Normal Wear and Tear vs. Damage

Vacating a rental can be a very stressful experience for any renter, especially when move-out charges are unknown. One easy way to ensure a full refund of your security deposit is to know the difference between normal wear and tear in a rental, and what is considered damage. The official definition of wear and tear is, that deterioration which occurs based upon the use of which the rental unit is intended and without negligence, carelessness, accident, or misuse, or abuse of the premises or contents by the tenant or members of the household, or their invitees or guests. Simply put, it’s the natural and gradual deterioration of the apartment over time, which results from a tenant’s normal use of the apartment.

But how does one determine what is and isn’t considered damage? There are a multitude of different ways actual damage can be caused by a tenant. Some of the most common being:


When the tenant participates in careless behavior that they should have known could cause damage. Similarly, negligence can also be when a tenant fails to fulfill their share of damage preventative responsibilities. Failure to warn the property manager of issues that then lead to bigger problems is also considered negligence, and the tenant can be help responsible for the resulting damage.

  • If a windowpane is cracked because of a fault foundation, that’s not the tenant’s fault. However, if the tenant fails to tell the property manager that the crack is letting in water and the flooring below the window becomes damaged, the tenant could be held responsible for that damage.


If a tenant knowingly mistreats a property or uses it for unintended purposes and there are resulting damages, that will fall under abuse or misuse and be looked at as damage, not normal wear and tear.

  • Sliding furniture over unprotected flooring, leaving gouges behind.
  • Artist fails to cover floor while painting and stains the carpet.
  • Discolored tub from a tenant dying fabrics or hair.


When it comes to classifying damages and wear and tear in a unit, intention is not something that is taken into account. Damages don’t need to be intentional to be considered damages, they can result from accidents as well.

  • Dropping a heavy planter that cracks tile flooring.
  • Breaking a light fixture while cleaning it.
  • A guest spills a drink leaving a stain on the carpet.
  • The bathtub is left running and floods part of the unit leaving stains on the unit’s flooring.

All these examples may be accidental, but that doesn’t mean the property management company won’t charge you for said damages.

There are other factors that may play into whether something is ruled as damages or wear and tear as well.

Extent of Damage

The extent of any damages found can be a large deciding factor of whether the tenant will be expected to cover the cost of repairs.

  • Two or three holes in a wall may be considered ordinary wear and tear, but dozens of nail holes or large screw holes could be considered damage.
  • A few scratches on wood or vinyl flooring is unavoidable, but large gouges or missing planks are considered damage.

Length of Residence

Ordinary wear and tear in an apartment that has only been rented out for a short time should look significantly different from wear and tear in an apartment that has been rented for a long period of time. There are things in a unit that are bound to wear out over time, but if an apartment is subject to misuse or abuse those things can wear out long before they should.

  • New carpet is installed in a unit before it’s rented out. If the new tenant lives in the unit 10 years before vacating, it’s safe to say everyday usage would leave its mark on the once new carpet. However, if a tenant moves out of the unit after 3 months and there are stains, rips, and the carpet has already begun to fade, that is no longer considered normal wear and tear.
  • If a unit is completely repainted before a new tenant moves in and that tenant stays there for 5+ years, it would be expected that when they vacate the unit could need a new coat of paint once again. If said tenant only lived in the unit for 12 or less months, however, normal wear and tear should not result in more than just touchups needed.

Character and Construction of Building

If a tenant moves into an older building it can be expected that there will be more rapid deterioration than a newer build would have.

  • If an older building has wooden windowsills, they may dry out, rot, or crack, through no fault of the current tenant.

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