The Ultimate Guide to “Normal Wear and Tear”

Written on September 19, 2016 by , updated on November 1, 2017

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 to 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 were 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 with 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, 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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149 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • renee white

    I just got an itemized statement from the company I rented my house from for 6 yrs im disabled and get my check on the 4th I would pay rent on the 5th i have 2700 in late fees they are also charging me to replace broken blinds window panes from when we were broken into light bulbs florescent light bulbs and cover which was not broken air filters which we had just replaced broken outlet covers sink stoppers that were never there broken storm door which I reported 3 yrs ago damage to fence which was already damaged damage to lawn which looked better than we moved in a fridge which we bought because it didnt come with one interior cleaning I cleaned it the best I could drywall repair and painting they say I owe over 6500 which I cant pay help

  • Patty

    If blinds were 10 years old and broke a year into the lease and then move out as two years later and the landlord was aware of the broken blinds, does a tenant get charged for brand new blinds running $500.00 or are they beyond their life expectancy at 10 years for blinds that pull up and down on a sliding glass door (should have had vertical blinds on this door to begin with which shortened the life expectancy of them). What is a normal cost to replace such an item if damaged or missing and landlord is aware. This is after 3 years of property being rented.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Patty,
      If your blinds were 10 years old upon move in, you do not need to pay for new blinds upon move out. Generally, the most a landlord could charge you would be to repair the blinds if you broke them.

  • Tina

    I recently had to go to my rental property to make some repairs. I noticed the tenant has roaches. ALOT of them. He just informed me two days ago he will be moving out at the end of the month. I will have to have the house exterminated. The Tenant has lived there for 4 years. Can I pass the expense of the extermination on to my tenant.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Tina,
      In order to charge your tenant, you will need to prove that the tenant caused the roach problem. The best way to prove this would probably be to get an exterminator to make that determination and put it in writing. Short of that, you probably need to pay.

  • Jane


    I’ve lived in my apartment for 3 years and 8 months and there are damages to some of the appliances however, the appliances were near or at their life expectancy upon move in Does this mean that I do not have to pay for repairs or does the landlord have to figure in the age of the appliances and deduct a percentage so I am not responsible for the full repair amount?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Jane,
      Typically, if you did something wrong to cause the appliance to break, you would need to pay for the repair. But if the appliance just needs repairing or replacing because it’s at the end of its life cycle, the landlord would be responsible for repairing (and possibly replacing if your lease states those particular appliances are part of the rental). For example, rentals generally come with a stove, but a washer/dryer would be negotiable. If you had use of a washer for as long as it works, for example, and it breaks, the landlord might not have to do anything. So read your lease, and speak with your landlord.

  • Meera Maveli

    We live in houston and are having some trouble with our previous landlord. He is using our deposit to get the house ready for the market. We cleaned the house professionally after all the furniture was moved but he wants us to pay for replacing the carpet, cleaning the grout and tiles and painting the whole house.

    $627.85. carpet and floors $1109.17 paint walls equals $1737,02.
    Which means we get $412.98 refund

    They did not paint the walls, replace the carpet, clean the grout or patch wall holes before we moved in..we have the move in condition form and pictures to prove that.
    The move out form only mentions some pet odor from the hallway and paint wear from some decals we removed.
    What rights do we have as tenants?

  • Kaylynn Schrack

    Our previous landlord charged $90 for a small broken trim piece, and 4400 for move out cleaning, I cleaned the unit for 3 days, I know it wasn’t that dirty, what should I do?

  • Kaylynn Schrack

    Our previous landlord charged $90 for a small broken trim piece, and $400 for move out cleaning, I cleaned the unit for 3 days, I know it wasn’t that dirty, what should I do?

  • Mari

    The oven door hinges and latch mechanism are broken, and mildew has grown into the natural stone tile of the shower (it looks black!). This is a high end home with thermador appliances and etc.

    I am the owner and landlady – I don’t like charging my tenants for things, but the mold is very upsetting (they are somehow claiming it wasn’t their fault) and the oven door mechanism will Cost $900 to fix!!

    Who should pay? I offered to split cost of oven and they are balking. I have tried to scrub the mold myself but it is in the tile! Replacing it would be very costly. What is fair solution?

  • Clyde Eom


    I lived in an apartment for 2 years and when I moved out, they charged me $350 for the replacement of glass part of glass stove top. Glass had stains and dirty marks, which won’t be removed, from spills from cooking. No cracked or broken glass. Stove is fully operational. Is my case considered “normal wear and tear?” Or am I responsible for the replacement cost of glass of stove top?

    Thank you,
    Clyde eom.

  • Amanda C

    My current landlord is selling my apartment complex. This is my 11th year living in my apartment. What can I be held responsible for as a tenant with the transfer of ownership? My landlord hasn’t kept up maintaining my apartment as much as the other units. One of the doors needs to be replaced, the sliding glass door is old and hard to open (it’s always been this way) and their is discoloration on the ceiling of one of the bedrooms. Thank you.

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