What Exactly is Wear and Tear?

This term used in lease contracts covers all damage that occurs naturally in a rental property due to ageing (weather or the use-of-living overtime related). This is considered normal depreciation of many years of use or nature’s erosion to the doors, carpet, appliances, walls, etc. What “wear and tear” is not, is the neglect or abuse of the property, which would fall under damages that the security deposit covers.

Landlords and/or Property Managers should always be transparent with their tenants about what they, city ordinances, or state regulations deem wear and tear. This will keep trust and respect intact for all parties through the period of the lease. We all know a personal story about a greedy manager who brags (“warns”) about never returning a security deposit because of their high standards for an up-kept property. In reality, situations like these are never reasonable or respectful to the tenant renting a previous lived-in property.

Make sure you (as a renter or a property manager) do your research into your local laws about security deposits. Typically, landlords must return a tenant’s security deposit and accounting records within 21 days after moving out.

How to Determine What’s Reasonable

If you’re in doubt about if the damage would qualify as wear and tear, ask yourself any of these questions below. Note that not all wear and tear will qualify for all these questions; Ex. old deteriorated floors wouldn’t qualify as a small section repair (#3) but would qualify for the first two questions (#1 and #2).

  • 1. How long has it been since the last installation? Is it a reasonable time for a replacement or perhaps has a replacement been overdue?
  • 2. Is the deterioration an appropriate fix for the situation or is the damage too substantial to happen so suddenly? (Few small scratches vs large cracks, scuffed items compared to age of installation, dirt build up vs large stains, loose/faded walls vs massive tears or obvious color changes)
  • 3. Can a new part repair/rejuvenate the potential wear and tear, or can you replace a small section instead of installing a full replacement?

Examples of Reasonable Wear and Tear

We’ve provided a helpful info-graphic and a list of some acceptable examples of real wear and tear.

  • Faded paint / loose wallpaper
  • Carpet is worn down or dirty
  • Scuffed floors
  • Old blind strings that are broken or tangled
  • Cracked window or door frames from old age
  • Rusty/Worn/Stuck hinges

Security Deduction Expenses

Dependent on your state, you must get a contractor’s bid to repair the tenant-caused damage, subtract it from the security deposit and mail the itemized deductions to the tenant(s). Usually a list of all the itemized deductions can be used in place of a contractor’s bid (but please do your research). Other examples of deductions can include: past due rent, past due utility bills, pet-related damage, broken tiles, and other various late fees.

How to Avoid Disputes

Having a mindset of wanting to keep your properties in the very best condition for your tenants will naturally eliminate a lot of ware and tear conditions. First, be thorough with annual or bi-annual maintenance checks. Don’t delay replacing old appliances or sprucing up dated areas of the property. Ultimately and ideally, the replacements and improvements put into the property will only increase its value.

Don’t be unreasonable or greedy when inspecting the property. Disputes over what could be classified as normal wear and tear can result in legal action. Beware of overstepping because in many states, laws give the benefit of the doubt to the tenants and prove of the tenant-caused damage will need to be provided.

Does this talk of repairs have you feeling cautious or stressed? Automate your maintenance process today to ensure every step of a repair is covered and documented for stress-free property management.



Written by Kyle Graves: Property Meld Blog Editor