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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255 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Alec

    I rented a house that came with brand new appliances including: washer, dryer, fridge, and wine cooler. We have been living there for two years and are about to move out. Everything is in perfect condition except the ice maker which is part of the fridge. It suddenly stopped working one day and we notified the landlord. Is this considered damage or ordinary wear and tear?

    • Dee

      No, it is not considered damage since ice makers break ALL the time….in my book it’s up there with garbage disposals.

      Sometimes things just stop working with for no reason as long as there is NO “Foul Play” or abuse it is not considered damaged. Plus most landlords who purchase new appliances have warranties!

  • kimberly

    We lived in same house over 17 years trying to move out but there are some damages in carpet. bleach stains that is impossible to remove. the landlord never clean the carpet for us and never replaced it for us within that 17 years are we responsible for the damage?

  • Dawn

    crappy apt for 8 years 4 landlords later and a propery management has taken over he just gave me my new lease and trying to increase my security deposit by $600 from my original deposit of 500. &raise rent another $50 ( started at 725 raised rvery year now 1100.have not done anything to my apt for years they refused to paint to fix my windows that don’t open and close for over 3 years now original landlord agreed to let me paint two accent walls and loved it they’ve only replaced the water heater because it was leaking into the downstairs apartment not because I asked for it . a used stove I did not ask for that infested my apartment with cockroaches for 6 mon don’t give anybody back thier dep of $1100 help

  • Lea Magro

    Hi! I’m moving out of my rental house and my landlord wants to charge me to replace 1 of 3 panels of a sliding mirror closet door. A while back, the mirror came apart from its setting. At the time, the landlord put it back together but the mirror wasn’t fully on. The door is completely functional. I wasn’t using the door inappropriately. I think the glue was old. Is this considered normal wear and tear? Should I have to pay to replace a perfectly functioning door that only broke in the first place from normal usage?

  • Mary

    My landlord expects me to clean under the stove and refrigerator. Isn’t that normal wear and tear?

  • Crystal

    I lived in my rent house for 2 years. The hard wood floors had wear and tear in some areas of 2 rooms. He is charging me for the entire house to be sanded, stained and coated, as he sent me only a quote from a company. But he did not actually get the work done. Is this legal? He has already hired someone to call for debt collections.

  • Alf

    Lived in my place for 9 years, landlord wants to charge me 2K for hardwood reconditioning. The wood is just fine, but where my chair was, it is worn more than the rest.
    is this reasonable? thanks

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