The Ultimate Guide to “Normal Wear and Tear”

Last updated on December 2, 2016 by

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 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.

Related:

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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32 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Julie Thevenow

    I take pictures with my phone but don’t know where to store them. Any suggestions?

  • Laura

    I recently moved out of an apartment in Oakland, CA I had been living in for a little over 3 years. I am very neat and tidy and cleaned the unit when I left. The landlord returned my security deposit, less $125 for carpet cleaning and $100 for “window, screen, and track cleaning”. Is he allowed to do this? I am sure I left the place as clean – if not cleaner – than when I moved in, less any normal wear and tear.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Laura,
      Unless your lease says something about a cleaning fee, your landlord probably is not allowed to keep money for cleaning unless it’s to return the unit to the same condition as it was in when you moved in (accounting for normal wear and tear).

  • Christy

    I’m getting ready to leave my apartment after living here for 13 years. My apartment is the only one in a 31 unit building that has not been renovated. It has wear and tear. The ceilings in 4 rms have come down, were patched but not painted. Another is buckling. It hadnt been painted in 15 years. Blinds are yellowed and cracked. bathtub chipping. They do quarterly exams of apartments but seem to have given up on mine. AND my original lease ran 10/04/04 to 9/30/05 and some how my renewal notice has an end lease date of 11/30/16. Somehow I’ve gained two months. Luckily I have my original lease. I want out and I don’t want to lose my entire deposit over wear and tear issues. Especially if they are going to do a total reno. Advice?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Christy,
      If you signed a lease with an end date of 11/30/16, you need to stay (or at least pay) through then. Discuss this with your landlord. They might let you out early. And you should also explain about the wear and tear issues with your apartment. Have a discussion now with your landlord about what you need to do (if anything) to get your security deposit back.

  • Ron

    Tenants just moved out of our condo in Santa Clara CA after living there one year 3
    months. When they moved in it had brand new carpet, and paint and had been
    professionally detailed. In other words, spotless. They did make an effort to clean
    but they left offensive curry cooking odor which will make the place un rentable
    to most people. Our lease states the place must be left as clean as it was when
    they move in. Does the presence of this odor count as unclean? Can I deduct from the
    deposit cost to get rid of the smell?

    • marianne

      Have you tried an Ozone Generator treatment? Our professional carpet cleaning company has an ozone generator that we are able to place in a property for 24-48 hours and will eliminate most odors, even lingering and residual odors. Worth a shot!

  • Katie

    Hi, we’re newbie landlords, and are considering renting our newly remodeled duplex to someone with a 35 lb. Pit Bull mix. All the flooring is brand new and the deposit, even with an extra pet deposit, would only cover the materials to replace. Is this a bad idea? The tenant seems to be a great candidate (we’ve been waiting a long time!), the dog seems to be young but friendly, but it’s a short term lease and we want the apartment to stay nice. There are no common areas between the two duplexes, but still, the dog could run into the front yard or something, and there are kids on the other side.

    Would you rent to this person, or wait for a better candidate?
    What kind of clauses should we put in the lease to protect ourselves and property?

    • Lucas Hall

      Hi Katie,

      Congrats on becoming new landlords!!!

      I think you have to decide how upset you will be if the floors get scratched up. If you would be completely lost over it, then I think you shouldn’t allow dogs… at all. They can’t help it. Even if the owners keep the dogs nails trimmed, the floors will still get a little scratched – especially if they are brand new – and every little scratch will be very obvious.

      Do you have any reason to be worried about safety? Yes, it’s a pit bull mix, but I’ve met some really nice pit bulls. Their personality really depends on their upbringing. You’d have to meet the dog, and see how he reacts to kids before renting to them.

      I can’t tell you what to do but if you do rent to them, put clauses in your lease saying they are responsible for keeping the dog’s nails trimmed, and for any excessive damage to the floor. You can’t hold them responsible for tiny scratches or normal wear and tear.

      I hope that helps!

      • Debra

        Hi Katie,
        Although you’ve added a Pet Deposit, consider including the requirement for Renter’s Insurance in your lease. I have a No Pet Policy on all my rentals, but I still require each tenant to carry Renter’s Insurance with me listed as Co-Insured and I pay for their first year of coverage (the cost is quite reasonable).

        Just a thought.

  • Josh Mahan

    New landlord purchased house and signed a lease for two months with an end date that I moved out on. They are charging me for repairs and replacement of the carpet, even though they signed the lease in the same conditions as I left it in. Is this allowed?

  • Patricia Valentini

    Landlord was asked once a month for 3 months verbally to have fireplace chimney cleaned, each time primising he would. Never did. Theres smoke damage throughtout the apt., making walls dirty with soot. Can he charge me for painting?

  • Anna Jeffery

    Does reasonable wear and tear require that the landlord has finished the house to a reasonable standard? The kitchen in our short-term rental has wood cabinets that have a single coat of non-waterproof white paint over a yellow paint, which loks like it was done between the last tenant and us. If we try to clean small drips or stains from the cabinets (which I would consider a normal event in a kitchen), the white paint just rubs off, even when just dish soap and warm water are used. The white paint is also streaked just from the normal mositure that builds up when a kettle boils. The house was extremely dirty when we moved in and I’m loath to end up paying a lot out of the security deposit to repaint cabinets that aren’t fit for purpose

  • Kristen

    I recently moved out of my apt of 1 and a half years. The day we moved in our manager had told us she would reglaze the bathtub sometime soon after we moved in. It was never done and once we received the our security deposit she charged us $695 for reglazing the bathroom. This seems ridiculously excessive and I’m fearing it’s out of malice, since we had been repeatedly harrassed by her throughout our stay. Can she legally charge us that large of an amount, we never did a move-in checklist which I know we should have but still. Help please?

  • Dwayne

    Hi Lucas I’m a paraplegic from st Paul Minnesota leaving my house on Dec 31 I have been living in this single family unit for four years September 11 2016 and my landlord is trying to take a $2,500 deposit,The tile in the kitchen is broke causing mu 10 year old daughter to cut her foot the spout on the kitchen sink leaks into my basement causing black mold spores and when we asked him to fix it he ended our month to month lease,my rental agreement states I take care of the yard sidewalk and utilities can he keep it all?

  • C.C

    Hi! I rented a home for 2 years from the owners…I cleaned and had the carpet cleaned on moving day…they kept $600 of the deposit for new window blinds, light bulbs, toilet seat…cleaning of the ceiling fans and window seals…light bulbs for the yard lights…and a few other things. Needless to say I felt that this was very unfair as I had done more cleaning than necessary…what do you guys think?

  • Marisa

    Hello:
    I am getting ready to move out of my duplex that I have lived in for 2 years and 2 months and my question for anyone that can help. How long after you have lived in your unit are your responsible for 100% of the paint of the unit. My walls are not bad but I am so worried that this owner is going to try and keep all the deposit because he has already made comments in the past about painting the entire inside of the unit and before giving notice to move the owner was doing some very questionable things along with his property manager. I just want to make sure that I get most of my deposit back. I honestly have taken very good care of the unit and take pride in that but I feel that they will try to get out of giving me my deposit.

    • Victoria

      I lived in a unit for 2 years. Had professional cleaning company come in after I moved out. I was very honest with the property mgmt co, admitted my dogs damaged the carpet more than normal & agreed my son’s bedroom had excessive nail holes in the walls & the walls were stained. Thought they were going to be reasonable but they were awful!! Not only kept my full $2,375 deposit but also claim the entire unit had to be repainted & tried to charge me another $2,500 ON TOP OF my deposit. I have a small claims case in a couple weeks about this mess. Take TONS of pictures when you move out, video if you can. Insist on walk-thru with them and a third party if possible after you have everything out & cleaned. document EVERYTHING!!

  • Connie

    We lived in an apartment for 13 years. The landlord sent us a bill for $4000 after we moved out. They said the kitchen countertop (the most basic solid white countertop) was damaged and needed to be replaced. They charged us the full cost $4000. To be honest, it was damaged due to the water leaking of the faucet. Since we damaged a 13 year old countertop and its life expectancy is around 20 years, the landlord could not charge us the full replacement cost $4000. They are only able to bill us $1,400 ($4000×7/20) for the countertop. Is that correct?

    • leena

      I have the same issue too, the tabletop cracked and I am moving out tomorrow.
      Can the landlord charge full amount of replacing the tabletop?

  • Traci

    We moved into a 4 bedroom duplex (built in 1950) with our 4 kids in 2008. The plumbing was so bad, we had to wash dishes in the bathtub for over 6 weeks before the landlady got it fixed. We lived there for 7 years with problem after problem…the place was old and hadn’t had much upkeep. In April of 2015, the property was sold to a couple who had hoped we would stay, but we gave notice around July and moved out in September, 2015. We have since lived in another apartment for 2 years and when our deposit was returned, it occurred to me that we hadn’t received our deposit from the duplex. I texted one of the owners and he stated that they had to put $6,000 into the unit to “bring it back to rentable status”. What???

  • marcia

    i am a landlord in colorado & my question is…. My rental has carpet it is a good quality carpet & padding when installed 20 years ago. Yes it had its normal wear and tear, BUT my last tenants had cats & the urine smell in the carpets is BAD! i had it professionally cleaned which did not remedy the problem. what in fact can i charge these tenant for replacing the carpet?

  • Carissa

    Hello! I’m a landlord for an apartment unit. I replaced the mirror in my tenant’s unit 2 years ago, and they are renewing tenants and are asking to replace the mirror again due to de-silvering. I myself have never had to change my own mirrors in less than 5 years. Is this considered normal wear and tear if they go through it every 2 years? I just feel like it’s probably due to them cleaning the mirror using inappropriate materials. May I charge for it?

  • tiffany

    our apartments were recently bought out by a bigger company and we just moved out after living there for 8 years. the manager says we have to pay to have 3 screens replaced, and on this website it says that the life expectancy is only 3 years. so does that mean i don’t have to pay for it? he is also saying i have to pay for some kind of sealing under the carpet even if the damage under it could be from previous tenants. i just don’t get it. they are remodeling the whole apartment just like the other ones they have done recently. they said i have to pay for blinds also even though they are using a different kind now. there is a whole list of stuff they want to charge me for and its already stuff they were going to change

  • Andrea

    Does this information go for all states ?? I’ve lived in my townhouse for three years . The carpet and paint wasn’t new when we moved in . I’m not forsure when the carpets were replaced before we moved in . So I was wondering if in the state of IL could our landlord charge us for the carpets? Even though they should probably be replaced since they they havr probably been in there for five years ??

  • Teri H.

    I rented my twnhouse to a family for the past 4 yrs. I’m now going to sell it. I inspected it & they put a large hole in a kitchen cabinet to run water line for fridge they put in (they put mine in garage), they threw my microwave out; said it was too greasy & when they installed theirs, the holes they made to attach it to the cabinets above are in different places then mine were. Now when I buy a new mic (they’re keeping theirs), chances are the holes won’t line up. I’m worried the cabinets wont hold the weight of a new mic given all the holes in the cabinet and to repair the other cabinet where you can clearly see the hole, they are stained, you will be able to tell it was repaired cause it wont match now. Can I charge for new cabinets?

  • Chinedu

    Hi, I just moved out of an apartment after spending just over a year living there. The landlord wants to charge me 318 pds to repaint the whole bathroom because there were some water splash marks on the ceiling and left hand side of the bath (not covered by a screen). Surely this should be classified as general wear and tear since the bathroom has a low ceiling and is inevitable water will be splashed on it.

    Please i will really appreciate your advice on this

    Thanks

  • Jake

    Apartment has small kitchen with poor venation. The vent is on the wall to left of the stove and kitchen window blow dirty into my food while was cooking. And I lived there for 5 years. I cooked almost everyday. And over 5 years the grease accumulate on the walls and ceiling. Now my landlord want to keep my security deposit and on top that charge me additional fee, because the painter had to apply additional coat of paint. Can the landlord do that?

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