There are slobs and neat freaks in this world, and both think the way they live is “normal.” And we wonder why there are often tensions between landlords and tenants!

Texas, might have the most specific definition that I’ve seen:

Here’s our guide as to what you can safely assume is normal wear and tear, based on a guide from HUD:

Normal vs. Excessive Damage

Normal Wear & Tear:
Landlord's Responsibility
Excessive Tenant Damage:
Resident's Responsibility
A few small nail holes, chips, smudges, dents, scrapes, or cracks in the wallsGaping holes in walls from abuse, accidents, or neglect. Unapproved paint colors or unprofessional paint jobs. Dozens of nail holes which need patching and repainting.
Faded paintWater damage on wall from hanging plants or constant rubbing of furniture
Slightly torn or faded wallpaperUnapproved wall paper, drawings, or crayon markings on walls
Carpet faded or worn thin from walkingHoles, stains, or burns in carpet. Food stains, urine stains, and leaky fish tanks are never "normal".
Dirty or faded lamp or window shadesTorn, stained, or missing lamp and window shades
Scuffed varnish on wood floors from regular useChipped or gouged wood floors, or excessive scraps from pet nails
Dark patches on hardwood floors that have lost their finish over many yearsWater stains on wood floors and windowsills caused by windows being left open during rainstorms
Doors sticking from humidityDoors broken, or ripped off hinges
Warped cabinet doors that won’t closeSticky cabinets and interiors
Cracked window pane from faulty foundation or building settlingBroken windows from action of the tenant or guests
Shower mold due to lack of proper ventilationShower mold due to lack of regular cleanings
Loose grouting and bathroom tilesMissing or cracked bathroom tiles
Worn or scratched enamel in old bathtubs, sinks, or toiletsChipped and broken enamel in bathtubs and sinks
Rusty shower rod or worn varnish on plumbing fixturesMissing or bent shower rod or plumbing fixtures
Partially clogged sinks or drains caused by aging pipesClogged sinks or drains due to any stoppage (hair, diapers, food, etc.), or improper use
Moderately dirty mini-blinds or curtainsMissing or broken mini-blinds or curtain
Bathroom mirror beginning to “de-silver” (black spots)Mirrors caked with lipstick and makeup
Broken clothes dryer because the thermostat has given outDryer that won’t turn at all because it’s been overloaded, or the lint trap was never cleaned out.
Worn gaskets on refrigerator doorsBroken refrigerator shelf or dented front panels
Smelly garbage disposalDamaged disposal due to metal, glass, or stones being placed inside
Replacement of fluorescent lamps - or any light bulb designed to last for years of continuous useReplacement of most common light bulbs

Damage vs. Regular Maintenance

Whatever you do to ready the place after one tenant moves out and before a new tenant moves in constitutes routine maintenance. Here are some examples:

1. Cleaning

If you have the entire unit professionally cleaned between tenants, you can’t charge the prior tenant to clean, because cleaning for you is routine maintenance.

But if the tenant never cleaned the place the entire three years they lived there, for example, and you are charged extra by the cleaning service because of the filthy condition, you could probably keep the extra charge, but not the entire charge, for the cleaning.

If you expect them to clean the house prior to moving out, be sure to put this requirement in the lease, and even provide them a cleaning guide with your expectations.

Related: How to Get Your Tenants to Clean Regularly in 5 Easy Steps

2. Carpet

If you like to steam clean the carpet between tenants, then you can’t charge the prior tenant since you normally clean the carpet anyway.

But if the tenant stained the carpet so badly that normal carpet cleaning doesn’t work, you can probably charge to replace the carpet—or at least the cost to replace the remaining life expectancy. That’s right, you typically can’t charge the full replacement for carpet unless it was already brand new.  If the carpet was so old and worn out that it needed replacing anyway, you can’t charge your tenant.

Listen to a related podcast episode:

3. Paint

If you just had the unit painted, and the tenant left the walls really dirty, let their children draw on them, or tried (and failed) painting them themselves, you’ll need to repaint sooner than you normally would have. In this case, you can probably deduct the cost to repaint from the security deposit.

But if your tenant has lived in the unit for 3-5 years or more, a paint job is probably routine maintenance, meaning that you could not deduct money to paint.


4. Light Bulbs

A rental unit should be fully equipped with working light bulbs when a tenant moves in. Likewise, they should replace them when they burn out, and they should ensure every light bulb is working properly upon move-out.  After all, that’s how it was given to them.

In my opinion, however, any long fluorescent tube lights, or any light bulb designed to last for years of continuous use, should be replaced by the landlord. Plus, fluorescent tube lights can be dangerous if broken, and could be a liability if you rely on your residents to replace them.

What is “Useful Life?”

Since all products have a specific life expectancy (typically determined by the manufacturer), a landlord or manager can’t charge a tenant the full replacement cost of the item unless it was brand new at the time it was damaged.

For example, if a tenant’s dog damaged a five-year-old carpet beyond repair, and its life expectancy is 10 years, then the landlord could only charge the tenant 50% of the cost to replace the carpet.

HUD has a list (Appendix 5D) of various items, and their life expectancy:

ItemLife Expectancy
Hot Water Heaters10 years
Plush Carpeting5 years
Air Conditioning Units10 years
Ranges20 years
Refrigerators10 years
Interior Painting - Enamel5 years
Interior Painting – Flat3 years
Tiles/Linoleum5 years
Window shades, screens, blinds3 years

Importance of Before and After Photos or Videos

It’s important for both landlords and tenants to take before-and-after photos or videos of the unit. That way, both sides have proof should they need it.

If you, as a landlord, intend to keep all or part of the security deposit, you’d better be able to show the pristine condition before the tenant moved in and the trashed condition at move-out time. Otherwise, whatever you do to ready the place for the new tenant would probably fall under normal wear and tear.

And tenants, if you wish to prove that you left the place in the same condition in which you took it, considering normal wear and tear, take your own before-and-after photos or videos in case your landlord tries to wrongfully keep the security deposit.

Related: Record a Video of the Move-in/Move-out Inspection

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299 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Jay

    Can I email you privately to inquire as to whether something when moved out is considered normal wear and tear or damage? I’m trying to find a great resource to help determine the difference.

  • Joe

    tenate prorate for carpet replacement

  • Babette schlesinger

    Landlord is charging me for 2 dents ( someone pit with car) on garage door that were cosmetic as it worked still for a new door and springs and painting. Is that legal does it not have life expectancy as it was an older door and not manufactured any more .
    I have moved out of state and she is telling me she has 30 days to refund deposit and is removing this cost for new doer and then painting of new door. it’s it 14 days that she has to refund security deposit not 30 days.
    Do I need to hire a lawyer?

  • Andrew

    Washington State renter of a 3 bedroom 1.5 bath condo/apartment. Rented there for almost 7 years, moved due to unreasonable landlord. Huge water heater accident in the unit above displaced me and my family for 2.5 months while they repaired. Upon entering the condo the owners stated we had damaged, carpet, countertop moisture damage, stove, blinds, paint, as well as some valid issues, due to my wife’s decision to hang items with long framing nails and hit a drain line and a water line. We are happy to pay for these items and extra cleaning due to knowledge we would not receive any deposit back. But they jacked us up to 7,800 bucks for repairs. Excessive I believe, for time of renting. Do I sue??

  • Thomas Howland

    I rent a mobile home in Florida. The roof was new. I kept the A/C at 72 degrees most of the time.
    There are now mold spots and occasional drips from the ceiling. There is no sign of any roof damage. Owner claims I am responsible for all repairs to the ceiling and walls because I kept the trailer too cold which caused condensation leading to discoloration, mold, etc.. I claim this is wear and tear. What say you?
    Thanks, Tom

  • Kris L

    5 years for tile floors is considered useful life? How are you finding such poor quality tiles? Those types of floors should be more in line with 20 years.

  • Janet Kvasnak

    first need to say 6 months ago charged me for toilet be fixed. now i have 2 screws out holding towel
    rack .. i need them in i need to enemas for health. this only spot the enema will work. the apts here
    is double. help.

  • Kari

    I have a question regarding cement steps- like a mini cement “porch” with cement steps, basically a glorified cement block- in front/outside of my doorway. Somehow the bottom step, the one right next to the ground, got chipped on both edges of it, and my landlord says it has to be repaired or I’ll have to pay for it. Is this something I should be charged for??

  • Andre Grujovski

    I live in California and my landlord is trying to say she will withhold the cost of a broken light switch from my security deposit. The switch must be many years old and it just snapped off one day. I can’t imagine that is legal to do. Any thoughts? Seems like normal wear and tear to me.

  • Jared dent

    Hey I just had a quick question for you. So how many times can a landlord come in your apartment a year. My landlord has come in my apartment at least 7 times within the last 2 months. And every single time it’s to check the fire alarms. And I just got a notice of violation for having dirty dishes in my sink. Is this legal or is this considered harassment. And are they violating the Covenant of quiet agreement.

  • Krishnendu Chatterjee

    Hi There,

    I am living in state of Illinois. My Apartment leasing office is forcing me to pay carpet replacement
    cost at move-out final statement as a charge of damage Carpet where as Carpet is Worn in Foyer Area due to normal wear and Tear. She is replacing carpet of the entire unit (Foyer, Living and Dining, 2 rooms ) and charged 800$ replacement cost. When I move in the Carpet was not washed I showed an email proof but I didn’t have photo . I stayed there 2 years 4 months so I as per normal wear and tear rules I shouldn’t owe the Carpet replacement cost. We are debating on one point Damage or normal wear and Tear. In internet I didn’t find any document which has property of a damage carpet (with photo) vs normal wear and Tear. Pl help

  • Tess

    I rented my 1st place 12/1/2018. We R moving by 12/2020. Since this is the first place I rented I am concerned about what will be held from the security deposit. I was told by the neighbor the property was empty for ATLEAST 6 months before I moved in. 2 cracked/broken blinds upon move in(it will be about 2 1/2 years since move in when i leave)now have 4 more cracked blinds from LIGHT cleaning. I seen blinds are normal wear and tear every 3 years. Will i be charged for the few blinds that are cracked and broke off?I know 100% these blinds are wayyy older than 3 years old!?place was cover in dirt too!Grease film on cabinets+windows. Dead roaches in washer(ect) was given 1 week free rent for the condition the place was in.what should I expect?

    • Tess

      Also had two broken windows,few broken window locks,missing side door handle, clogged drains in bathroom,warped cabinets,stained floor grout,hole in screens+excess dirt .3 windows that would leak with heavy rain(said they could caulk shut but wouldnt replace)small scuffs of wall corners, deep freezer with ROTTING meat(ate through the insides of it)
      outdoor lights didnt work,
      2 ceiling fans didnt work, fridge wouldnt stay cold,dryer that burnt our clothes,both showers leaked, 2 door knobs hardly worked(wouldnt turn,took almost 5 min of trying to open)+I’m sure more I’m forgetting. Alot of it I thought 2B simple fixes&not worth noting.(mostly cleaning) now I’m worried I’ll be charged. They did admit they had no idea the condition it was in.

      • Tess

        They said washer,dryer& deep freezer should have been removed before move in.(YET werent!)When we looked at the house we seen the one bathroom had the toilet pulled out(not attached to anything) the guy said it still has alittle work so we thought everything would be taken care of by the time we moved in.We were offered a weeks free rent upon immediate in.(when calculated was only 5 days)(that’s also what we were given when We stated the condition of the house too bc they didnt know the condition of it🙄) stove hood is missing a tube so the steam/grease sticks to everything.They charged us an extra 250 deposit bc one of us had no credit.the only damage we may have case is dirty tile grout die to no sealant. How much are we responsible 4??

      • Johnn

        Why did you move in to this place in the first place? If the conditions were so bad did you take some photos before you moved in

        • Tess

          When we went to look at the place there was still work being done to it.It was the first place either of us have ever rented so I didn’t really know what to look for. A lot of the stuff such as fans not working/clogged drains/showers leaking/ windows that only leak when it rains wasn’t things I knew to look 4 during the first walk through. We also figured they would clean before we moved in. We did take pictures of most things when we moved in. But I know I missed things like the stains in the cabinets and paint chips on the corners of walls.The person who showed the house was a maintenance who rushed us saying he had somewhere else to be.Once the lease was signed we had 4 days to inventory the house and return the paper.It was all rushed.

  • Drew

    I have a question if a tub was re surfaced and had bubbles after i moved in and told management about it and now after a year the glaze has begin to split and chip am i responsible or the landlord?

  • Carol

    We had just finished a remodel of our 2 bedroom home. New cabinets,counters, carpets, paint,luxury vinyl floors and smudge proof stainless appliances. After 2 months of tenancy there were 3 deep scratches and many minor scratches on refrigerator. Brought it up to tenant that she would have to pay for the damage and should maybe call her insurance company. Only way to repair is to order a new door for $625. Now after 11 months she is moving out . She has otherwise kept the home spotless but usually paid the rent late by 3-7 days and has asked for early move out on one year lease. She now states the scratches are normal wear and tear. What do you think?

  • Anna


    I am curious if you would be able to look at a few photos that my landlord took of my apartment after move-out. I am being charged to replace the carpet, but I believe the carpet is safety within the definition of wear and tear. I am new to the world of renting and before pursuing this dispute, I would love a professional’s opinion.

    Thank you very much, I hope to hear from you.

  • steve mularky

    Magnets don’t stick to stainless steel

  • Ms. Borse

    Bedroom Door working fine when tenant moved in, door sticking and tenant forced open or closed which caused a large chip to upper top front corner, is tenant responsible for repair or replacement if repair can not be done

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