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How to Determine Tenant Damages Vs. Wear and Tear


Every rental property owner in the Philadelphia region has had to contend with the term “normal wear and tear” at some point.

While seemingly self-explanatory, the truth is that understanding what constitutes normal wear and tear in your rental property, and what equates to actual damage, is much more difficult than you likely anticipated. And, chances are, the line that exists between normal wear and tear and damage will result in some pushback from your tenants.

In fact, most landlord-tenant disputes arise at the end of the lease term, immediately after move-out.

Why is this?

Because at the time of move-out, your Philadelphia property management company combs through your property, documenting every instance where the tenant has “damaged” your rental property, all in hopes of providing you compensation for the damage.

However, many tenants become furious over claims of damage and refuse to pay up, thus creating a huge financial dispute.

Because this is such a sensitive issue amongst both property owners and tenants, today we are going to:

  • Review the differences between normal wear and tear, and tenant damages
  • See what role your tenant’s security deposit plays in the grand scheme of things
  • Offer some ways you can help prevent damage disputes in the future


What is Normal Wear and Tear in Your Philadelphia Rental Property?


Unfortunately, there is not one definitive definition of what constitutes “normal wear and tear” in rental properties in the United States. In fact, it is the multiple definitions floating around that cause much of the confusion.

The following have been noted as true definitions of “normal wear and tear:”

  • “…unavoidable deterioration in the dwelling and its fixtures resulting from normal use,” as defined by uslegal.com
  • “The inevitable physical decline of the condition of a property from time and usage,” as seen here on Investopedia

Though most definitions appear very similar to the two mentioned above, there is no doubt that the term “normal” is highly subjective, and thus, becomes the point of contention in many security deposit disputes.

Examples of Normal Wear and Tear

All rental properties will experience some deterioration as tenants reside in them. This is the nature of living in a property for a period of time.

Here are some commonly accepted instances of normal wear and tear you might notice during your rental property’s move-out inspection:

  • Worn flooring, whether carpet, tile, linoleum, or hardwood
  • Faded or cracked paint
  • Warping of doors and windows
  • Cracked light switch plates
  • Worn or loose door hinges
  • Loose grout or tiles on countertops
  • Partially clogged sinks
  • Dusty blinds
  • Nail holes in the wall from hanging pictures/art
  • Loose faucets

As you can see, these issues can easily attribute to the normal, everyday use of your rental property by high quality tenants who maintain the property as though it is their own.


So, What Is Considered “Tenant Damages?”


Just as with “normal wear and tear,” defining the term “tenant damages” can be equally as frustrating and challenging.

Here are the definitions most often provided to property owners, as clearly stated by All Property Management. “Tenant Damage” is:

  • The loss or harm to property caused by excessive abuse or misuse
  • Misuse or neglect that results in reduced value, usefulness, etc. of the property

The problem with these definitions is this: it is nearly impossible to prove whether your tenant excessively misused or abused your property to the point that their neglect actually reduced your property value, overall profits, or usability of the property.

Examples of Tenant Damages

However, as a property owner, you can make the argument that the following are obvious misuses of the property, and, are in fact, damages caused by the residing tenant:

  • Stained or burned carpeting
  • Tears in the linoleum
  • Unauthorized painting
  • Torn or missing curtains or blinds
  • Broken windows or missing screens
  • Clogged or damaged toilets
  • Smoke marks from smoking or candle burning
  • Broken cabinet doors
  • Large holes or dents in the walls
  • Neglected landscaping that requires complete replacement

Here, you will notice that the severity of damage has increased dramatically from normal wear and tear with these examples. Therefore, as a property owner, you can make a solid case that these scenarios are tenant damages, as opposed to simple wear and tear.


When Can You Deduct From Your Tenant’s Security Deposit?


There are strict rules in place that your Philadelphia property manager should know and understand when it comes to the collection, management, and use of your tenant’s security deposit. If you are self-managing your rental properties, it is crucial you become familiar with the rules and regulations regarding security deposits.

However, in general, if you can make the case that your tenants actually damaged your rental property, you can deduct from their security deposit the amount required to repair the damages that exceeded normal wear and tear of the property.


How to Prevent the Normal Wear and Tear versus Tenant Damages Dispute

Prevention is usually the key to avoiding most issues with your rental property. Here are some critical things you can do as a property owner to prevent facing contention with a tenant disputing your damages claim.

Conduct Thorough Move-in and Move-Out Inspections

Thoroughly documenting the state of your rental property when your tenant moves in and out will help best determine whether there was damage done to the property.

You should keep written and photographic documentation, if possible, so that if a dispute finds its way to court, you have ample evidence to make your case.

Additionally, giving your tenant the opportunity to fix any damages at the end of their lease term can save everyone involved a lot of money and hassle.

Maintain Your Property at All Times

Throughout the lease term, help your tenant maintain your property. Here are some great tips for doing just that:

  • Provide your tenant with a welcome packet at the start of the lease term that includes ways they can keep up on property maintenance issues
  • Encourage maintenance and repair requests to prevent small issues from turning serious
  • Make sure your tenants know who to contact for all minor and major maintenance issues
  • Conduct routine inspections of both the interior and exterior of your property throughout the lease term, and address any issues right away
  • Make sure to outline in the signed lease agreement your tenant’s maintenance responsibilities

By doing any (or better yet, all) of the above-mentioned tips, you will save yourself a lot of trouble when your tenant moves out of your property. Not only will your property be in better condition, there is also less likely to be a dispute, thanks to the positive relationship you forged with your tenant during their stay.

There is bound to be some wear and tear on your Philadelphia rental property after a tenant moves out. This is the nature of living in a home. However, understanding the difference between normal wear and tear, and actual tenant damage is what is going to help you guide through the move-out process without a hitch.


If you do not want to deal with matters related to wear and tear on your Philadelphia rental property, contact Bay Management Group today and have us deal with them for you. Focusing on serving property owners, Bay Management Group has the knowledge, experience, and customer service skills to handle all wear and tear versus damage issues. Moreover, we also manage everything else related to your property such as tenant screening, rent collection, 24-hour maintenance issues, and even legal disputes, if it gets to that point.

Entrust Bay Management Group with your Philadelphia investment property, and save yourself the headache of having to decide whether your tenant has actually damaged your property.