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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282 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?

    • Salena

      No, a 17 year old carpet is beyond the age of usual life expectancy. They can’t charge you as it is too old

    • Butu Newsone

      Salina is correct. I’d just like to add, for future reference, it is the tenants responsibility to clean the carpet unless otherwise noted in your lease.

  • 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?

    • Danielle Beyer

      Hi I”m sorry you don’t know me but i saw you post. Can you tell me what happened with the doors? Our landlord just deducted $1200 from our security deposit to fix all 3 of our mirrored closet doors because two fo them had hairline stress cracks in the corners from regular use. The doors are from 1980 and original to the house. Big brass and heavy!!!! She replaced them with custom new white framed doors at our expense!!! We asked for a preliminary walkthrough and were denied it.

  • 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

  • Michaela

    We rented a duplex 1.5 years ago and are just moving out. Our landlord is furious that there are some scratches on the face of the stainless steel fridge. We honestly don’t know what these are from but are guessing its from the magnets that we had on the front of the fridge. He is trying to charge us ~$550 to replace the fridge and freezer doors because he can’t get the scratch marks out. Is this unreasonable? Should we ask for a receipt? Thanks.

    • J

      If the scratches weren’t there when you moved in and it’s only been 1.5 years, then it’s definitely your responsibility. Stainless scratches very easily so you should not have magnets on there. We’ve all learned that the hard way.

  • Kimberly

    Renting for 3.5 years, I’ve had professional cleaning each year from my own pockets, now there is bleach splatters and dye from red juice from my toddler. The place is 2300 sq ft and my landlord says I must replace the carpet which could end up being $5k. I asked him can he use $3700 of my security deposit and he says no. He’s never fixed anything here without charging me. Even the shower head was malfunctioning and spraying water back onto the wall and ate the paint away, he charged me for is. Is this fair.

  • Jan

    One week after the mandated 21 days, our landlord finally sent us an itemized list of damages that exceeds our security deposit. After 18 years of living there, we believe the charges are excessive and unreasonable so thinking of going to conciliation court. Will the fact that he was late getting the letter to us work in our favor when contesting the charges?

  • Mary

    I have lived in my rental for 7 1/2 years, with no regular maintenance from my on site landlords, unless I pushed for it. The unit was not freshly painted or have new carpet when I moved in. I gave notice and my landlady wants to come in and make repairs, paint and re-carpet while I am packing and moving…..is this legal? I am leaving in the middle of the month and paid for the full month. She would have 2 weeks paid to do this after I vacate.

  • Kristen L

    I have lived in this apartment for the last 6 years, and in the last year, we have had problems with the radiators that have led to damage of the walls and flooring. The extent of the damage in the bedroom originally was just thought to be paint damage and cracking on the wall from steam, but it now also seems that the flooring around the radiator itself is rotting from leaking i couldn’t see because it was at the end of the bed in the corner where I do not spend any time paying attention to the floor. Something similar has happened to the living room flooring as well. Is this something that the landlords would be liable for, because the radiators are faulty?

  • Mora

    I moved out last month and cleaned the property and have pictures and videos, we closed all the holes in the walls but didn’t paint them (the walls are white). The landlord signed the checklist after the final walkthrough that everything is okay. 10 days after she sent us email saying she wants to deduct cleaning and other charges to repaint the holes. She also claiming that we had a cracked fridge drawer that we never seen. Does she have the right to deduct that after she was okay and signed?

  • Christine

    Hi, we are getting ready to move for the LL decided not to renew our annual lease for no reason (no late pymts, no write-ups, complaints, or anything). There is nothing in our lease that says we can’t hang pictures, or shelves, or anything. But surprise, we get a move out packet that says in big letters “DO NOT SPACKLE, SAND, OR PAINT”. THEN, proceeds to list mandatory charges of near $1 000 for doing just that. It also lists crazy charges, like $35 to $125 PER lightbulb replacement, and up to $175 for smoke detector battery replacement (PER). So is this landlord just a jerk trying to gouge us, or are they hiding LEAD PAINT in this older property? We have been here one year, but this will definitely end in a vicious court battle.

  • Anne Zygmunt

    My daughter moved into her rental in May. She has been a great tenant and and things are generally good. When her siblings were visiting, the toilet became clogged. They had been flushing feminine products and flushable wipes. They attempted to unclog with no success. The landlord’s brother was hired to fix and billed his sister $600.00. They do not know what work was involved. The landlord forwarded a revised tenant agreement adding that any futures clogs would be her financial responsibility to fix, “above and beyound the damage deposit.” I believe that in going forward that if the toilet is “gently” used ie. only toilet tissue and nothing else, then is this normal use. The pipes are old by landlords words. Is she responsible?

  • Dori S.

    I rented a place for 3 months. Landlord had just bought the place, lived out of state. I was dog sitting my bosses dog a weekend while she was out of town. No, I didn’t have pets listed on my lease. The prior owner had installed a small dog door in the front door with a closing panel. He ripped it out and chewed about an inch of door around the hole. She’s charging me full price to purchase a new one, remove old, install new, including hardware and painting inside and out. Total of around $1500. My boss is find to replace the door, BUT she’s getting a BRAND NEW door. She’s remodeling and painting inside anyway.

  • Ria

    Hi, my Tentant rented my house for one year; I had the house professionally cleaned for her and I told her that she to do the same upon moving out. I paid $250 for the cleaning and she agreed in writing to do the same; however, when her lease was up, she and her children physically moved out but she left all of her belongings which included a full fridge of food and a filthy house. In addition to having to remove her belongings to the garage
    , the cleaning company had way more than $250 worth of cleaning to do, they charged me $450 to clean the house. Can this amount be deducted from the security deposit even though we initially agreed upon $250 fee. The home was turned over to her completely neat and clean, but it was not returned to me

  • Jackie

    I was in my apartment for 7 yrs. my apartment was the only one out of the 4 that wasn’t remolded or cleaned the kitchen sink wasn’t sealed. Restroom sink, windows wear moldy but I clean them.The apartment came had blinds they most of them came off because of the wind and broke, I accidentally backed up to the garage door but it’s still opens and closes. When I left I notice some water damages in back of the fridge( I’m thinking it was from 7 yrs me loves there and remind you that the sink wasn’t. Properly sealed and the owner was aware of that. I left my land lord was out of time she said she would check the empty rental when she came back like 3 weeks. She claims that the apartment had damages exceeding my deposit. What do you think??

  • jessica

    I have rented a furnished apartment for a year and a half and I am about to move out. My landlord is trying to withhold my security deposit to pay for the sofa to be recovered as there are a couple of small tears in the fabric. However, this occurred only because the sofa is so old and used and thread bare. It will cost more to have it recovered than what the sofa is worth. Can my landlord legally charge me for this? There are no photos of the sofa from before when it had no tears.

  • Kim S

    Upon pre-moveout inspection the property manager noticed scratches on the wood floor form our dining and coffee tables. I asked for an estimate to see if I could find a vendor to fix. She did not reply and now after move out we have been informed that the estimate is around 3K for 800sq ft. since they have to refinish (sand and 2 top coats of protectant) all the hardwood floors in the living room and dining room to make up for the “deep gauges.” This seems excessive as the scratches were only over 2 areas and 6 panels of wood at most. Is there any way to fight this or should we just give up and let them take it.

  • Thomas Freeman

    Our landlord is trying to charge us for small nail holes in the wall and a small ding or two on two wall corners from moving furniture out. We received the receipt / bill from the contractor for $750 and it says “touch up walls” which does not sound like damage – more like normal wear and tear from life just happening. Also, she is trying to charge us $100 to clean the oven but when we look at the pictures of the oven we only see normal baked on food splatter on the glass – the insides and racks are all cleaned out. What constitutes abuse for an oven? And she is claiming we had pets, which at this point in time is he said / she said. Considering that I have not had pets, how do I make a case for not having pets?

  • Wendy Butcher

    What is the life expectancy of windows? My windows are 20+ years old and leak air like crazy. I have to put sheets of plastic up in the winter to keep the wind from blowing in and even then there are days I find the plastic has been blown off the window. My landlord is refusing to replace the windows. Their “inspector” looked at the window, opened and closed them and told me the vents over the windows are what is causing the plastic to move in and out, not the wind. The vents aren’t even open.

  • denise

    I lived in a house for 7 months, we paid for carpet cleaning when we moved out and now the landlord want to chanrge us , $900 because she says there are some stains in the carpet. what is a good way to determine the amount to change for stains?

  • Kristen

    We moved in to a 115 year old carriage house with the original hardwood floors. Right before we we moved in, the landlord had all the floors painted white because the contractor told him the floors were past their lifespan and couldn’t be sanded down and refinished again.

    We’ve lived here for 2 years and the white paint in the main traffic areas of the floor shows wear and scuffs in the paint from 2 humans and a dog’s daily living.

    Are we liable for the landlords choice to paint the aging floors white? Also several areas where they placed wood filler popped out only a few weeks after we moved in, just from walking on them. I’m concerned they will try and take part of our security deposit to put towards new floors.

  • mike w

    I am moving out of a large 5 bedroom home, where I rented 2 rooms. Over the 5 yrs of living there I have had over 10 people rent the other rooms in the house, coming and going. The house has been rented for over 15yrs to random people, I have been there the last 5yrs. The landlord gave me 60days to move out, which I did. The Landlord sent me an email yesterday stating that he is hiring cleaners to clean the house and is going to charge me for “common area: washroom, kitchen windows and blinds, kitchen grout floor, kitchen tile on counters, living room blinds and windows, family room blinds and windows, hallway and door entry grout.” I was living here without a lease. Can he charge me for wear and tear? no major damage was done.

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