How to Define Apartment Wear and Tear

November 20, 2018

The definition of wear and tear is often stated in a rental agreement. Yet, deciphering the difference between normal and excess wear and tear isn’t always easy to do. Here are some examples and helpful tips to make this topic more clear.



How is normal wear and tear defined?

young child with black hair and an orange shirt is peeling white paint under the window creating typical property wear and tear

Normal wear and tear can have different meanings depending on the state you live in. For example, state law in New York defines it as, “A landlord may deduct any reasonable cost of repairs beyond normal wear and tear if the tenant damages the apartment.” California law states that the rental property must be in “good and clean condition” and the tenant should return the unit to “the same condition as received, excepting normal wear and tear.” As you can see, there is a great deal of subjectivity in this area.

Anything determined to be above normal wear and tear gets categorized as damage. Apartment damage usually correlates with an avoidable and negligent act. In this case, the damage could get fixed or replaced using part or all the tenant’s security deposit.

Examples of normal wear and tear inside the apartment:

  • Fading or slight discoloring of the carpet
  • A few scuff marks on the hardwood or tile flooring
  • The grout inside the bathroom tiles has become loose
  • Peeled or cracked paint
  • Patio or closet sliding doors begin to stick
  • Door handles have become loose
  • Blinds or curtains have a few dirt marks or stains
  • Sinks and drains get clogged easily
  • Enamel has worn down in the bathtub
  • Kitchen and bathroom cabinet doors that don’t close properly due to warping
  • Some nail holes, scrapes, or small cracks on the walls
  • Smelly garbage disposal

Examples of damage inside the apartment:

  • Burns, food stains, pet related stains, and holes in the carpet
  • Chipped or excessive scrapes or scuffs on the hardwood or tile flooring
  • Cracked tiles in the bathroom or shower
  • Walls that got painted without approval
  • Door handles are missing or broken
  • Blinds have become bent or broken
  • Curtains are missing or stained
  • Missing refrigerator shelves or dented front door
  • Mirrors or windows with cracks or pieces that are missing
  • A missing shower rod or any missing plumbing fixtures
  • Doors ripped off their hinges
  • Marker or crayon drawings on the walls or any permanent fixture
  • Holes in the walls that require patching
  • A broken toilet seat


How does the meaning of wear and tear affect a landlord?

Simply put, the security deposit. When the tenant moves out of your rental property, an inspection is generally performed to assess any damage. If the inspection proves there was damage to the apartment while the tenant lived there, the security deposit can be at stake. To reduce the possibility of a security deposit dispute, perform walk-through inspections. Both when the tenant is moving in and when they’re moving out.

Performing a walk-through upon move-in:

  • Schedule a time to walk through the unit with your tenant.
  • Take pictures and or videos of the unit while walking through each area and room of the apartment.
  • If there are any signs of damage or defect, make a note of these on paper.
  • Both you, the landlord, and the tenant should sign this paper. Two signatures show an understanding that both parties acknowledge the current condition. If possible, scan a copy for your records and email to your tenant for their records.

Performing a walk-through upon move-out:

  • Same as before, schedule a time to walk through the apartment with the tenant.
  • Again, take pictures and video to document the current state of the apartment.
  • During this walk-through, you can point out any issue you see.
  • If you see damages, not a result of normal wear and tear, let the tenant know you’ll be charging them for the repairs.
  • The tenant can either agree with your damage findings or dispute them.


Consider the “useful life” of appliances, to determine the cost of replacement

a man and a woman are shopping in an appliance store and are kneeling down to look at the inside of a washer machine

For the majority of apartment appliances and other products, their average useful life is eight to 10 years. Some items have a useful life that’s even longer. For instance, here are the useful lives of a few appliances greater than 10 years:

  • Dryers – 13 years
  • Garbage disposals – 12 years
  • Gas range – 15 years
  • Electric range – 13 years
  • Refrigerators – 13 years
  • Thermostats – 35 years
  • Electric water heaters – 11 years

After the walk-through, you may see damages to the gas range that are beyond repair. In this case, to determine the price you can charge the tenant, you first have to consider the useful life. If the appliance is already 9 years old, then you can only charge the tenant a fraction of the cost for a new one. In this case, only 6 years of useful life remains for the gas range. That means only 40% (6 divided by 15) of the actual cost of the replacement is the tenant’s responsibility.

At Blueground, we take the hassle out of having to make this distinction. We provide property management services, handle all maintenance requests, and arrange cleanings. As such, our regular interaction with the tenant and your rental property means we can spot whether any damage has occurred and send a technician to have it repaired.

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