A common term associated with property management is “normal wear and tear”. This refers to the expected depreciation that results from a tenant living in a property, not damages that result from a tenant’s abuse or neglect. But what does this really mean? Determining the difference between normal wear and tear and actual damage can be challenging. You have a responsibility as a property manager to be fair and just, but you must also hold your renters accountable for their actions. Here are a few things you should know.

Normal vs Excessive

The best way to think about what “normal wear and tear” includes is what kind of wear and tear you would expect if you were living in the residence yourself. It also helps to make a distinction between those items that have a limited lifespan and those that can last indefinitely with the proper care and attention. For example, carpet has a limited lifespan but finished hardwood floors are expected to last much longer, so it’s easier to view damage to flooring as excessive. Of course, if you just put in new carpet and there’s already a large stain, this can be considered excessive as well.

Interior Examples

It’s important to look at the photos you took before the tenant took residency and compare them to what the property looks like once they’ve moved out. Ordinary wear and tear includes things like matted and worn carpets, scuffed hardwood floors, worn linoleum, small nail holes in the walls, fading or yellowing paint, and grimy or damaged electrical outlet plates. Excessive wear and tear are things such as carpet stains, burns, and tears, fist-sized holes in walls, broken ceiling fan blades, or damaged electrical outlets. A wear-pattern in high traffic areas is normal wear and tear because a tenant must be able to live their life. However, if there’s a tear in that same area, then that should be deemed excessive damage.

Exterior Examples

Depending on the type of property management, the exterior may or may not be a concern. Expectations of the tenant to care for the exterior of a property will depend entirely on the lease. For example, if the property manager is responsible for lawn upkeep, then a tenant can’t be held accountable for uncut grass. However, if a tenant is responsible for this upkeep, then untrimmed branches can be deemed beyond normal wear and tear. Some examples of normal wear and tear include deck, walkway, and patio staining, grimy gutters and downspouts, siding in need of power washing, dirty exterior windows, and small patches of yard missing grass. Examples of excessive damage include missing stone and concrete, holes and other damage to siding and trim, cracked and broken windows, trees damaged by non-natural causes, and large areas of the lawn missing grass.

Protect Yourself as a Property Owner

When you create your lease, be sure to outline what you deem to be “normal wear and tear” so there are no surprises come move-out inspection. Take pictures before move-in and after move-out. If you choose to keep all or some of the security deposit because of damages found, be up-front about it. Each of these will protect you from legal altercations that could come up otherwise.