It is typical for landlords to collect security deposit from tenants and hold it until the tenants move out. Landlords are required to refund the deposit to the tenants within 60 days of the move out, and are allowed to deduct amounts for damages and cleaning. But what is considered damage and what is normal wear and tear? This is sort of a gray area in property management as the definition of normal is subjective, and the landlord – tenant laws do not provide a clear picture.
In this blog post, we will try to make the picture a bit more clear for you and provide tips on how to protect your investment and be fair to your tenants.
Let’s begin with several definitions of normal wear and tear. Here are some of the examples:
∗ The natural deterioration of the rental that occurs during normal conditions (
∗ Unavoidable deterioration in the dwelling and its fixtures resulting from normal use (
∗ Damage, depreciation, or loss resulting from ordinary use (

As you see, all of these definitions contain the ambiguous word “normal” or “ordinary”. The definition of “damage” doesn’t yield any helpful results either. Perhaps some examples can shed more light on this topic. Here are just a few guidelines that will help you judge if your tenant damaged your property or if it is considered normal:

Normal Wear and Tear Property Damage

Worn Flooring, dirty carpet in high traffic areas, shoe markings Stained carpet, scratched hardwood, burns, pet damage
Wall cracks caused by building settling, minor scuffing on the walls Holes in the walls, dents, drawings
Faded paint, thinner paint in high traffic areas Unapproved painting by tenant
Gardening tool left in the yard Piles of trash left in the yard
Worn pattern in the counter top Burns or cuts on counter top
Faded blinds Missing or broken fridge shelf
Loose doorknob Damaged, cracked tile
Stain on ceiling caused by leaky roof (unless tenant failed to report this timely) Missing, torn or damaged blinds

As you can see, normal wear and tear vs. damage could sometimes be very difficult to define. So how do you protect yourself from potential disagreements with your tenants when they move out? Here are a few suggestions:

1. Do a thorough walk-thru at move in, documenting the condition of the property. Leave a copy of the checklist with the tenant to add things in the next 30 days or so. Both landlord and tenant protect themselves by doing a very detailed walk-thru. Repeat at move out.
2. Take lots of pictures.
3. Most leases require tenants to timely report any maintenance that could lead to further damage such as leaks, discoloration of linoleum or tile, blistering paint, defective weather stripping, etc. Make sure you have this in your lease and make sure the tenant is fully aware of this obligation.
4. At move in provide your tenant with a checklist of what is considered wear and tear and what is damage. Have them sign off on it.
5. Before move out, refer tenants to a cleaning checklist and again a document that describes the difference between wear and tear and damage.
6. Hire a professional property management company and they will take care of all of this for you.
As with any tenant and landlord matter, communication is key. A professional property manager can help you navigate this matter and make sure your property is kept up in the best shape. At Evolve Real Estate and Property Management, we work hard to make sure the property condition doesn’t deteriorate, and the tenants are fully aware of what is expected of them at move out. This reduces your liability and increases the return on your investment. We would be happy to answer any of your questions regarding property damage vs. normal wear and tear, just give us a call.