When a property is used on a daily basis, its physical condition will experience gradual deterioration. This is commonly known as normal wear and tear. This refers to the reasonable damage to a property as a result of normal, everyday use. 

When tenants live on the property and use it regularly, the property is expected to depreciate. To prevent further damage caused by normal wear and tear, landlords should maintain the property on a regular basis. What’s more, rental property owners are legally responsible for fixing the damages that are due to normal wear and tear. 

As a landlord, it’s essential to know the difference between normal wear and tear versus excessive damages that are done by accident or by tenants deliberately. Most damage to the property that is beyond normal wear and tear should be charged to tenants.

In this article, we will discuss the difference between normal wear and tear and tenant-caused damages. Being able to determine the cause of damage is crucial so that you can decide whether to charge the repair costs to your tenants or to cover them yourself. 

Wear and Tear vs. Damages Caused By Tenants

As mentioned, normal wear and tear is the gradual depreciation of the physical condition of a property and its fixtures due to ordinary, everyday use. For example, you can expect to see minor scratches and discoloration on the flooring because it’s being walked on daily by the occupants.

person using an electric trill to repair a window frame 

The physical decline of a property’s condition is inevitable and you should expect this during the course of a tenant’s lease term. Note that the property will experience more wear and tear when it is occupied by multiple tenants or those staying for longer periods. This is the reason why long-term rental property owners need to maintain their properties on a regular basis to minimize the damages caused by continuous, long-term occupancy. 

On the other hand, tenant-caused damages are unexpected. As the name implies, these damages are usually caused by a tenant’s neglect or abuse. Tenants have equal responsibility for taking care of the premises while they occupy the property. If tenants fail to comply with their duties and responsibilities and this results in property damages, they should be held liable for the cost of repairs. 

Tenant-caused damages are usually unexpected and they are not a result of normal use. For example, if a windowpane is cracked or totally broken is not a result of normal, everyday use. Broken windows are due to either accidents or abuse and the tenant should be responsible for the repair or replacement of what was damaged. 

What Is Considered Normal Wear and Tear?

The following are the expected normal deterioration:

  • Paint or wallpaper that’s fading or experiencing discoloration
  • Floors with minor scratches, or that have discoloration
  • Bathroom tiles with loose grout
  • Toilets, bathtubs, and sinks with worn enamel and water stains
  • Doors with possible shifting 
  • Appliances with minor scratches

paint roller in a tray with white paint

What Is Considered Tenant-Caused Damages?

Damages that are not part of normal wear and tear are considered unexpected damages and are typically avoidable. Here are the following examples of tenant-caused damages:

  • Carpets or flooring with stains or burns
  • Windows that are broken or severely damaged
  • Toilets that are clogged due to improper use
  • Sink and bathtub with chipped enamel
  • Walls that have unapproved paint, wallpaper, or writings on them
  • Large holes in walls 
  • Appliances that are not functioning due to improper use

Assessing the Cause of Damages 

While unexpected damages are usually caused by tenants, it’s important for landlords to inspect the root cause of the problem before making any judgment. Sometimes, damages that are not part of normal wear and tear may be caused by other factors, including the following:

  • Structural problems like cracked roofs or ceiling
  • Faulty plumbing
  • Damages due to faulty architectural design
  • Damages due to natural disasters

As a landlord, when renting out a property it’s your responsibility to provide a habitable place of dwelling for your tenants. The rental unit should comply with the health, safety, and building codes in your state and local city. 

Any damages that harm the habitability of the rental that is not caused by tenants should be covered by the landlord. It doesn’t matter if the damage is part of normal wear and tear or due to one of the above-mentioned reasons—as long as the damage is not the fault of the tenant, generally speaking, the landlord should have it fixed and cover the costs.

landlord tracking expenses and counting money while sitting at their desk

When Can Landlords Deduct From Security Deposits?

One of the reasons why landlords require tenants to pay a security deposit at the beginning of the lease term is to ensure that there are funds available to cover any tenant-caused damages to the property. Landlords are can pull funds from the security deposit if there are damages that are beyond normal wear and tear and the landlord has established that the tenant has caused them. 

It’s important to note that this is a major cause of disputes between landlords and tenants. To prevent any issues, it’s best to have an inspection report before the tenants move in and back your inspection with photos. Also, perform an inspection right after the tenants move out. Use your move-in inspection report from the beginning of the tenancy as a point of reference.

It’s also recommended to inspect the property regularly during the course of the tenancy. Doing so can help you determine if the tenants are taking care of the rental unit as they should. You can also address normal wear and tear issues as soon as possible, preventing them from getting any bigger. 

Bottom Line

Knowing the difference between normal wear and tear and excessive property damage can help save you money and protect your property and its tenants. If you’d like help tending to your maintenance and other management responsibilities, consider partnering with Keyrenter Property Management Hampton Roads today. Contact us to learn about our management services!