Wear and Tear vs. Property Damage: Examples and Solutions

Saad Dar

12 January 2022 5 Min Read
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Ah, the dreaded walkthrough. When a unit turns over, both tenant and landlord inspect for house damage, wear and tear, and determine who’s responsible for any repairs.

It’s a walk of shame for the tenant, wondering if the landlord sees where Bruno chewed the baseboard, more so than how much it’ll cost.

On the other hand, the landlord needs to examine the nooks, crannies, and “hey, why is the drywall wet here?” before they can confidently sign off knowing they aren’t paying for someone else’s mistakes.

It’s a delicate balancing act, though. But knowing the difference between house damage vs. wear and tear and what to do about it will save all parties from any headaches.

In this article, we’ll take a look at the difference between wear and tear, and what it means for landlords and their tenants.

1. What Qualifies as Wear and Tear?

Wear and tear is defined as the deterioration occurring from repetitive use, despite regular cleaning and maintenance, and without misuse or abuse by the tenant or their guests.

Any homeowner understands that houses depreciate with a lot of wear and tear. Proper upkeep is essential. For landlords, It’s part of running a property management company. It’s also why we offer a free expense management tool for landlords to make bookkeeping simple, especially when accounting for depreciation and renovation costs over multiple properties.

A landlord cannot legally pursue a tenant for these unavoidable damages that arise from the natural wear and tear of everyday use. Nor can they keep the tenant’s security deposit or portion thereof.

So, scuff marks in the paint, minor scratches on the floorboards and countertops are normal wear and tear and are the responsibility of the landlord to pay for the cost to repair.

Want to avoid bad tenants? Check out our landlord checklist for new tenants to make your listing pop and applications a breeze.

2. Examples of Wear and Tear that the Landlord is Responsible for Repair Costs

Wear and tear can come in various forms, such as:

  • Faded, peeling, or cracked paint or wallpaper
  • Minimally scratched and scuffed hardwood floors in need of sanding or a new coat of lacquer
  • Faded or bunched up carpet
  • Dirty, broken grout lines or loose tiles
  • Sticky, loose, or squeaky bedroom or cabinet doors
  • Cracked window panes from earth shifts and movements
  • Worn enamel in vanities, bathtubs, and toilets
  • Slow draining pipes in kitchen or bathroom sinks
  • Slight scuffs on walls from door handles
  • Faded, or yellowing blinds and curtains
  • Minor picture or pinholes in walls
  • Broken light bulbs
  • Warped doors caused by age, temperature, or moisture

3. What is Property Damage?

Property damage is measurable, verifiable, or destructive damage to personal property caused by willful negligence, abuse, or misconduct.

This damage can negatively affect the value or usefulness of the property. Unfortunately, even minor damages can be expensive to repair for a property owner.

For example, suppose a tenant punches a hole through drywall. In that case, a reputable contractor may need to add more stud framing or “blocking” to support the new, albeit small piece of drywall.

Then, it takes 2 to 3 coats of mud, which is a 4-minute job that takes a few hours due to plaster drying times. Finally, it may need a few coats of paint to properly blend the new color with the old wall.

However, it can get worse, and much more complex.

Suppose a washing machine breaks down at one of your investment properties, causing water damage to the main floor hardwood. Your insurance company will pay to repair the damage from the faulty appliance. However, upon inspection, if the insurance adjuster determines the washing machine was a damaged item because your tenant tried to “fix” it with their best hammer and hardest swing, your homeowner’s insurance can be taken away, your premiums can rise, and you’re left staring at the tenant looking for compensation.

Depending on when the damage occurs and the seriousness of the allegation, a landlord can keep the full security deposit and send the tenant an eviction notice.

4. More Examples of House Damage that Landlords can Deduct from a Security Deposit

Here are some types of damages that qualify as house damage, which can include:

  • Burns, tears, holes, stains, or pet stains on carpets
  • Sizeable, excessive holes in doors or walls, doors ripped off hinges
  • Damaged or missing door handles and locks
  • Broken walls
  • Unapproved paint or wallpaper
  • Broken windows (glass and frame) or missing screens
  • Ripped or missing curtains or blinds
  • Damaged enamel on sinks, toilets, or bathtubs
  • A smashed bathroom mirror
  • A broken toilet seat
  • Clogged toilet due to improper use
  • Excessive filth in the oven or on the stove
  • Excessive mildew or mold in bathroom
  • Flea or pest extermination

5. How to Avoid Disputes Between Landlord and Tenant on Damage vs. Wear and Tear

As a rental property owner, it’s your responsibility to keep an up-to-date, well-maintained property, whether you’re doing it yourself or hiring property management services. It’s not only the right thing to do, but the property will look better. The tenant will also strive to care for it.

Clear communication, detailed walkthroughs, and regular inspections will help to prevent any arguments. Here are some further details on how to execute these steps below.

  1. Clear Communication Sets Expectations

    Clear communication lets the tenant know what they are responsible for and what you are responsible for. 

    From sweeping and shoveling the exterior to replacing the furnace filter and changing the lights, clear communication means everything.

  2. Detailed Walkthroughs with Checklists Get Everyone on the Same Page 

    Just as you do when renting a car, you should perform a walkthrough inspection of the rental unit with the tenant before moving in. It should list flaws, scuffs, and known issues. Also, take photos and discuss any concerns with the tenant.

    When they see your diligence, they’ll respond accordingly and will thoroughly check for problems as well. 

     

    With this list in both of your hands, whenever the tenant moves out, you’ll have a document to reference. The record is clear as to who pays for what. 

     

    Don’t have a checklist? Get a free move out inspection checklist for your state from our friends at Rocket Lawyer.

  3. Perform Regular Inspections and Routine Maintenance with Professional Services

    To keep your furnace and hot water tank in tip-top shape, you should be scheduling an annual inspection. To truly protect your real estate investment, use other professional services like appraisers, electricians, plumbers, and structural engineers. 

    By setting the standard of care, with clear two-way communication, you’ll have happier, more respectful tenants. 

    Landlords like you can keep track of all of their professional services as they relate to each of their rental properties with Baselane’s free banking platform for landlords.

    If you let a ceiling leak go by, despite pleas from your tenants to look at it, the problem will likely get worse. Suppose the leak originates from a heavy storm that ripped off some shingles. 

    In that case, you could eventually be looking at structural damage to your roof. If your insurance company discovers it was due to your negligence. In that case, they don’t have to pay to repair the hole, nor the subsequent expensive damage.

Our Final Thoughts: Wear and Tear vs. House Damage

As a landlord, it’s your responsibility to ensure a habitable rental property. There should be no defects or hazards, and it should comply with state regulations and health codes. Understanding the difference between wear and tear and house damage takes experience and purposeful practice. So, do your best, set yourself to a high standard, and your walkthrough will become a breeze in no time.

Remember, as a landlord, unless there is a reasonable dispute, you:

  • Must return the deposit within 21 days
  • Can’t charge for reasonable wear and tear
  • Must provide list and receipts for the use of any money withheld
  • Your tenant can sue for much more than the amount of the deposit if you do not return it
FAQs
Are house damage expenses tax-deductible?

Yes, any qualifying expense can be written off and deducted from any profits you make on the property. Keep your receipts, use Baselane's accounting software for landlords to easily manage your properties, and their related expenses in one easy-to-use platform.

Are broken blinds normal wear and tear?

Broken blinds are considered damage, not wear and tear. Broken is the keyword—broken tiles, broken doors, locks, even appliances. Anything broken by negligence counts as damage.

Are nail holes normal wear and tear?

Nail holes from picture frames or artwork are normal wear and tear. Of course, it depends, and it can get contentious. So, as a landlord, you can stipulate in the lease agreement that the tenant must use alternatives to hang pictures like the 3M strips.

Saad Dar

Writer and Editor at Baselane

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