What’s the difference between normal wear and tear and tenant damage? This is a question we receive from property owners often. Normal deterioration is expected as properties age, along with a decline in the condition of a property.

Wear and Tear

Deterioration and everyday use are not caused by abuse or neglect. Appliances get used daily, and things do break and wear out. A couple of small stains on a carpet, scrapes or dings in a hardwood floor, dirty grout, loose door handles, or nail holes in a wall are a few examples of normal wear and tear. When a tenant moves out of the property it is expected for them to leave behind a few scuff marks on the walls or a worn area in the carpets from walking around a table or couch. These are expected things that fit the definition of “normal wear and tear”.


Damage on the other hand, such as a broken bathroom mirror, a hole punched in a door, carpet that has been soaked with pet urine, missing door handles, a broken window from a thrown ball, or ripped screens clawed by a cat or dog, on the other hand, would be considered as just that, damage.

An owner cannot make deductions to the security deposit for normal wear and tear. Deductions can only be made for damages caused by a tenant. The tenant is financially responsible for the damage.

Damage Should Be Documented

Take photographs of areas considered damaged and save all receipts of materials or contractor invoices to show proof that repairs have been made. Documentation is extremely important in the event a tenant disputes the charges against their security deposit. Keep in mind, a tenant has this right.

The landlord can deduct for damages to the premises by withholding all or partial amounts of the security deposit. Additionally, a landlord can withhold a security deposit for unpaid rent and/or a breach of the rental agreement, but that is a separate matter.

General Cleaning

Property is to be cleaned thoroughly by the tenants, especially kitchens and bathrooms. Carpets should be vacuumed, floors swept and mopped. All appliances should be clean and in working order and all countertops wiped down. Cleaning is not expected to be perfect and everyone’s expectations are different. Tenants need to remove all personal belongings, trash, unwanted items, and debris. The lawn should be mowed at the time of move out, and all dog waste removed from the yard too.

a clean empty room

A Time Limit

The landlord has a 30-day time period in which to return all or a portion of the security deposit, and if a portion, must include a list of the damages. If a landlord fails to comply within the 30-day period, the tenant is then entitled to receive double the security deposit, unless, however, the tenant fails to provide the landlord (in writing) with his or her new address. In this event, the landlord will be free from liability.