Normal wear and tear?

13 Replies

How do you determine what normal wear and tear is when giving a tenant their deposit back? I always have my properties cleaned and if needed, painted before a new tenant moves in. When they move out, the walls are always dirty. The last tenant complained when i took money out of their security deposit to repaint due to the walls being so dirty when they left. Now im running into the same issue with the current tenant. My expectation is that they return the property in the same state i gave it to them. If its not move in ready and if the walls are dirty, i take money out of their security deposit. Is that the right way to look at it or would the dirty walls be considered "normal wear and tear"?



Greasy fingerprints on the wall is not wear and tear.  I've been in my house for 16 yrs and have 2 kids under 5 and not a single messed up wall. 

Depending on length of tenancy, carpet is debatable... Like if they were there for 3 to 5 yrs you can't charge them for carpet because that's close to its end of life 

If your lease states that it needs to be in the original condition, you charge them for cleaning too.

What exactly is “normal wear and Tear”/ The definition is the deterioration of the property that occurs during occupancy where the tenant cleans regurarly and cares for the premises reasonably.

Remember security deposits are for the protection of the landlord in the event that something is damaged or really dirty.

What Can and Can’t be Deducted from a Security Deposit? I also want to point out that you MUST video or do a full walk thru with photos prior to the tenant taking occupancy. Possibly using a professional third party vendor for the pre-inspection is a great idea, give a copy to the owner and tenant

Excessive holes in walls
Broken tiles or fixtures in the property
Plumbing backups
Repainting where a tenant has repainted from the original color Tears, holes, stains or burn marks in carpets
Missing or damaged blinds
Broken windows and window screens
Broken doors and locks
Broken or damaged appliances 

Excessively Dirty

Pest control if you see Bugs and or fleas

Junk or trash left behind

Past Due rent

Fees incurred from fines from the association due to the tenants conduct or lack thereof

Water damage to hardwood floors

Missing outlet covers

Remotes for garage or gate if not returned

Rekey of locks if tenants did not return the keys

Unpaid utilities, as long as they were part of the lease agreement Undoing a tenant alteration

This is a sample of things that are usually considered to be normal wear-and-tear and should not be deducted from a security deposit:

Slab or plumbing leak

Normal rug wear. Be especially careful charging a tenant for the entire cost of carpet when the carpets are like 10 years old

Picture or pin holes in walls, as long as not excessive Painting the exterior of the home

Pressure washing unless there are oil stains from their auto Routine maintenance

 There are many more circumstances that could and will come into play, but lets all work together to come to a resolution. Remember those photos and or videos prior to and after occupancy to document everything!

Also - consider the IRS Depreciation Guidelines. Hopefully not mis-quoting this - but I have always gone with 7 years depreciation for flooring (carpeting) and 5 years depreciation for painting. In other words, if you have brand new carpets and a tenant is in the home for 3 years - but DESTROYS the carpets - they robbed your owner of 4 years of use. On the security deposit itemization, you would take the carpet amount and depreciate it at the 7 year schedule.

Hard Numbers:

New Carpet:  $3,000

Take the $3,000 / 7 = $428.57

Since the tenant robbed you of 4 years of use, take the above $428.57 x 4 years = $1,714.28.  

The tenant should be charged $1,714.28 on their security deposit itemization with the math above to explain the reasoning.  

Sadly - Fair Wear and Tear is completely gray outside of this.  It will come down to the judge determining if you were fair or not.  I would suggest a settlement because if this goes into a courtroom, you could lose - or it may cost you more to be right than it would have just to settle and cut a check for a significantly less figure.

Hope this helped!

Yes, thanks for the responses guys!

@ George P.  I was thinking the same thing about the walls. Ive been in my house 7 years and i have a small child and my walls still look almost new. I have no idea what these tenants are doing to the walls that they get so dirty after a year or two. I keep repainting but im wondering if i should even bother. 

I think i will add to the lease that the property has to be in the same condition it was given. I always deliver it spick and span and freshly painted and i always get it back dirty and with marks all over the walls.

Im not worried about a lawsuit. Ive taken someone to court in florida, its expensive. Wouldnt be worth it to them for a $900 deposit. I think the court fee to even file the lawsuit is $200 or $300. 

Hi @Martha Daisley

The short answer is, filthy walls are not normal wear and tear. 

Here is how I help combat the argument at the end and clarify for the tenants what is expected at move out. 

Move Out Checklist - I have a full one-page document that outlines everything I expect to be done when a tenant moves out in order to get their deposit back. I have them sign this document, after filming their move in walk through video. Under cleaning - I specify walls, cabinets, drawers, etc, so there isn't any confusion. I also outline the costs associated with each item if not completed. I offer tenants the option of moving out and leaving the cleaning, carpets, paint touch up to my vendors. I outline the price for each service and most tenants really appreciate it, one less thing to worry about. BONUS- I know it will be a good and thorough job.

It all comes down to documentation. If you have a move in walk through video documenting the condition of the home and a clear outline of what is expected at move out, it really helps. 

Good Luck! 

Well then we'll go to court. I have pictures documenting what the place looked like before they moved in and i took pictures of what it looks like after they moved out. I also have a signed move in/move out checklist where they signed off on what it looked like when they moved in and they also signed off on all the stuff that was wrong after they moved out(dirty walls, broken stove,broken blinds,  furniture left in the unit etc). I have the documentation so its fine if they decide to do that.

@Meghan Martinez Thanks for those suggestions about the move in/move out checklist with the quotes already on there. Love the idea! I will implement next go around.


No doubts if tenants left the walls really dirty, you have the right to deduct the cost to repaint from the security deposit. 

However, if your renters has lived in the unit for 3 years or more, a paint job is probably routine maintenance. And that mean that you couldn’t deduct money to paint.

Create a damage cost agreement. It will outline common stuff like paint wall $200, paint room $500, paint entire house $2,000, clean carpets $200, clean house.. this will stop the arguments for the most part as they signed that paperwork agreeing to the cost of work. All you need to do it continue to do check list and photos.

I've heard (from my landlord dad with 30 years in the business) that normal cycle for new paint is every 10 years. So you could take George's math and calculate the fee for new paint. I'm glad you have everything documented and in writing!

Quick suggestion.... I have some low end rentals and I have the walls and trim all painted with the same shade and brand of semi gloss white.  Although it is not as aesthetically pleasing as contrasting trim and or flat/eggshell walls, semi gloss is very easy to clean with a wet sponge (mild degreaser if necessary).  If you always stick to the same paint in all of your houses matching is also very easy if you need to paint just a wall or two.  In higher end homes this would not look fly though. 

Thank you guys, this is all very helpful! Ive decided to get the whole unit repainted with semigloss one color and get a little extra paint for future touch ups. 

I have a cheap handyman thats going to repaint the whole thing. Ill probably charge the tenant a partial amount. I had it freshly painted before they moved in and they were only there two years and now it has to be repainted so i think a partial amount is only fair.