Define and Document ‘Normal Wear and Tear’


One of the most sensitive topics when a tenant moves out is returning the security deposit. Tenants are responsible for out of the ordinary damage, like a hole in the wall or a door off its hinges. However, they are not responsible for normal wear and tear. The trick is: how do you define it?

When it comes to carpets, light marks from shoes and small stains are to be expected over the life of the carpet. If a tenant has only been in the unit a year, but returns extremely stained carpet, from pets or paint, for instance, that would be a reason to deduct from the security deposit. This is especially true if the carpet was new at the beginning of the lease.

Other floors, such as linoleum or tile, will also get scuff marks as they age. Some cracks in the tile is to be expected. Once again, if the floor was new when the tenants moved in and is heavily damaged at the end of the lease, deducting from the security deposit is reasonable.

Hardware, such as door knobs and drawer pulls, are another judgement call. If they were old to begin with and have come to the end of their life, it’s not fair to charge a tenant.

Walls that are scuffed a bit from furniture being against them or have other marks that can be cleaned off are normal. Big gouges or lots of nail holes that require patching are not. Crayon or marker on the wall that won’t come off is also not considered normal wear and tear.

It’s also normal practice to expect the unit to be clean when a tenant vacates Santa Cruz real estate. Dirty bathrooms or kitchens, grimy carpet, or food in the fridge would all be reasons to charge a cleaning fee.

One of the best things a landlord can do is to document the state of the unit with tenants when they move in. Take digital photographs and give them a copy. Offer a pre-move out inspection to tenants so they can take care of issues themselves without losing any of their deposit. Good communication and clear expectations about how tenants care for and return a unit will go a long way to preventing disputes over normal wear and tear and the security deposit.  Blue Sky can help you with vetting tenants before they move in as a further safe guard for your property.