What Exactly is Normal Wear and Tear?

Ever wondered what differentiates 'normal wear and tear' from actual 'damage'? As landlords, it's a thin line we often have to tread.

This article will provide you with a detailed understanding of 'normal wear and tear' in the rental business. To equip you with the knowledge to better manage your property and ultimately, safeguard your investment.

Defining Normal Wear and Tear

"Normal wear and tear" refers to the natural and expected decline in the condition of a property or its fixtures, due to regular use over time. Consider the following examples of normal wear and tear:

  • Paint fading or minor scuffing on walls
  • Minor stains or worn areas on carpets or rugs due to regular foot traffic
  • Wear on kitchen countertops or cabinets from typical use
  • Slow-running drains due to normal usage
  • Weathering of exterior paint or material due to exposure to elements over time

It's important to note that normal wear and tear does not include substantial, preventable, or irresponsible damage caused by tenant actions. For instance, a large hole in the wall from hanging art improperly or significant pet-induced damage would be considered beyond the scope of normal wear and tear.

As a landlord, understanding the distinction between normal wear and tear and damage can help in effectively managing property maintenance and tenant deposit deductions.

person in an orange sweater handing a picture on the wall

What is Unexpected Damage?

Unexpected or excessive damage is any harm done to the property that is beyond the expected decline caused by normal wear and tear. This can occur due to accidents, neglect, misuse, or intentional actions of the tenant, their guests, or pets.

Here are some examples of what might be considered unacceptable damage:

  • Large Holes or Marks in Walls: While small nail holes resulting from tenants hanging pictures on walls are expected, large holes from misuse or negligence are not.
  • Broken Windows or Doors: Damage to windows or doors that renders them unusable or significantly impacts their function are signs of excessive damage.
  • Stains or Burns on Carpets, Floors, or Walls: These are significant stains or burns that cannot be remedied with routine cleaning or minor repairs.
  • Broken Appliances or Fixtures: A broken refrigerator or stove are indicators of damage.
  • Pet Damage: Substantial damage caused by pets, like scratched floors, chewed door frames, or stains from accidents.

Remember, unexpected damage usually requires immediate attention and repair. Identifying and addressing such issues promptly can help maintain the property's value and ensure a fair landlord-tenant relationship.

Security Deposits for Repairs - What Landlords Should Know

Security deposits provide a financial safety net for landlords. They are funds collected at the start of a lease agreement, held to cover potential property damage or unpaid rent.

a security deposit document with the word approved stamped in red on it

Here are key things landlords should know:

  • Understand Local Laws: Security deposit laws vary by location, so familiarize yourself with your local and state guidelines. Some places limit the amount you can collect, while others stipulate when it must be returned.
  • Document Everything: Conduct a walk-through inspection at the start of the tenancy. Make sure to take photos and write detailed descriptions of the property's condition both before and after the tenancy. This documentation helps protect you if disputes arise over security deposit deductions.
  • Wear and Tear vs. Damage: Only costs addressing unexpected damage or extreme filth can be deducted from a security deposit. Understanding the difference is crucial.
  • Communicate with Tenants: Provide tenants with an itemized list of deductions, along with their remaining deposit, within the timeframe specified by local laws. If the security deposit is used, be prepared to provide proof of the repairs' cost.
  • Fair Pricing: Charges should align with the actual cost of repairs or cleaning, not inflated prices. For example, don't charge for a brand-new carpet if a professional cleaning could restore it.

Remember, treating your tenants fairly and transparently can enhance your reputation as a landlord and promote a better landlord-tenant relationship. Always approach the use of security deposits ethically and within the boundaries of local laws.

Prevent Property Damage with a Thorough Tenant Screening

Conducting thorough tenant screening can help prevent tenant-caused property damage and save you from a lot of headaches down the line.

person handing someone a clipboard with a filled out application on it

Consider verifying the following information before allowing a tenant to reside in your rental:

  • Past Rental History: Check potential tenants' rental histories. Previous landlords can offer insights into whether the tenant caused property damage, made timely rent payments, and why the tenancy ended.
  • Financial Stability: Assessing potential tenants' financial stability can help ensure they'll meet their rent obligations. This can include verifying income, reviewing credit scores, and checking employment status.
  • References and Background Checks: Don't underestimate the value of personal references and background checks. They can reveal aspects of the potential tenant's behaviour, like a history of disruptive behaviour or legal troubles.
  • Meet in Person or Via Video Call: When possible, meet potential tenants as this provides an opportunity to assess their respectfulness and responsibility, which can often translate into how they'll treat your property.

Remember, conducting thorough tenant screenings requires knowledge of Fair Housing Laws, and not everyone has this expertise. If you lack the time and legal knowledge to conduct a thorough tenant screening, it could be beneficial to contact a property manager.

Bottom Line

Understanding the difference between standard wear and tear resulting from regular use of a property and excessive damage is vital. As a landlord, having this knowledge helps you protect your property and make informed decisions regarding the tenant’s security deposit.

You can also perform thorough tenant screenings as an added protection against property damage or hire a professional to oversee the process on your behalf.

If you need help managing your properties, consider working with the experts with at Gifford Properties & Management. Contact us today to learn about our property management services!

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Andrew Gifford and his team of professionals are easily the best realtors and property managers that I have ever worked with. They provide first rate service in an extremely timely manner. Whether you are a landlord, tenant, or prospective real estate buyer, I highly recommend the services of Andrew Gifford and his real estate team for all your property needs!

Jeff Tillman