“Normal wear and tear” is a nebulous idea that can be defined in many different ways, but there are enough core principles that we feel that we can fairly nail down an understanding. It’s one of those facts of life that, like emergency repairs, goes along with the pleasures of being a landlord. As some folks might be eager to say, they’ll know it when they see it. This might be true, but we can be a little more accurate.
In the loosest sense, normal wear and tear can be described as the depreciation that happens through everyday use of a given building. The scuffs, scrapes, spills, dents, and other little things that add up over the course of a rental agreement are all generally accepted as normal. But we have to remember that one person’s normal is another’s extreme.
For example, a neat freak might consider scuffs on the wall to go beyond “normal.” But a messier tenant would consider it just the cost of living in a given space, day-in and out. The challenge is to gather an understanding for yourself, as the landlord, and make sure that your tenants are aware. You’ll need to draw a line between wear and tear and damage.
Let’s look at some specific examples to help clear things up. Walls are a common point of contention: a few nail holes, chips, or smudges are acceptable wear and tear, but large holes from accidents or carelessness, bad paint, and an abundance of nails certainly fall into the damage category. Floors are another spot to be careful about: scuffs, faded carpet, and other small blemishes happen via normal traffic, but big stains, burns, and holes are definitely not standard wear and tear.
There are many other places in a building that can be evaluated, including drapes, faucets, and appliances. If the damage could have occurred through reasonable use, then it’s likely just chalked up to wear and tear. If it’s a bit more extreme - say the dishwasher has been broken beyond repair or the plumbing fixtures have been bent or busted - then we can agree that it falls outside normal wear and tear.
The trick, as we mentioned, is coming to a consensus and sticking to that. Make it clear to your tenants what is and is not acceptable wear and tear and you’ll minimize problems down the road for everyone.