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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47 CommentsLeave a Comment

  • Brad

    I own rental property in Texas. Are roots that clog drainage pipes considered normal wear and tear?

    • Hai

      YES! You can’t charge tenants for clogs due to roots; that is a problem with the property. It is the same as if a tree root damaged the foundation…not the fault of the renter.

      • Brad

        Thanks for the info…. 6 months ago I had a plumber snake out the pipes for clogged pipes. It was completely fixed and drained well; they (plumbers) told me the clogs were due to grease and sediment; bathroom drain was a hair clog. Am I correct that these ARE tenant responsibly

  • TF

    I can’t seem to find an answer to this question on the internet… We are moving out of our rental home in California next month. We have been in the home for over 10 years and have taken great care of the home. The carpet is in decent condition but was not new when we moved in. It is in need of a replacement. Since we are well outside of any reasonable “life expectancy” of the carpet, are we required to have it cleaned when we move out? It seems like a total waste of money.
    Thanks!

    • Laura Agadoni

      Hi TF,
      This is a great question for your landlord. Let them know that you want to do all you can to get as much of your security deposit back as possible. You can tell them your thoughts on the carpet at this time. Your case makes sense to me.

  • Lenna

    I have a tenant that will be moving out shortly due to me selling the property. How do I know how much to deduct from her security deposit for cleaning, replacing handles and screens on screen doors, missing bathroom vent cover and the ceiling tiles that she damaged? These are older tongue and groove tiles that were fine prior to her putting tape on it to hold up streamers and pulling them off. The streamers, not the tiles. She has removed every layer of paint down to the cork.

  • Katie

    I was charged for repainting apt when i moved out. Is there law that requires landlord repaint after tennents leave in VA ?

  • Pat

    My mother moved out of her apartment in sc after living there 5 years and 4 months. Gave 30 day notice. After 30 days the management sent letter saying they needed another 30 days to decide about the deposit. So I sent them a letter requesting deposit. Then they sent an itemized bill saying she owed over $300 more due to smoke damages. My mother was a light smoker until she quite about 6 months before moving. I sprayed odoban and got rid of the smell. The walls and drapes were washed. Now they are charging for carpet cleaning, vinyl floor cleaning, and new drapes due to nicotine damage. . I am thing of sending new letter requesting deposit again since they did not send deposit or bill working the 30 days. ??????????????

  • claire

    We were tenant at CA, renting the property from June in 2015 and moved out june in 2017. I’d really appreciate it if you could give me your advice.

    1) Window: Broken pane (Caused by the tree branches hit during the storm on 2/17/2016)
    2) Tiles : Damaged plastic tiles floor (these are damaged when we moved in. The tiles deteriorate over the time while we were living.)
    3) Cabinet glass: Broken upper cabinet (4 catches were broken, 1 catch was loose, and ONLY 3 catches were working when we moved in. The glass had crashed down when I opened the cabinet door without eventfully. It was very dangerous.)
    4) Refrigerator : Dented & rusted front door (I I used to wipe the fridge door with Micro-wipes without using chemical detergent or cleane

  • claire

    Hello again, I’d really appreciate it if you could give me your advice.

    5) Dishwasher : Broken top rack rail (top rack had broken a month ago. Unfortunately, we have not reported this damage to the landlord, since we were in the middle of packing for getting ready to move out. Surely, we have stopped using it afterward even it was inconvenient for us about a month. )
    6) Bathtub : Surface came off (less than 1 inch. I don’t remember what had happened on it)
    7) Closet : Shoes shelf rail not functioned in upper right side (We haven’t used shoe shelf during our renting because)
    8) Blinds (one blind) : Torn shade (we have no idea why it was teared)
    Sincerely,

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