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How to Determine Tenant Damages Vs. 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 is Normal Wear and Tear in a Rental Property?


Wear and tear may look a little different depending on the starting age and condition of the property. Thus, there is no one definitive definition of what constitutes “normal wear and tear” in rental properties. In fact, some of the multiple definitions floating around only add to the confusion. For example, according to uslegal.com, normal wear and tear are defined as “unavoidable deterioration in the dwelling and its fixtures resulting from normal use.” That said, Investopedia defines it as “the inevitable physical decline of the condition of a property from time and usage.”

Although these are widely accepted definitions throughout the industry, defining what constitutes “normal” is still debated. Therefore, this contributes to contention amongst landlords and tenants over security deposit withholding. So, to better understand what normal wear and tear look like, let’s review a few examples you may note during a move-out inspection.

 Examples of Normal Wear and Tear

  • Worn 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
  • Light scratching on flooring or countertops
  • Minor scuff marks on walls or paint

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.

What Is Considered Tenant Damage?


Defining what constitutes tenant damage can be equally as frustrating as deciding what normal wear and tear is. That said, the most common definition used was clearly stated by All Property Management. It dictates that tenant damage is –

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

However, this definition is not without its issues. The trouble is, it is nearly impossible to prove whether a tenant excessively misused or abused the property to the point that neglect reduced the property’s value, overall profits, or usability. That said, property owners can argue that the tenant caused damage through some of the following examples below.

Examples of Tenant Damage

  • 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

One thing to note is the seriousness of the damage increased versus normal wear and tear. Therefore, property owners can make a solid case that these scenarios are tenant damages. Thus, withholding a portion of the security deposit may be warranted to repair or replace the damaged fixtures or materials.

Why Do These Definitions Cause a Problem?

Normal wear and tear are inevitable; however, disputes over damages do not have to be. Your Philadelphia property management company will comb through the property and carefully document all damage when a tenant moves out. This move-out inspection is then compared to the move-in inspection to help determine what repairs can be charged back to the tenant due to neglect. However, this is where disputes can occur if tenants disagree with the findings.

How to Prevent Disputes Over Normal Wear and Tear vs. Tenant Damage

Prevention is usually the key to avoiding most issues with your rental property. With that in mind, here are some critical steps landlords can take to prevent contention over alleged tenant damage.

  1. Start with Open Communication
  2. Conduct Thorough Move-in and Move-Out Inspections
  3. Stay on Top of Maintenance
  4. Understand When to Deduct from the Tenant’s Security Deposit

Start with Open Communication

As a landlord, it is your job to set an example of care and communicate the expectations of care at your property. So, ensure the tenants understand their maintenance and upkeep responsibilities before they sign the lease. Additionally, remind tenants of seasonal tasks such as changing HVAC filters or turning off outside water in the Fall to prevent frozen pipes. Holding them accountable throughout the lease term is an important factor in preventing neglect. Effective communication to avoid damage disputes includes –

  • Provide a tenant welcome packet at the start of the lease term that includes property maintenance expectations.
  • Ensure tenants know who to contact in the event of an emergency
  • Encourage the reporting of any and all maintenance and repair issues

Conduct Thorough Move-in and Move-Out Inspections

A solid move-in and move-out process are critical to your success as a landlord. These written inspections, along with photographic evidence, go a long way in proving what damage occurred during the course of the lease. Also, if a dispute makes its way to court, this evidence is invaluable.

Stay on Top of Maintenance

Throughout the lease term, emphasize maintaining the property. Not only will the property be in better condition overall, but there is also less chance of dispute thanks to the positive landlord-tenant relationship. Therefore, conduct routine inspections every 6 months throughout the lease term. If landlords discover an area of concern, address the issue right away. The same goes for maintenance requests, do not delay in responding to the tenant. Moreover, failing to react to their concerns shows a lack of concern for them as well as the property – which sets a bad example.

Understand When to Deduct from the Tenant’s Security Deposit


There are strict rules that every owner and property manager must understand when it comes to the collection, management, and use of a tenant’s security deposit. In general, if landlords can make the case that a tenant damaged the property, owners can deduct it from their security deposit. However, the amount of the deduction must match the work required to repair the damages that exceeded the normal wear and tear of the property.

Keep in mind; a security deposit is useful in several situations for landlords to recoup costs. Some examples of reasons to withhold a deposit beyond tenant damage include –

  • Breaking the Lease Term Early
  • Nonpayment of Rent
  • Excessive Cleaning Costs
  • Unpaid Bills or Utilities

Protect Your Interests with Professional Management

Dealing with tenant disputes is never something anyone wants to handle. However, there are several steps property owners can take to avoid issues regarding normal wear and tear versus tenant damage. But, what if the daily tasks of managing a rental have become too much to handle?

Focusing exclusively on rental management, Bay Property Management Group has the knowledge, experience, and customer service skills to handle any situation owners face. This dedication to service goes beyond rental maintenance to include tenant screening, targeted marketing, compliance, rent collection, and even legal matters. So, if you are looking to avoid potential disputes and maximize tenant satisfaction along with profits – contact Bay Management Group today.