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Landlord-Tenant Law, Property Maintenance

What Is Normal Wear and Tear in A Rental?

Dealing with wear and tear is an inevitable part of rental property management. Whether you look after multi-family, single family real estate or vacation rentals, each property will naturally be subject to wear and tear over time. Within reason, a certain degree of wear and tear is normal, expected and can be easily remedied.

With that being said, it’s important to be aware of the nuances regarding fair wear and tear vs property damage. In this article, we take a look at what constitutes wear and tear, how to prevent more serious damage and how security deposits can offset the costs of unexpected accidents.

What is wear and tear?

Wear and tear is part and parcel of operating a rental property. It is minor damage that comes about through normal everyday living, such as fading paint, worn carpet, and squeaky hinges. The costs associated with fixing and cleaning these minor issues are at the expense of the landlord, not the tenant.

Examples of normal wear and tear

  • Minor scuffs on the floor or walls
  • Reasonably worn carpet
  • Dust or cobwebs
  • Chipped or faded paint
  • Peeling wallpaper
  • Slow draining sinks and drains (not blocked)
  • Squeaky door hinges
  • Dulling or discoloration of carpet, tiles, floors

What is property damage?

In contrast to wear and tear, more significant damage can be categorized as property damage. This includes anything that can’t be easily repaired or cleaned and usually comes about as a result of negligence or carelessness. This does not include damage brought about due to neglect from the landlord (for example, bad plumbing that has not been properly fixed). Renters are liable for tenant-caused property damage.

Examples of property damage

  • Burns, stains or holes in the floor or carpet
  • Major holes in the wall
  • Unapproved paint or wallpaper
  • Broken windows or doors
  • Damage caused by pets
  • Doors that have been ripped off their hinges
  • Broken kitchen cabinets

Does the security deposit cover wear and tear?

As rental property wear and tear is largely unavoidable and not the fault of anyone, the costs associated with remedying it cannot be taken from the security deposit.

On the other hand, it can be used to cover more significant property damage. Nonetheless, keep in mind that security deposit deductions need to be justified. You cannot just take the full deposit amount unless it will actually cost you that much to fix the damage.

Another thing to consider is pet-induced damage. This could be anything from scratched hardwood floors to stains or tears in the carpet. For this reason, some landlords choose to charge a non-refundable pet deposit for tenants with pets.

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Prevention of property damage

Accidents happen but there are ways to reduce the risk of more serious property damage occurring. Even if your tenant has paid a sufficient security deposit, the hassle of calling someone to fix the problem can be a drain on your time and resources. As prevention is better than cure, it makes sense to mitigate damage where possible. There are a few different things you can do here including:

Thorough tenant screening

Finding the perfect tenant is no easy feat. Even if they look perfect on paper, they may not turn out to be the dream tenants you were hoping for. Nonetheless, tenant screening, including background and eviction checks, can go a long way to ensuring that your property will be taken care of. References from previous landlords can also expose any red flags.

Move-in walkthrough with tenants

Once you have selected the right tenant for your property but before they move in, it is good practice to take them on a physical walkthrough of the unit. Both the tenant and landlord should be well aware of the current condition of the property.

Take photos of everything, from the walls to the ceilings and floors and store these securely. Should the condition of the property be brought into question at a later date, you will have records that will show the original condition.

Routine inspections

Keep an eye on the property throughout the tenancy, not just at the end. This is to say that you should be aware of maintenance issues or potential problems during routine property inspections. If you notice that the carpet is looking a little worse for wear or that the door handle feels a bit loose, get on top of the issue and fix it straight away. This will prevent it from becoming a bigger problem.

Good communication with tenants

Having an open dialogue between yourself and your tenants will help you foster a working relationship where they feel comfortable communicating with you. If your tenants do not know how to contact you or are weary of how you might respond, they will be less likely to keep you in the loop regarding the condition of the property.

Fix things quickly

As part of your responsibilities as a landlord, it is imperative that you provide your tenants with fit and habitable housing. This means that should they bring any damage to your attention, you should remedy it as soon as possible, to avoid further damage or even injury. If you don’t fix things as soon as you are able to, the problem could snowball and you could end up with an even more costly and time consuming issue.

Outline responsibilities in the lease

To make things as clear as possible, you should outline tenant responsibilities in the lease. For example, if you expect the tenant to take care of the lawns, this should be clearly spelled out in the lease. That way, there can be no confusion when the time comes to doing the landscaping.

Is mold considered normal wear and tear in a rental?

Mold can be an unsightly and even harmful problem in a rental property. Although most states do not have statutes that assign accountability for mold to landlords, landlords should be aware that they can still be held responsible in some cases (as they ultimately have a duty to provide habitable housing for their tenants).

Tenants should do their part by ventilating the property to prevent excess humidity and cleaning where necessary. As a landlord, however, it is your responsibility to fix leaks so that mold does not grow as a result. If it does and the tenant suffers from health complications, they may take legal action against you.

So while some mold is harmless at best and can be considered part of the everyday wear and tear of a rental property, it should be taken seriously as when left unattended, it can lead to serious health problems.

The importance of documenting wear and tear

To avoid confusion when it comes to figuring out who is responsible for fixing or paying for wear and tear, it is important to properly document the state of your property before, during and after the tenant moves in. Also be sure to use an inspection checklist to keep track of the condition of the home.

Using purpose-built property management software like Landlord Studio will allow you to upload and store documents and photos to each property. You can also create and track tenant-payable expenses, should the tenant be liable to pay for any maintenance.

Final words

When a rental property is appropriately maintained by both the landlord and the tenant, wear and tear can be reduced and/or easily managed. It is unavoidable, yet doesn’t have to be stressful to deal with.

Property damage, on the other hand, can be much more time consuming to sort out and expensive to fix. Nonetheless, knowing how to document the condition of your property, performing sufficient routine inspections, and promptly carrying out relevant maintenance will ensure that your property remains a fit, habitable and comfortable space for your tenants to live.

MaintenanceRental ManagementTenant management

Jasmine Delves profile
Jasmine Delves

Jasmine Delves is a Content Specialist at Landlord Studio. She writes on all things rental property management, from renovations and pet policies to tenant screening and income tax rates.

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