If you own or manage a rental property, you will most likely have to handle a wide range of problems on a daily basis. This can include damage to a rental property that is under your care. However, sometimes something that may appear to be property damage is simply normal wear and tear, and it is important to know this difference. 

The term “normal wear and tear” refers to damage that occurs at the rental property that is not a result of abuse or neglect. This damage is a result of the expected depreciation of a home that is being occupied by a tenant. 

So what does this mean for you and your business? As the owner or manager of a rental property, any damage caused by normal wear and tear is your responsibility to fix. However, telling the difference between real property damage and normal wear and tear can be challenging. 

Just as you have a responsibility to your tenants to be fair, you also have a responsibility to the health of your business to hold your tenants accountable for damages they may have caused. 

Knowing the difference between damage and normal wear and tear can help you to determine which repairs are your responsibility, and which ones can be paid for using the tenant’s damage deposit. 

Person using a drill to fix a window

If you don’t know where to start, you’re in luck! We have provided you with a thorough guide to help you learn how to identify normal wear and tear in your rental property. Keep reading to find out more!

Normal Wear and Tear vs Property Damage

While different states often have varied definitions of “wear and tear”, it generally refers to the expected deterioration of the rental property and its fixtures. This deterioration is a result of continued proper use over time. 

In any home, there are certain areas or fixtures that you should always expect to have to repair or replace eventually, as they may be particularly prone to wear and tear after normal, everyday use. 

For example, the flooring of your rental property should be expected to dull or show slight discoloration from being walked on every day. This general physical decline is inevitable and it takes place over the span of your resident’s lease term. The longer your unit is occupied by a tenant, the more wear and tear you can expect to happen.

On the other hand, you also have to look out for unexpected property damage. This damage harms the usefulness, function, or overall value of the rental home and is a direct result of abuse or neglect on behalf of the tenant. This damage is not caused by the normal use of the home and its fixtures. 

Unfinished room with tools

For example, you wouldn’t expect cracked or broken tiles from everyday use. These types of damages don’t happen naturally from using the property every day, rather, they may have occurred by accident, on purpose, or from neglect. 

What Is Considered Normal Wear and Tear in a Rental?

There are countless aspects and fixtures of a rental property that are prone to inevitable deterioration from everyday use. As your tenant opens doors, walks around the home, and uses appliances throughout their day-to-day lives, deterioration will naturally occur. 

Here are some common examples of normal wear and tear that you may find in a rental property:

  • Peeling or faded paint and wallpaper.
  • Floors that may be in need of a refresh, such as a new coating or varnish.
  • Doors sticking due to humidity or other factors.
  • Window panes cracking due to issues with the foundation of the home.
  • Faded or slightly stained carpet.
  • Loose grouting around tiles.
  • Worn or discolored enamel around old toilets, bathtubs and sinks. 
  • Aging pipes causing partially clogged sinks and drains

Alternatively, there are some situations where the damage caused to the property is unexpected and considered beyond normal wear and tear. This is damage that is ultimately avoidable and caused by a tenant neglecting or abusing the property. 

A wrench

Examples of this can be:

  • Putting up wallpaper or painting the walls without proper approval.
  • Large stains or burns in carpeting or flooring.
  • Chipped or cracked flooring.
  • Doors that have been ripped off their hinges.
  • Windows that have been broken or significantly damaged.
  • Broken, cracked, or chipped enamel in the sink, toilet or bathtub.
  • A clogged toilet due to improper use.

It’s important to note that these damages are not always caused by the tenant. In some cases, negligence from the owner of the rental property can cause severe damage to the home. Some examples of damage caused by landlord negligence can be:

  • Structural damage such as cracked ceilings or roofs.
  • Damage to the pipes and plumbing from a lack of general maintenance.

As a landlord, it is always important to make sure that your tenant’s home is habitable. The best way to do this is to make smaller, more frequent repairs to the property, as this will help you to prevent larger, more costly repairs in the future. 

In the long run, it is much more cost-effective to conduct regular inspections of the property and fix issues early than to let them get worse over time! Further, taking a preventative approach to maintenance will likely increase your tenant retention, and your tenants will notice that you care about their quality of living and want to stay longer. 

Maintaining long-term tenants is a great way to maximize your income as a rental property owner, so this is an excellent practice in the long run.

Construction workers walking up stairs

Does a Security Deposit Cover Normal Wear and Tear?

If the damage to your rental property has gone beyond normal wear and tear, you may be able to use the funds from your tenant’s security deposit to cover the costs of the repairs needed. After all, this is part of the purpose of collecting a security deposit in the first place!

This is where it is important to be familiar with your local landlord-tenant laws. Each state will have its own set of rules and regulations regarding what is considered normal wear and tear and when you are permitted to use a tenant’s security deposit. Before you proceed with using any of these funds, make sure to check your local laws!

Keep Track of the Damage with Photos

When you are renting out a property, you should always perform a thorough move-in and a move-out inspection with your tenant, complete with a checklist to ensure you don’t miss anything. 

While you’re going through the move-in checklist with your tenant, you may want to take the opportunity to communicate your expectations regarding the condition of the property with them. 

It can also be helpful in the long run to take detailed photos to record the condition of the home throughout the inspection. This includes any damage that is already present in the home. These photos can help you clarify the details should a dispute come up throughout the tenancy. 

Paintbrush putting wood stain on a wood fence

When it comes time for your tenant to move out of the property, you may repeat the walkthrough inspection process, taking photos and making a detailed list of any damages you may find. Take this opportunity to repair any new damages that you find and discuss the costs and responsibilities of the repair with your tenant. 

If you do happen to discover any damage within your rental property, make sure to do the following:

  • Document every issue you find in the home with photos.
  • Create a detailed and itemized list of the repairs needed and their associated costs. 

If you are able to use the security deposit funds to repair the damage, make sure to include an itemized list of each deduction made from the deposit and the reasons for each one. 

How to Prevent Damage to Your Rental Property

There are many ways to prevent damage and excessive repairs to your property, and one of the most effective methods is to find high-quality tenants to rent to in the first place. But how do you find high-quality tenants? The answer is simple: thorough tenant screening.

By enforcing a thorough tenant screening process, you’ll be able to find the best residents that will treat your rental property as if it is their own. When you screen potential tenants, make sure to check their rental history to make sure that they have treated their past homes with care. 

Further, always look into their credit history in addition to running a background check and verifying their employment. While this task may seem daunting, it is entirely worth it to make sure that your next tenant is one that respects your rental property and helps you prevent damage to the home. 

Wear and Tear: Bottom Line

When you own a rental property, you are responsible for keeping it well-maintained. However, your tenant is also responsible.

By knowing the difference between normal wear and tear and legitimate damage to your rental property, you’ll be able to adequately protect your property and your business from unnecessary and costly repairs.