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Tenant Damages vs. Normal Wear and Tear

Normal wear and tear are something every landlord must deal with at one point or another. On the other hand, handling tenant damage is a different process entirely. In many cases, determining the difference between normal wear and tear versus tenant damage is a fine line. In addition, this can be a significant source of tension between parties after a move-out. To avoid such costly and unfortunate disputes, join us below as we discuss the differences between normal wear and tear versus tenant damage, along with the essential processes every landlord should have.

What’s considered normal wear and tear?

After you’ve invested in a home to rent out to tenants, whether it’s a studio or an entire villa, it’s important to keep it maintained. You’re running a business, after all, and your tenants are your customers. This is especially crucial if you want to continue renting it out — it’s your responsibility to ensure the home stays habitable.

As with any house, there will be wear and tear when people are living on the property. “Wear and tear” refers to minor flaws and deterioration that happens over time from regular use. For example, there will probably be slight discoloration in surfaces being used every day. The key part of this definition is ‘regular use’. If your tenants have ax-throwing competitions in the house and damage the walls, that would be an — admittedly exaggerated — type of irregular damage.

Wear and tear is different than property damage as you can deduce from the example above. Property damage harms the functionality and value of a rental property. Damage can be intentional, accidental, or caused by neglect.

What Are Some Reasonable Wear and Tear Examples?

As a general rule of thumb, wear and tear includes any deterioration that occurs under normal conditions and under normal use. Anything that can be reasonably fixed after a good cleaning or a simple repair is something you should consider to be wear and tear.

Here are some more concrete examples of acceptable wear and tear:

  • Faded paint around the unit

  • Loose wallpaper

  • Pull strings from blinds are tangled or broken

  • Worn carpet, tile, linoleum, or hardwood

  • Light scratching on flooring or countertops

  • Cracked windows or doors due to old frames

  • Hinges on cabinets worn or slightly stuck

  • Dirt build-up on windows

  • Loose faucets

  • Minor scuff marks on walls or paint

  • Nail holes in the wall from hanging pictures/art

  • Loose grout or tiles on countertops

Basically, normal wear and tear include things that are easily attributed to the everyday use of the rental property. This is an inevitable part of owning a rental property.

The Differences Between Damages and Wear and Tear

Now, it goes without saying that “reasonable” wear and tear is subjective and ultimately up to you to figure out. While this may be confusing at times, there are several types of damages to a unit that are obviously not natural wear and tear. Generally, the damages below require repairs in order to fully restore the condition and value of the unit.

Here are some examples of property damage that are not considered wear and tear:

  • Drastic paint job, in which the renter changes the wall colors

  • Large holes in the walls and/or windows

  • Scratches on kitchen counters from cutting food on the surface

  • Broken appliances (stove, toilet, etc.)

  • Broken or missing blinds

  • Stains and/or burns on the floor

  • Broken cabinet doors

  • Flea infestations from pets

  • Pet scratches on walls/floors

  • Lost keys

  • Smoke marks from smoking or candle burning

  • Neglected landscaping that requires complete replacement

What Can You Do About Normal Wear and Tear?

In almost all cases, it is the responsibility of the property owner to cover the costs of regular maintenance. As rental property ages, reductions in quality are inevitable. In order to stay competitive and ensure that renters would be interested in your property, regular maintenance is critical.

What Can You Do About Damage?

In the circumstance that damage is caused by negligence or misuse by the tenants, holding their security deposit might be the way to go. For this exact reason, landlords and real estate investors should be wary that all lease agreements include a security deposit, as well as a detailed explanation of when it would come into play.

Whether you are able to use the security deposit for specific damage depends on your local rental laws. In a majority of cases, you will need to prove that the damage is beyond regular wear and tear, and instead caused by the tenants. Be sure to look into your real estate market’s specific landlord tenant laws, since regulations will differ by state.

In order to protect yourself legally, it is wise that you take pictures of the rental property’s condition before the tenants move in. This has a twofold function: foremost, it would allow you to visualize the difference in condition before and after the tenants’ stay, allowing you to track the difference. Furthermore, these images could be used to support your case, if the matter ever requires litigation.

How Can You Prevent Damages in the First Place?

There are a number of things that landlords can do in order to ensure that damage to the rental property is not extensive.

Foremost, it is crucial that you properly screen your tenants. Make sure that this process includes contact information of former landlords. By contacting them directly, you’ll have the ability to know whether they have previously caused undue damage to property.

Furthermore, make sure that your tenants are fully informed of the function of their security deposit, and show them the conditions in the rental agreement which pertain to this matter. Returning a security deposit is contingent on them fulfilling their tenant responsibilities, and leaving the place undamaged. By understanding the ins and outs of the process, it will be much less likely that tenants raise an issue if ever you need to utilize their security deposit.

The Bottom Line

Owning a rental property inevitably means you’ll have to deal with wear and tear, and most likely damage as well. Be sure that you’ve got yourself covered on both fronts. For wear and tear, make sure you’re budgeting appropriately and inspecting the rental property before tenants move in. With regards to damage, a security deposit and rental insurance should usually keep you covered.

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