What Is Considered Normal Wear And Tear?

Jun 18th 2024
Most apartment leases contain language that allows for "normal wear and tear." But any apartment damage may result in fines and potentially the refusal to return your security deposit. So what exactly is normal wear and tear, and how does it differ from apartment damage?

Normal wear and tear is the regular deterioration that an apartment experiences as it ages, and that is not necessarily the tenant's fault. However, anything outside of this regular deterioration is known as apartment damage and would be considered the tenant's responsibility. Let's look at normal wear and tear and what it constitutes.

hash-markTable of Contents

What Is Normal Wear and Tear in a Rental?
Examples of Normal Wear and Tear
Normal Wear and Tear vs. Apartment Damage
Additional Examples of Apartment Damage
Normal Wear and Tear & the Security Deposit
Normal Wear and Tear Bottom Line

hash-markWhat Is Normal Wear and Tear in a Rental?

Normal wear and tear in a rental is the natural and expected damage that occurs in a property over time due to regular use. Any minor damage that is not the result of carelessness, negligence, accidents, mistreatment, or intentional abuse would be considered normal wear and tear.

This concept is important as it differentiates between what a landlord can reasonably expect and what might warrant a deduction from a security deposit for repairs.

No matter how careful a tenant is, the apartment will suffer some damage from the normal aging process. Things will break or wear down due to someone living in the unit. However, not all damage is considered normal wear and tear, so it's essential to understand the distinction.

hash-markExamples of Normal Wear and Tear

  • Small cracks or chips in the paint
  • Paint that is beginning to fade
  • Door hinges are beginning to loosen
  • Closet doors are starting to stick
  • Dirty windows 
  • Leaks in the refrigerator
  • Tile grouting is beginning to loosen
  • Minor stains on the carpet
  • Small holes in the walls from thumbtacks or nails
  • Minor scrapes or scratches on the floors

If you live in an apartment for more than one year, even more deterioration will be expected, and many states have regulations regarding landlord obligations for things like paint and carpets. For example, landlords might be required to repaint an apartment every two years or to replace carpets every three years. In instances like this, even if you cause significant damage to paint or carpets, it would still be considered normal wear and tear. 

If you think your landlord is withholding some of your security deposit for normal wear and tear, be sure to read up on how to get a security deposit refund so that you know how to get your money back. 

hash-markNormal Wear and Tear vs. Apartment Damage

Normal wear and tear is typically minor deterioration that would occur no matter who was occupying the unit. Apartment damage is more serious destruction or decay caused by the tenant's negligence or careless actions. Normal wear and tear typically don't impact the unit's viability, whereas apartment damage might. As a result, landlords usually don't hold tenants responsible for normal wear and tear, but apartment damage may result in penalties.  

Normal wear and tear does not include the following:

  • Large holes or significant damage to walls
  • Stains, burns, or tears in carpets
  • Broken or missing fixtures or hardware
  • Appliances broken due to negligence
  • Pet damage beyond minor wear
  • Extensive mold or water damage caused by tenant negligence

hash-markAdditional Examples of Apartment Damage 

  • Broken windows or doors
  • Noticeable holes in the paint or plaster
  • Broken fixtures and faucet handles
  • Excessive dirt or mold in the bathroom from misuse
  • Large stains on the carpet from coffee, red wine, or other noticeable substances
  • Countertop burns
  • Damage caused by pets
  • Fixtures that came with the apartment are missing (e.g., microwave or shower rod)
  • Cracked or missing tiles
  • Significant alterations not approved by the landlord (such as painting a room an entirely new color).

To avoid being accused of apartment damage, you didn't cause; you should be sure to take pictures of the apartment's condition when moving in. That way, you have proof that there was prior damage before you occupied the unit. 

hash-markNormal Wear and Tear & the Security Deposit

At the end of a tenant's lease, the landlord will inspect the property and compare its current condition to its original state from before the tenant moved in. Any damages beyond normal wear and tear, such as holes in the walls, broken windows, or stains on the carpet, will be deducted from the security deposit. Once all damages have been repaired and any unpaid bills have been settled, what remains of the security deposit will be returned.

It is important to document the property's condition before and after the tenant moves in to ensure that any damages taken out of the deposit are legitimate.

hash-markNormal Wear and Tear Bottom Line

Normal wear and tear, which occurs over time due to normal use, is considered reasonable and expected deterioration of a rental property. Landlords should account for normal wear and tear when maintaining the property and preparing it for the next tenant and should not deduct the cost of repairs for normal wear and tear from the security deposit. Both landlords and tenants should document the condition of the property at move-in and move-out to assess fairly what constitutes normal wear and tear versus damage requiring repairs or replacements.