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Normal Wear & Tear vs. Property Damage: A Landlord’s Guide

Amanda’s chest tightened. She couldn’t believe the words coming out of the judge’s mouth. 


Two months earlier, her tenant, David, reached the end of his lease. She stepped into her rental unit and found scuffs across her newly stained wooden floors. The grout in the remodeled bathroom was black. Scratches blurred the windows in her beautiful French doors. Watermarks dotted the granite island top. 


Amanda saw “damage.” David claimed that it was all just normal “wear and tear.” They couldn’t settle the disagreement and went to small claims court.


Then, the judge ruled in favor of David. Amanda was shocked. Now, Amanda had to give David his security deposit back, pay for the repairs to her property, cover the court fees, and pay both her and David’s attorney fees.  


In the real estate world, it’s a familiar story. The “damage” vs. “wear and tear” debate between landlord and tenant can be as stressful as it is costly. In order to be a successful landlord, it’s imperative that you have a good understanding of what counts as “wear and tear” and what counts as “damage.” 


In this article, you’ll learn the differences between the two. We’ll also help you create a stress-free and dispute-free move-in/move-out process to follow in the future.


What Is Normal Wear and Tear?

In general, “wear and tear” refers to the expected deterioration of the property by a tenant’s everyday use. 


Minor wear and tear is unavoidable. Therefore, the tenant (and their security deposit) is not responsible, in most cases, to cover these costs. Expenses related to normal wear and tear should be included in your maintenance or tenant turnover expenses. 


Examples of normal wear and tear might include: 

  • Loose door knobs and handles
  • Worn, faded, or lightly stained carpet
  • Sun-faded curtains, wallpaper, or paint
  • Small scratches and scuffs on the walls and windows
  • Small scrapes, dings, or scuffs on hardwood and linoleum floors
  • Loose or dirty grout on floor tiles
  • Plumbing issues from normal use
  • Some small pinholes in the walls from hung decorations
  • Warped door frames and windows
  • Dirty blinds
  • Dust
  • Worn silver finish on fixtures 
  • A few watermarks on kitchen surfaces


What Is Property Damage?

Property damage, on the other hand, does not arise due to age or deterioration. It is caused by abuse, harm, or neglect of the property. The tenant (typically with their security deposit) is financially responsible for repairs due to damage. 


In many states, there is a process landlords have to follow when withholding part or all of a tenant’s security deposit. Here in Texas, landlords are legally required to give their tenants an itemized list of deductions with a description of the damages. If property damage is severe enough, tenants may also be evicted from the property.


Examples of property damage might include:


  • Evidence of flooded bathrooms
  • Sizable holes or broken places in walls or doors
  • Chipped or broken countertops
  • Burns, holes, or pet stains on carpets
  • A broken mirror
  • A broken toilet seat
  • Damaged or missing door handles or locks
  • Broken appliances from misuse
  • Unauthorized paint or wallpaper
  • Excessive dirtiness that causes long-term damage
  • Pest infestation
  • Broken enamel on tubs, toilets, or sinks
  • Broken windows or missing screens
  • Ripped or missing curtains or blinds


How to Avoid Disputes

Dealing with the damage vs. wear and tear debate at your rental property can be very stressful and costly. Take these seven steps to keep tenant turnover stress and disputes at a minimum.


  1. Collect and hold a security deposit from each tenant.
  2. Walk through and take detailed pictures and videos of the property prior to the tenant moving in. 
  3. Routinely inspect your property to look for any needed repairs and ensure that nothing is being damaged or neglected.
  4. Walk through and take detailed pictures and videos of the property when the tenant moves out, documenting any changes to its condition.
  5. If you find damage, kindly and clearly explain to the tenant why you will be taking deductions from their security deposit to cover those damages. 
  6. Hand over the heavy lifting to a trustworthy middleman, like us! We’ll handle all your tenant concerns, property maintenance, late night emergencies, and even evictions so that you don’t have to. 


Want to skip dealing with maintenance and damages? Check out our 5 steps to management bliss to see how we can help you.


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