The Ultimate Guide to “Normal Wear and Tear”

Written on September 19, 2016 by , updated on December 2, 2016

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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74 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

    • Ken LaVoie

      It’s not normal wear and tear, but it’s not caused by the tenant either. Does that make sense? Like having plaster crack from frost heaving is not really “normal” – it reflects a deficiency in construction methods — yet the “damage” wasn’t tenant caused.

  • 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.

      • Tiffany

        I have a question about linoleum flooring. When we moved in like 6 months ago it was obvious the linoleum in our dining room was fairly old and apt of the shine had worn off so anyways, over the past few weeks it has been feeling “sticky” in places so I had a feeling it was peeling well when I was mopping earlier I noticed it is peeling off. I’m going to speak with the landlord about it this evening and I’m thinking I won’t be responsible for paying for it since it’s obviously old and was already “loose” in some places and had little shone left but I’m not 100% sure. What would you think?

  • 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,

  • C. Kershaw

    I moved out of my rental in PA after almost 2 years. The landlord just emailed me my deposit back less $115 for 2 burned out light bulbs, 1 missing bulb and 2 missing blinds from the garage and labor.

    When I took possession of the property 2 years ago, I spent the first 2 weeks thoroughly cleaning it because it was filthy. The blinds in the garage were so disgusting that I threw them away. I did not feel it was my responsibility to replace them since they were not clean when I moved in. I believe the burned out bulbs are from faulty outside fixtures. The missing bulb I did neglect to replace. I purchased a special bulb that would turn on when it was dark.

    I feel $115 is excessive for the items replaced. I’ve requested a breakdown.

  • Lynda

    I lived in a rental for 3.5 years. After we moved out the landlord came up with all kinds of stuff.
    4 chipped tiles in the kitchen – $365
    Clearing vines off the fence $260
    Replacing mini binds in one room – $125 ( we replaced the same blinds in the kitchen and it cost us $55.)
    Both husband and wife are listed as landlords. Wife told me I could have a cat and to not worry about it. Husband is now charging me $300 because I had a cat. Can he do that? I have witnesses to her agreement.

  • Tina

    My landlord made me fill every hole in the walls. I made maybe 20 from hanging curtains and pictures and I even saved putting holes in wall from past renters. There were so many holes and nails all over the walls in every room. Due to this my dad bought wrong wall putty and then we cleaned what we could. He patches out bigger for sanding reasons. Landlord in letter said I had 30 days from moving out to fix what she said was wrong and I would get full deposit. Now due to her making me fill holes which in Iowa it’s normal wear and tear. I’m the first tenant she checked on after moving out. What do I do? I have pictures too

    • Tina

      I noticed people post for help on our problems but has anybody heard back from anyone? I haven’t.

    • Tina

      I didn’t receive a list of cost for the materials that it cost to remove the wall putty we redid twice that was to be smooth. Which I was to receive in 30 days. I got nothing. She told me she was hiring a company to do the work. Never seen the estimate. She just texted me what she said it would cost for the removal which was $500 dollars for total labor that didn’t include any of the materials that they would be using or paint. The thing is she never went in on past renters and filled the holes they did. So she was going to make me do all there’s too. She can’t do that correct? There was probably 100 holes total. I have not yet to this date received the list of things from the company that she hired for the total amount. Gave her my address

  • LeeAnne

    Hi there! We’ve never rented before and I was wondering which of the following can the landlord legally deduct from our deposit: cleaning the master shower, cleaning the oven (it was vacuumed out already and is a self cleaning oven), removing debris from the fence
    line , cleaning/ re painting a spot if the wall that is dirty from our dog ( I tried to clean it, but their paint came right off), removing debris from a preserve area not on their property, and pressure washing oil stains from driveway.

    They told us when we moved in and when we gave them our notice that they planned on re painting the whole house upon us leaving so that would take care of the dog stain. Not sure what is normal wear and tear. Lived there over two years. TY

  • Mark

    My girlfriend just moved out of her unit. The landlord cited the shower head as loose (the piping) after they had a home inspection to sell the property. My girlfriend did not have anything hanging on the shower head, and never touched it – so she had no clue it was loose. The landlord wants to deduct from her security deposit to have a plumber come fix the pipe.
    I would think that loose pipes would be considered normal wear and tear – however there would be no documentation, nor proof from either side on that. Thoughts?

  • Andrew

    We just signed our second lease in a nice little farmhouse. We had just over 50 nail holes in the wall and she had someone cone in to patch them up. We have to pay for that labor. One of the kitchen cabinets doesn’t close all the way and we have to pay for that. When my wife does the dishes sometimes the water dribbles a little bit and there is about a square inch of fattened wood. She wants us to pay over 1000$$ to replace the whole countertop. Where do I go from here?? We live paycheck to paycheck, but always manage to have rent paid early. What do we do?

  • Susan

    As a Landlord, how can we tell a Tenant he/she has too much stuff relative to size of unit? There are bags upon bags in corners , carpet cannot be cleaned due to amount of belongings, saw a roach (likely many more) . We are very prompt with maintenance calls, but it is very difficult to enter units like this or even worse. How to ask tenant to please reduce amt of belongings? Is that legal? Fair to ask that? Intrusive? How to draw line between clinical hoarders and too much stuff and slob? Any one to bounce off this dilemma?

    • Lisa

      Hi my recommendation to you is to call your local health authority. If there are bugs due to a hoarding issue in property you own you probably have some responsibilities you may be required to take care of. If it’s as bad as you say there is probably some very complex mental health issues going on that really only professionals should try to attempt to help with. Be supportive and encouraging and most importantly be clear with them about what your concerns and responsibilities are and do what you can to get them help in carrying out any actions that need to be taken. Habits are easy to break and hard to rebuild.
      Good Luck and approach it with your heart not your wallet and things should go much better for everyone.

  • Everett

    Is the tenant responsible if a windstorm damages storm door

  • Sonia Adams

    Can landlord charge for a loose banister after we moved out of house we lived in for 4 years?

  • Cheryl

    My son was charged 100.00 per room for “bedrub”. Is this considered normal wear and tear.

  • Bobby A

    I rented a house for three years. The property management company left a lockbox on my front door the entire time. After moving out a few months ago I was telling my real estate agent about it and they told me to sue them for the rent for all three years on the bases they breached contract and because of the safety issues of having the lockbox on my door. Any thoughts on this?

  • Sar

    We just moved out of our rental home of 2 years because the owners want to sell the house and are ending their contract with the rental company. The owners are demanding to keep our security deposit in whole, just shy of $2000, because wear and tear scratches to the hardwood floors and stained/dirty carpet. The carpets have not been replaced in AT LEAST 5 years. When we moved in I noted the stains on the carpet in my “house check sheet.” Also, the owners are upset because we had a cat in addition to our dog. Both animals are listed on the lease and were approved by our landlord. Can the owners withhold our entire security deposit?

    • Michele

      Were you required to have the carpets shampooed upon moving out? Most rental companies or owners want it done professionally and want proof of it, as well. Our renters have moved out and we told them that they didn’t need to shampoo. After all, they had been tenants for 13 years and we know the carpet probably needs to be replaced.

      As for the check list you had done when moving in along with stating that you had pets on your lease, I would think you have a case to go to court. However, how much time and money will that cost? And if you’ve moved out of town/state, can you swing travel expenses?

      I sure hope you get things rectified. Has the rental agency offered any advice or help?

    • Nova

      No! absolutely not, goodness it’s not enough you moved out! these’GREEDY” people want to doll the
      house up with your Deposit money?? Sar, you can’t allow that. Get your deposit back!

  • Chris

    Hello,

    I’ve rented a room in a condo for 2 years and noticed some gray spots in the porcelain bathtub a few months ago. I brought it up to the landlord’s attention immediately and was told I just needed to clean it and that otherwise she had no idea what to help me. Out of frustration because the tub just “seemed” constantly dirty, and i knew it wasn’t dirt because I use a professional cleaner once a month and she also hasn’t been able to get rid of the spots. Out of frustration, I hired a painter to paint the tub and now the landlord is up in arms about what a bad job they did. I’m pretty sure the spots were normal wear and tear but not sure what to do now. The landlord wants to bring in a professional to redo the job and charge me. Help

  • Rachel Mann

    Can a landlord require you to do major hedging work that requires getting onghe roof, like for a camellia bush that is taller than the house? I’m in Oregon. Thank you.

  • Hi

    I just moved in few weeks ago and my landlord who is living in with me right now asked me to pay half of the light bulb charges, which is around $200, and I am wondering if this is reasonable. In my room, all the rights are regular light bulbs, no LCDs, and I was given two ikea lamps. Nevertheless, the landlord has provided me a receipt (that does not show what she bought but only shows that she bought 25 counts and made the amount purchase with her credit card. My landlord is using her apartment as her apartment/her business work place, so she always have 2-3 guests coming over from early morning, which was not told to me before signing a contract. What should I do? I am a student and I can’t afford all of those money.

    • Hi

      Just a quick additional info:

      $200 for me to make, so she made $400 total for all the light bulb purchase.
      I don’t even get to spend time in the living room or common areas too often since her guests are always there and the apartment only has one bathroom…

  • Candy

    my tenants left my laminate floor full of “light” scratches, they are so light, they almost look like scuff marks, but they are not scuff, as they don’t come off. The laminate floor are actually scratched. This tenant threatened to sue me if I take out too much deposit.

    These marks are very long, i’d say over 10 inches each, and there are many, it’s all over the floors. they are an eye sore, I usually don’t charge tenants for floor damage, but this one I have a hard time letting it go. This tenant tried to argue these are normal wear and tear, which I responded, normal wear and tear should not be so long in length. And then the wife claimed the floor was dirty, which hid the marks before, but this is not true. I am so stressed!

  • Joe

    Contract says I agree to repair or replace anything above normal wear and tear — is this solely as the landlord sees fit? If the item was new, was damaged through normal use (dish chipped edge of counter) but is repairable, am I obliged to pay for replacement because that is what they prefer to do? Does this mean I am liable for labor costs as well?

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