Simply living in a rental place will eventually lead to scuffs, scrapes, and stains. The longer a tenant lives in a property, the more potential there is for accidents and everyday deterioration.
In America, the onus is on landlords to understand that a certain level of wear and tear is unavoidable and an expected aspect of renting out their unit or home. Despite this, many landlords are sticklers and it is not uncommon for property owners to try and withhold a security deposit for minor concerns, leaving their tenants in a financial predicament.
To combat these cases, many states have implemented legislation that safeguards tenants from this type of unfair treatment— making landlords potentially liable if they do not adhere to the applicable regulations.
When approached correctly, disputes can often be avoided, and if they do occur, can be resolved more easily and quickly, making the rental experience more enjoyable for both tenants and owners.
What is Normal Wear and Tear?
In a nutshell, normal wear and tear refers to any damage that takes place as the result of aging and/or regular usage.
It’s important to note, however, that each case is unique. This means that if a landlord and tenant dispute is handled in court, it will be up to the judge’s discretion to determine if an inappropriate amount of damage has occurred.
It’s also important to remember that laws differ from state to state, so rulings relating to these types of issues can vary significantly.
For the purposes of this explanation, though, we’ll be sharing an example that is more definitive.
Small nail holes and minor scrapes in wall paint would be considered usual wear and tear, while large, gaping holes in gyprock would be considered excessive damage.
Understanding Normal Wear and Tear VS Excessive Damage
It isn’t always easy for a landlord to determine when an issue qualifies as excessive damage, or when the responsibility should fall on the tenant to repair a particular concern.
Below are some guidelines that can assist with differentiating between ordinary wear and tear and unreasonable damage:
Wear and tear does NOT include damages that occur as a result of a tenant’s negligence, abuse, or accidental destruction.
Wear and tear does NOT include damages that occur as a result of negligence, abuse, or accidental destruction by a tenant’s guests or pets.
Excessive damage does NOT include the cost of regular maintenance and repairs that must be completed after a tenant moves out and prior to another tenant occupying the space.
Examples of Normal Wear and Tear
To further clarify the normal wear and tear definition, below are some common issues that landlords would NOT be justified in deducting from a tenant’s security deposit:
- Carpet deterioration caused by foot traffic, normal use, etc.
- Broken cords on blinds or curtains
- Fading on carpets or flooring caused by sun exposure
- Non-functional light bulbs, wiring issues, etc.
- Loose door handles, hinges, cabinetry, etc.
- Leaky toilets
- Broken light switch plates
Examples of Excessive Damage
Below are damages that would NOT qualify as normal wear and tear rental concerns:
- Excessive amounts of pet urine on carpets
- Smoke or burn marks from cigarettes on flooring, walls, etc.
- Broken or missing cabinet doors
- Unauthorized renovations
- Gaping holes in walls, doors, etc.
- Smashed mirrors, broken window glass, etc.
- Clogged toilets as a result of improper use
Examples of Regular Maintenance
It is unlawful to claim regular maintenance as security deposit wear and tear, since landlords assume responsibility for a certain level of property upkeep when they make the decision to rent their space.
Below are some examples of projects or activities that would be considered regular maintenance:
- Rodent or insect exterminations
- Repairing of water damage or leaks
- Installation of functioning fire and carbon monoxide detectors
- Gutter cleanings
- Sprinkler system repairs
- Safety inspections
- Replacing fire extinguishers
- Updating or replacement of kitchen appliances
If you aren’t sure whether or not an issue qualified as reasonable wear and tear rental concern, it’s always advisable to seek a second opinion.
Too often, landlords bring their case to court, only to realize their definition of wear and tear rental property issues differs from the definition set forth by the law.
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