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?”

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“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.

Related:

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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243 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Ieicia Tinsley

    Hey I just moved out a place of 6yrs they replaced the carpet little over 4yrs ago after me constantly complaining because the carpet was wrinkling isnt it normal wear and tear far as stains n dirt here and there isnt no tips burns or tears in the carpet I have all move out pictures replaced blinds toilet seats cleaned cabinets stove n refrigerator shower everything cleaned bsck to the normal move in state they claiming 700 for new carpet through whole has they even claim 3 doors need to be replaced and there wasnt no holes or nothing in any of the doors the electric stove sparked n my face the last 10 days of me being there and they wouldnt even replace them I had to use a plug in pot the last days as a tenant there very sad

  • Kenny

    we provided the 1 year old mattress together with mattress protector to the tenant for 2 years.
    Upon handover, there are urine stains from the kid & blue & black ink stains on the mattress. He send for professional to clean but most of the stains still appeared. It’s consider normal wear & tear? Or damage?. I believed the tenant didn’t take care or use the mattress protector.
    Should I billed the tenant to pay for the cost ? He argued that it consider wear & tear. Please help
    Kenny

    • Karissa

      Urine stains are never normal wear and tear

    • Lal

      Your matress protector is highly unlikely to be a real industrial grade (think hospital or dormitory matress covers). Therefore it is on you. A real industrial grade mattress cover will not leak with any liquid. For future refrence so not lend out mattresses. Make people buy thier own! Amazon has a 199.00 dollar foam matress comes in the mail. Also dont be stingy. If you rent a place out furnished include the cost of an affordable mattress in the lease so that it pays for itself for each tenant. You must not have kids, they have accidents. Completely normal thing a non-parent wouldnt realize.

  • Lynnette

    I live in California and I’ve been served a 60 day notice to vacate the property I have been living in the last 10 years. 2 -3 years ago the toilet overflowed in the upstairs bathroom, the garbage disposal was not replaced but repaired 3 times, the microwave was unusable due to corrosion. I attempted to paint over marks on the wall with landlord paint wrong color. 1 burn in carpet, broken curtain rod, broken towel rack, broken window latch.. What is considered normal wear and tear

    • Michelle Pollard

      Your carpet damage may be covered under your renter’s insurance since it was “burned”, but they will still only cover the actual cash value of the carpet at the time of the loss.

  • Jenn

    My landlord is trying to make me paint (and to be specific…. professionally paint with Benjamin Moore) 2 spare rooms that were painted pink by previous tenants. She told us the colour and tried to give us a date to have it done by… I told her I wouldn’t do it cause it wasn’t my responsibility… she told me the previous tenants (my brother in law) painted without permission… she told me that it’s not her responsibility… even trying to get my brother in law to repaint it now and it’s been a year since he moved out! I told her I’m not professionally repainting a room that I didn’t even paint and had nothing to do with… she wants my rent money but also wants me to do HER JOB! 😒

  • Amanda Black

    We are 1 month from being done renting. I was cleaning the sink out and when I push the drain thing down it broke from the inside. Do to rust I guess. Is it something I replace or do I leave it for the landlord. I dont want to have it taken from getting my deposit back.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Amanda,
      If you were using something the correct way and it broke from age or because it was a defective product, the landlord is usually responsible. If you used something incorrectly and broke it, it would probably be your responsibility. What you should do now is tell your landlord what happened. Good luck!

  • Amy C

    Hello Laura.

    I live in CA and have lived in a 3 bedroom apt for almost 20 years. I am planning on moving out this June.
    Several issues have come up while living here and the old owner (new owners bought it about 10 months ago) always promised to fix things and never did.

    Carpets were replaced 12 years ago.
    Vertical blinds have never been replaced.
    Walls have never been painted by the owners, though we did paint 2 of the bedrooms ourselves in fun colors for the kids.
    The original dishwasher broke within 2 years of moving in, and the original landlord refused to fix it, so we replaced it, and after 18 years, this one has broken as well.

    After 20 years, is there anything that we could be held responsible for? (More issues cont. In next post

    • Amy C

      Cont from above

      Kitchen counter is sagging, no damage was done by us.
      Kitchen drawers do not sit in their slides correctly and “fall” back when closed.
      Kitchen/dining “faux wood” flooring was put in 12 years ago and has been problematic ever since because they did not even out the concrete slab before laying it, causing gaps, and sliding.
      Water damage in ceiling that was fixed on the roof, but ceiling was never fixed in 2 areas of the house.
      1 tub has been reglazed 3x due to cracks, but the foundation under it was never fixed, so cracks keep forming. We have informed the new management and they have done nothing.
      Door jams need to be replaced, but I think it’s a wear and tear issue due to 20 years of use.

  • JL

    Hi. I’m in WA state. Our tenants put 18 nail holes (and several drywall anchors) into the walls across 4 rooms of the apartment. Is that normal wear and tear? Or excessive damage? Thanks!

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi JL,
      The tenant should have probably fixed something like that. You can take from the security deposit what it will cost you to return the walls back to the way they were at move-in time. But you probably can’t charge for a completely new paint job for your rental.

  • Lorena Mercer

    My landlord wants to charge me to clean an oven. i rented from him 13 years. It wont get any cleaner than what it is. He also wants to charge me $220 for 2 bent posts. That at home depot are $45.

  • Kyle Ann Eslick

    I have been renting the same house for 10 years. The property management company has done very little to help me keep up the property. I had to take down 5 dead trees myself and the yard was very unkept when I moved in. Also the carpet was new when I moved in, but I know for a fact it was cheap carpeting because my mother used the same exact carpeting in her rentals. The carpet started buckling within the first year and my daughters boyfriend burned some holes in it trying to take a frying pan that was on fire outside. Since the life expectancy of carpets is 10 years (or less like this carpeting), can the property management charge me for the carpeting? Also, can property management make me responsible for all yard maintenance?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Kyle Ann,
      Regarding the carpeting, you might be charged for it since you (or your guest) damaged it beyond normal wear and tear by burning holes in it. Although a 10-year-old carpet is probably not worth much, had you not put holes in it, the landlord might not have had to replace it to re-rent. They probably should charge only a minimal amount since the carpet is so old, but they might be able to charge you for replacement. I can’t answer that question. If you think they charged too much, your option is small claims court. Regarding the yard, maintenance duties should be in the lease regarding who is responsible for what.

  • KF

    I am moving out of an apartment I rented for just over 3 years. We had put some anchors for heavier items in the wall. My landlord wants me to pay for repainting the entire apartment. I feel like I am willing to pay for the damage to the wall, have it professionally spackled, but I do not feel I should have to arrange for or pay to paint on top of the spackle as the useable life of interior paint is 3 years. Please advise if that seems reasonable. Thank you.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi KF,
      If you moved into an apartment with a brand-new pristine paint job that now needs to be totally redone, then yes, you would need to pay for that since a good paint job can last up to 10 years. Someone needs to pay to paint over the spackling. If only one room needs repainting, then maybe you are responsible for only that one room. If when you moved in, however, the paint was already showing signs of age, such as scuff marks or chips, and that was noted by you and the landlord, then you would probably only have to pay for the repair work and not the paint.

  • Susan

    Just moved out of an apt of 13 years. I cleaned everything but she wants to keep all my deposit for not cleaning behind the fridge. vacuuming inside dryer vent and not moving the stove to clean under it. Can she keep it for not cleaning those.

  • BD

    I just renovated a rental. In a matter of 4 months, my renter was late with rent twice. They broke the lease and moved out. Left piles of trash on the outside. Bags broke, as they left food in them! They never took the screws out of the walls in 3 rooms, spackled some of the walls with silicone and left blobs of silicone on the walls! Is this considered wear and tear? All the walls need to be washed and some may need to be repainted and sidewalks have to be power washed.

  • Cheryl Redifer

    I moved out of my apartment after over 2 years. The landlord never sent me any correspondence with regards to the move out for over a month. They are charging me 510 to paint a two bedroom apt which had no damages to the walls other than SMALL nail holes. Since it was over a month before i heard anything can they legally keep any of my deposit

  • Victoria R

    I found out the tenant who rented my house did not change air filter in furnace for almost 2 years, they never said anything to me and I had a new furnace installed in February 2017, they have rented many homes before so I never asked them anything, I left 2 new filters when I moved out and decided to rent the house.

    The filter I found looked like a dead raccoon it was totally brown and the house vents were filthy and brown too also did not replace any light bulbs, did not clean house at all upon moving out and did not shampoo rugs. Can I charge them for cleaning, rug shampooing, bulbs and caulking the bathroom? This was my first time renting my house.

  • NIkhil Dhawan

    I was renting a house for a year and dropped laundry detergent bottle on washer and dryer by mistake and caused a dent on 2015 model of washer dryer. Both works perfectly fine not sure will come come in normal wear and tear because landlord wants to change the whole panel on my cost please advise.. how much it should cost me for a small dent on washer and dryer

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Nlkhil,
      The landlord can charge you for a new panel, but not for a whole new appliance, which it sounds like they aren’t. They need to provide you with a receipt for the panel replacement, and you need to pay whatever that costs.

  • Teresa

    After moving out of our rental home we have been at for 7 years we discovered water damage on the wall that we never noticed because it was behind furniture! We are finding out it was because landlord placed shed right next to the house with about 8 inches in between! They want to keep our deposit ?? That damage wasn’t caused by us but from his ignorance and negligence! If he would of taken care of his responsibilities as a landlord he may of noticed ? It is extensive water damage but we shouldn’t have to pay for that And he can’t keep our deposit because of that can he?

  • Dan

    I have 5 flourescent bulbs in bathroom all burnt out. My landlord said i have to buy them . I live in Florida. Is this true? I change normal bulbs as needed but flourescents are expensive

  • Jeff B

    We rented a house for 5 years in CA. Can a landlord deduct from security deposit money to weed and seed the yards, or trim tree branches? She hired gardeners to do all the maintenance but during our final walk through she commented “Wow, there sure is a lot of clover in the yard.” We even offered to do the work ourselves. Thanks.
    Jeff

  • Mandy

    Hi there!

    Lived in my apartment for over 2 years. Left it in nearly the same exact condition, and have photos to prove it. Just normal wear and tear. Landlord moved into the home herself after we moved out and she has decided to basically gut the whole home for her own enjoyment.

    So! She sends me a bill for carpet cleaning, but she didnt actually have them cleaned. She ripped them out and got upgraded carpets for herself. (The ones that were in there were still new only 2 years old, but lower quality that tends to get tossed into a rental.)

    She charged me for blind cleaning, but again, didnt have them cleaned, as she upgraded them to what she wanted.

    She did this with painting, and new sod as well. Is that legal in CA?

  • Susan

    I currently live in CA
    I’ve been renting for about 10 maybe 11 years I am now moving out because the landlord is going to sale her propertie. When I moved in there was no upgrades same tile flooring. My dog did some damage to the floor can my landlord keep my deposit or just take a reasonable amount?

  • George M Daxon

    My landlord had a 12 year old dishwasher that leaked through the bottom and caused water damage to the engineered flooring adjacent to the dishwasher. The landlord’s water clean up consultant listed the cause of the damage as a “faulty dishwasher.” The landlord’s insurance company agreed to cover the cost of repairs.

    The landlord now wants to sell the home and asked us to move out. So we agreed to early termination and I have since moved. On the final walk through, the place was clean and there was not discussion of damages caused by me. Then she filed a claim in small claims court for $4,400 for “extensive damage to residence.” No reason was ever given

    Does she have a chance in small claims court?

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