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Property Damage vs. Normal Wear and Tear in Rental Properties

Property Damage vs Normal Wear and Tear Niceville Florida

Property Damage vs. Normal Wear and Tear in Rental Properties

One of the responsibilities of being a landlord is keeping track of the condition of your rental property before and after your tenant moves out. Knowing the difference between what is normal wear and tear and what is actual property damage has a big impact on the security deposit and what you can use it for. So how can you tell? Below we’ll help you understand the difference and what to do moving forward.

It is sometimes hard to determine ordinary wear and tear as landlord laws differ from state to state. Some items such as a dirty grout, worn carpets or minor scuffs to the walls can be included as part of wear and tear.

A landlord can not fix their rental property at the tenant’s expense. If there is no property damage beyond normal wear and tear, then as a landlord, you must return the tenant’s security deposit. Still having trouble seeing the difference? The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines normal wear and tear as “depreciation resulting from ordinary use.” This means that if someone is living in a space for a period of time, it most likely won’t look as fresh as the day they moved in. 

Normal Wear and Tear vs. Property Damage

With regards to normal wear and tear, it would be the responsibility of the landlord to restore the apartment back to its previous condition. In the case of damage to an apartment, it is likely that the tenant will be most responsible and their security deposit would go towards remedying such damage. Let’s have a look at some examples of the differences between normal wear and tear and excessive damage to property.

Typical Wear and Tear Examples

  • Loose grout around tiles in the bathroom or kitchen
  • Worn appliances from use over time
  • Scratches on enamel in bathtubs and sinks
  • Faded carpet in high traffic areas
  • A small amount of nail holes 
  • Smudges, scrapes, small dents in the walls
  • Faded paint
  • Cabinet doors slightly warped
  • Scuffs on wood floors 

Typical Property Damage Examples

  • Cracked or shattered mirrors
  • Mold and grime left in bathrooms and kitchen
  • Missing tiles
  • Cracked Tiles
  • Broken or cracked doors and windows
  • Unapproved paint colors
  • Burns, stains, holes in the carpet
  • Gouged wood floors
  • Floors with water stains / warping due to water damage
  • Broken blinds
  • Dozens of nail holes on an individual wall
  • Damaged appliances

What is Considered Normal Upkeep?

Before a new tenant moves in, and after an old tenant moves out, you’ll need to prep your rental. Everything you do to get ready for this is routine maintenance. Here are some examples:


You cannot charge the previous tenant any cleaning fees if you decide to have your whole unit professionally cleaned or do it yourself prior to the new tenant moving in. But suppose your tenant didn’t clean the apartment when he was renting, and then left it uninhabitable for his next tenant. In this case, due to the filthy condition of the unit, you can charge extra for the cleaning service. This requirement has to be stated in the lease if you expect the tenants to clean the apartment before the move-out date. A cleaning guide that details the expectations should also be provided to your tenant.


You’ll have to repaint your rental sooner than usual if your tenant has left the walls dirty or has painted them without prior approval, if you don’t already repaint between the tenants. In this case, the cost of painting can be deducted from their security deposit.  If your tenant has lived in your rental for three or more years, a new coat of paint is most likely to be subject to routine maintenance, which means that you should not deduct the cost of paint from the security deposit to improve your rental.


You cannot charge or deduct fees from a prior tenant’s security deposit if you prefer to have the carpet steam cleaned before your new tenant moves in. You can charge your prior tenant for replacing the carpet if it’s stained to such an extent that you have no way of repairing it. However, they cannot be charged the entire cost for a new carpet if it was damaged and faded when they moved in.


When a tenant moves in, there should be working light bulbs throughout the property. Likewise, your tenant should replace them when they burn out and ensure every light bulb is working upon move-out. However, fluorescent tubes or any light bulbs intended to last long periods of use should be replaced by the landlord. Tube lights are hard to replace and can be dangerous if you don’t know how to replace them. As a landlord, you need to replace them or hire help to replace them so you won’t be held liable. 

When is a Landlord able to Deduct Fees from a Security Deposit? 

For everyday wear and tear, the landlord may not deduct the fees from the security deposit. Your property will see more wear and tear the longer a tenant leases your rental. However, the fee for significant damage or filth may be deducted from the security deposit by the landlord.

Landlords are required to pay withheld fees for the cleaning or repair of the property in the event of damage or excessive filth. Landlords shall not use deducted security deposit fees in any other way. You may require an additional payment from your tenant if the costs of cleaning up or repairing damage exceed the amount that has been retained in a security deposit. 

You may be entitled to legal redress if you are denied your request by a tenant. Landlords need to prove that the damage is caused by a tenant before taking legal action. The damage must also prove to be more extensive than normal wear and tear as well as that the repair costs are higher than the security deposit.  

Take Photos!

For both the property owners and tenants, photographs are an important part of the rental process. By taking photographs of the unit before and after the lease, both sides have proof if they need it. Having photographs as evidence will help explain your case if you, as the landlord, have a reason to withdraw money from the tenant’s security deposit to repair the damage to the property. It’s always better to err on the safe side when dealing with the possibility of property damage.

Walk-through Inspections

Determining the difference of ordinary wear and tear and damage may be difficult. Once you do, your tenant can object to the fees that have been charged, so it is important to carry out walk-through inspections.

A walk-through inspection is an inspection carried out by the landlord and the tenant of the rental property for the purpose of checking for maintenance or damage. The landlord should arrange for the initial and end of a tenant’s lease to be preceded by walk-through inspections. The tenants may identify issues prior to the beginning of a lease. Landlords may compare, at the end of a lease term, previous issues raised with regard to property wear and tear.

A walk-through inspection occurs when a landlord and tenant walk through the rental property to check for maintenance issues or damage. Landlords should schedule walk-through inspections at the beginning and the end of a tenant’s lease. At the beginning of a lease, tenants can highlight issues before their arrival. Landlords can compare the previous issues highlighted against the wear and tear of the property at the end of the lease. Finally, tenants are allowed to defend their claims against their landlord in person when any concern regarding damage arises during a walk-through inspection.   

Walk-throughs are an excellent way to align your views on damage with your tenants by carrying out inspections before and after the lease term. That way, you and your tenant can agree on what constitutes  proper wear and tear, excessive damage or filth as well as any fees due after the date of departure. 


Who’s to decide, at the end of the day, what is considered normal damage? 

What damages are considered normal is determined by the landlord and the state law. If the landlord retains a part of the security deposit, tenants should be provided with an itemized list of damage and repair costs. Only the repair costs should be covered by the money deducted from the security deposit.

Are wall marks and nail holes considered normal wear and tear? 

Typical nail holes and wall scuffs are ordinarily treated as normal wear and tear. If holes or marks do not result in repairs outside regular maintenance, they should be treated as normal wear and tear.

Is it possible for a tenant to contest the charge on his or her deposit? 

Tenants in certain states can file suit against their landlord for the deduction of security deposits. In order to avoid this, correct documentation should be provided during move-in and move-out inspections.

Does pet rent cover pet damages? 

No, damage is not covered by pet rent. However, these losses may be covered by a pet deposit or a pet fee. If the tenant has paid a pet deposit or a pet fee, some state law does not allow the landlord to recover damages caused by the pet from the security deposit. Pet deposits should be subject to the same conditions as a security deposit except that pet fees are one-time, and are not refundable.

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