What is considered “normal wear and tear?” The one thought on every renter’s mind on move-out day (aside from “How the heck am I going to get this sofa through the front door?”) has to do with the security deposit. Will you ever see that money again?
According to most leases, your only hope is to return your apartment in the same condition as when you took possession, beyond “normal wear and tear.” Still, though, this raises the question: What exactly is normal wear and tear, and what crosses the line?
What qualifies as ‘normal wear and tear’
Unfortunately, when it comes to pinpointing wear and tear, there’s no specific laundry list of flaws that landlords will find acceptable to leave behind. It helps to think in terms of things you encounter in your own home on a daily basis.
“Have you ever put a nail in the wall to hang a picture or scuffed the wall carrying in groceries?” asks Trent Zachmann, chief operating officer of Renters Warehouse, which manages residential real estate. (Of course you have!) “These kinds of things happen.”
Normal wear and tear is light damage that occurs over time and doesn’t affect the use of the home or appliances; it’s just not aesthetically pleasing. Other examples of normal wear and tear are light scratches on wood floors, wear spots on carpet (but not stains), and loose railings or banisters.
What tenants must fix
According to Gary Malin, president of Citi Habitats, these are some of the most common things that renters would be responsible for fixing:
Excessively scratched or gouged floors
Broken windows or torn screens
Broken or nonworking appliances
Pet stains and odors
Custom wall coverings such as paint or wallpaper
Any installations like shelving, light fixtures, or window treatments
The importance of a move-in checklist
All landlords or property managers will have different expectations, and so on your move-in day it’s important to discuss the condition they expect you to keep your apartment in. Scratches and discoloration should be documented, so whip out your smartphone or camera and take photos of any flaws you see and make sure your landlord is aware of them so he knows you didn’t create them.
Ideally, your landlord should provide a checklist of the property condition upon move in. But if not, Kimberly Smith of AvenueWest, which manages corporate housing, recommends creating your own (you can download a sample rental property checklist online). Ask your landlord to sign the document to make it official, include photos of flaws, and, if you want to be extra careful, search online and try to find out the life expectancy of various items. One biggie is the carpet.
“The carpet is a great example of an amenity that many tenants and landlords dispute,” Smith explains. “To establish the expectations for the cleanliness of the carpet, first start with the total life expectancy.” Experts estimate that in a household of two to four people, carpet will typically last around three to five years. So if the tenant rents a newly carpeted place for five years and the carpet needs to be replaced when he moves out, then this is considered normal wear and tear.
In other words, make yourself at home and don’t sweat the small scuffs.