“Normal wear and tear” is a term that is thrown around often in the world of tenants and landlords.
This hard-to-define term is the basis for determining who should cover the cost of repairs in a rental between landlord and tenant.
The basics are simple – if the damage is deemed normal wear and tear – the landlord pays. If the damage is excessive, the tenant pays.
But what is not so simple is answering the million-dollar question – what is deemed normal wear and tear?
In this guide we will cover the elusive definition of normal wear and tear and help you get a sense for who should pay for what.
How is Normal Wear and Tear Defined?
The dictionary definition of wear and tear, according to dictionary.com, is: “damage or deterioration resulting from ordinary use; normal depreciation”.
We know what you’re thinking – this definition doesn’t do a whole lot to clear up an already vague term.
When it comes to determining normal wear and tear in property, it largely comes down to common sense. If it is reasonable that the damage in question could be caused by normal use, then it is most likely normal wear and tear.
If, however, the damage in question is clearly excessive and had to be caused by something other than normal use, then it is no longer normal wear and tear and can be defined as excessive.
For example, if the walls in your property are slightly or even moderately dirty after a year of someone living in it, you would classify that as normal wear and tear.
Since you would likely have to re-paint the walls regardless before allowing a new tenant in, you wouldn’t have to pay extra for it so therefore the definition makes sense.
But if the wall has a sizeable hole in it and needs to be repaired, that is clearly excessive and should be paid for by the tenant, typically out of the security deposit.
Normal Wear and Tear vs. Excessive Damage Examples
To help landlords and tenants limit the number of disputes, the U.S. Department of Housing (HUD) has released some guidelines for its definition of normal vs. excessive damage.
Here is a summary of examples for normal wear and tear:
Fading, peeling, or cracked paint
Slightly torn or faded wallpaper
Small chips in plaster
Nail holes, pinholes, or cracks in the wall
Door sticking from humidity
Cracked window pane from a faulty foundation or building settling
Floors needing a coat of varnish
Carpet faded or worn thin from walking
Loose grouting and bathroom tiles
Worn or scratched enamel in old bathtubs, sinks, or toilets
Rusty shower rod
Partially clogged sinks caused by aging pipes
Dirty or faded lamp or window shades
Excessive “tenant damage” is defined by HUD as damage that “usually requires more extensive repair, and at a greater cost than ‘normal wear and tear’, and are often the result of a tenant’s abuse or negligence that is above and beyond normal wear and tear”.
Examples of excessive tenant damage include:
Gaping holes in walls or plaster
Drawings, crayon markings, or wallpaper that owner did not approve
Seriously damaged or ruined wallpaper
Chipped or gouged wood floors
Doors ripped off hinges
Holes in the ceiling from removed fixtures
Holes, stains, or burns in carpets
Missing or cracked bathroom tiles
Chipped and broken enamel in bathtubs and sinks
Clogged or damaged toilet from improper use
Missing or bent shower rods
Torn, stained, or missing lamp and window shades
How To Deal with Normal Wear and Tear and Excessive Tenant Damage
While the above examples serve as guidelines that could be followed most of the time, if you have specific concerns you should include them in your rental lease agreement, for the avoidance of doubt.
The simplest way to assess whether or not you should charge tenants for costs to repair damage that is beyond normal wear and tear is to determine what would need to be done above and beyond a normal move-out.
For example, if you pay for a normal cleaning between tenants, you wouldn’t charge that to the tenant since that is a routine cost paid by the landlord.
However, if the outgoing tenant kept the property in such poor condition that it required a special or deep cleaning, you could charge them the extra cost for that cleaning that is above and beyond the cost of a normal cleaning.
The same goes for things like walls, paint, carpet, and light bulbs. You can charge for damage that requires repair beyond the routine repair that you would take on between tenants.
For excessive damage done to assets, determine the cost to charge your tenants based on the cost of the asset over its “useful life”.
What is Useful Life?
Useful life is the period of time over which an asset is deemed valuable. In simple terms, it means how long you can use something before its fair to say that you need to get a new one.
When it comes to excessive damage, useful life is used to calculate a fair amount to charge your tenants based on the remaining value of the asset that needs replacing, not the full value.
For example, according to HUD, a fridge should last about 10 years before it needs replacing. If a tenant broke your 6-year old fridge it’s not fair to charge them the full amount of a brand new replacement fridge.
Since the fridge that has been broken had a remaining useful life of 4 years, it is only fair to charge your tenants 40% of the cost of a new fridge, or 100% of the cost of a fridge in a similar condition to the one they received with the property.
Here is a summary of useful life for the most common assets, according to HUD:
Hot water heaters – 10 years
Plush carpeting – 5 years
Air conditioning units – 10 years
Ranges – 20 years
Refrigerators – 10 years
Interior painting, enamel – 5 years
Interior painting, flat – 3 years
Tiles and linoleum – 5 years
Window shades, screens, blinds – 3 years
Using a Thorough Walkthrough Checklist
Documenting your property’s condition in detail prior to move-in is always a good idea.
Doing so will put you and your tenants in agreement on the condition of the assets prior to move-in, and will remove all doubt regarding the difference in their condition upon move-out.
Make sure that your tenants are present during the walkthrough and ask them to certify the checklist once it is completed.
The move-in checklist will come in very handy in protecting you from liability if you ever need to use the security deposit.
Taking high-quality pictures and videos of the property and all assets will also play a big role in preventing disputes later on.