Tip of the Month - June 2007

Defining “ordinary wear and tear”

Source: Property Management for Dummies
             By Robert Griswold

Legally you are entitled to charge your Tenant for damages beyond “ordinary wear and tear.”  But virtually all disputes over Security Deposits revolve around this elusive definition.  It’s your job to be able to tell the difference between ordinary wear and tear and more serious damage that you can legally deduct from your Tenant’s Security Deposit.

The standard definition of “ordinary wear and tear” in most states is deterioration or damage to the property expected to occur from normal usage. The problem then is what is considered to be “normal usage.”  Court decisions vary from state to state and even court to court.  If you ask 100 Small Claims Court Judges or Commissioners you will likely get nearly 100 different interpretations of this definition.

The bottom line is that there are no hard and fast rules on what constitutes ordinary wear and tear and what the Tenant can legally be charged.  This table gives you some room for comparison; to help you determine what’s ordinary wear and tear, and what goes beyond ordinary into damage you can charge for.

Smudges on the walls near light switches---normal wear & tear.
Crayon marks on the wall or ceiling-damage beyond ordinary wear and tear.

A few small tack or nail holes---normal wear and tear.
Numerous nail holes that require patching and/or painting-damage beyond ordinary wear and tear.

Minor marks on the walls or doors-normal wear and tear.
Large marks on or holes in the wall or doors-damage beyond ordinary wear and tear.

Fading, peeling, or cracked paint---normal wear and tear.
Completely dirty or scuffed painted walls-damage beyond ordinary wear and tear.

Carpet worn thin from normal use-normal wear and tear.
Carpet that has been ripped or has urine stains from pets-damage beyond ordinary wear and tear.

Carpet or curtains faded by the sun-normal wear and tear.
Carpet or curtains with cigarette burns-damage beyond ordinary wear and tear.

Moderately dirty mini-blinds-normal wear and tear.
Bent or missing mini-blinds-damage beyond ordinary wear and tear.

Doors sticking from humidity-normal wear and tear.
Broken hinges or door frames-damage beyond ordinary wear and tear.

If you make deductions from the Security Deposit, be sure that your paperwork is accurate and detailed.  Because property damage deductions are only for damages beyond ordinary wear and tear, you need to be sure that your description of the item explains why the damage exceeds that.

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This web page was updated on 06/02/2007.