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?”

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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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200 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Lynn

    when we rented our rental house out we included the (stove, refrigerator, washer and dryer). Our tenant is moving out at the end of the month , with a 45 day notice. He said he replaced the washer, dryer and stove. He said he is planning on leaving the ones he replaced. Will we need him to sign off on a letter stating he is leaving these appliances with no charge to the landlord or amount taken off for the month’s rent.

  • Dan Marinescu

    we moved out in time, leaving the house in good condition after a 2 year lease, in pensacola, fl. we have 2 dogs landlord accepted, we paid $400 (2x$200) for the dogs first year and $700 for the second lease. today 2600 in security deposit + dogs fees, monthly rent being $1500/month. the landlords paid no interest on deposit and did not pay for any repairs during tenancy (stove repair, ac and hitting repair, damaged tiles because of improper installation, etc). they’ve asked us for an extra $1700 due immediately for things like normal wear an tear of garage spring, extra cleanup with pressured water of front and back driveways, extremely small stains on the walls, 2 tales broken because of improper initial installation and grout. SOS! Thx

  • Ho Sau Kang

    Is “torn/tear about 10cm long” “night” curtain in Living Room considered
    “fair wear and tear” after 2 years “hanging there like a curtain”?

  • Ho Sau Kang

    Is phrase “wiring of the premises” referring to the wiring from switchboard to socket?

    Does it include the wiring of the Water Heater to its plug?

    If there is a defect at the wiring connecting the Water Heater to Plug, is Tenant or Landlord responsible for the repair?

  • Janelle

    I appreciate this article SO much. I’ve been trying to find concrete documentation to support me in my move out, because my property management has a reputation for nickel and diming residents when they vacate. The links to HUD are soooo helpful. Thank you for posting and for updating!

  • Tina

    I live in Virginia and the law states that a tenant’s obligation is to “Not deliberately destroy or damage any part of the dwelling” and the landlords responsibility “Maintain in good and safe working order …appliances supplied”. Our lease states that we can be charged for “damage and misuse” of appliances to the extent permitted by applicable law. If the microwave handle broke while I was opening the microwave door like any other day – can they require me to pay the full cost for brand new microwave? Apparently they are stating that handle can’t be repaired – they would have to replace the entire door – which is hard to find because this microwave was manufactured in 2008 and stopped in 2010 – so buying a new microwave is only option.

  • Reb Reppert-Klich

    Thank you so much for this incredibly useful article. I was charged for things that are on this list that are clearly past normal life expectancy and plan to dispute the charges. Can you please tell me if after living in the apartment for nearly four years I should be charged for new stove burner pans? Also, should I be charged for cleaning windows and window screens? I’ve never heard of such a thing! Thank you so much.

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Reb,
      I’m glad you found this article useful. I’m not an attorney and can’t comment on individual situations, but, for what it’s worth, I don’t charge for the things you mentioned. Good luck to you!

  • Jaylen Smith

    Hi,
    We lived in the same apartment for 17 years (first tenant on a brand new apartment). We are now leaving and the landlord wants us to replace the carpet. Is that reasonable after that many years? I don’t even need the security deposit back but replacing a carpet after 17 years is a stretch to me.

    Thank you.

  • Corrina

    I’d like to know if I can expect to get my whole deposit back on a rental I’ve lived in fir 17 years if I replace the 1door that was damaged. Another question is regarding the damage to our property after the water heater flooded the basement for the second time in approx 8 years. Our landlords insurance to me that they would not cover and of the damage because the property that had been damaged did not belong to the landlord. Is the landlord responsible for covering the cost to replace our items since when he had to replace the first one that gave out and flooded the basement he had his brother do the repair and replaced it with an old water heater that had been stored somewhere. We lost a total of approx $3-$4000 worth of things

  • Angela Gonzales

    I have lived in an apartment for 7 years. I will be moving in November. The walls definitely have wear and tear! I read that after 3 years they can not charge for paint? Will this still apply if my grandchildren have pit pencil/crayon marks on the wall and also grease on the wall near the stove? I’ve been trying to clean it the best I could, but it’s still very noticeable. Thank you.

  • Sandra snapp

    If a screen door is replaced at move out how much of the cost would be mine lived in rental 6 yrsalso for window blinds (vinal)

  • CeCe

    Hello, I just moved out of an apartment after 7.5 years and the landlord is demanding I pay $500 for crack lines on kitchen tiles on the most heavy traffic areas, the entry into the kitchen and in front of the sink. The flooring was done about 3 years before we moved in so a total of about 10 years ago. Should I be responsible for this?

  • Deb

    I have a useful life question. Having lived in a two bedroom house with garage rental for over 29 years, what would not be considered normal wear and tear? For example, Dry rot around door edges, mold in shower that will just not come off anymore, areas on cabinet where they are worn from opening and closing (there were no cabinet knobs), wooden countertop laminate loosing its wood-grained “look” from rubbing over time.

  • Andy

    The wood panels underneath the sink seems bloated after 6 years of usage. It’s made of wood chips and I am not sure if the damage was due to improper sealant but definitely it’s due to water leaking into the wood panels. Is this wear and tear or do I have to pay for the damage when moving out?

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi Andy,
      I can’t comment on your specific issue. Generally if you do something to cause damage, such as if you flooded the area somehow and caused damage to the wood, you would pay to have this fixed. But if you were using the sink in a normal manner and damage occurred, it would be the landlord’s responsibility to fix.

  • Steve

    I’m a SFR landlord in California – just got a bill from Property Manager for $45 to unclog a toilet on my rental. Repairman said someone must have been constipated… it was not a toy, or any other “foreign” object, but required snaking the toilet.

    PM says it falls under normal wear and tear, and I’m responsible to pay. But I still contend there was nothing faulty with the plumbing (owned home for 6 years and this is the first call on this)

    I’ve paid the invoice and not concerned about the $45, but still am interested in other opinions on this…

    Thoughts?

  • Mattern

    I had renters in for 6 years , I have a pet deposit and carpets were brand new . Now every room with carpets have cat urine stains everywhere. Management company say that`s normal wear and tear . All carpet has to be replaced and a special cleaning on floor to remove cat odor.

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