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7 Differences Between Damage & Normal Wear & Tear in Rentals

by Andra Hopulele
5 min. read

Knowing the difference between wear and tear and property damage is extremely important for both tenants and landlords. As a tenant, if you cause damage to the property (even unwittingly), you could lose your security deposit if it’s not fixed. On the other hand, as a landlord, you may be overreacting to normal wear and tear. The lines can be blurry, but below are the major areas of confusion when comparing wear and tear to rental property damage.

1.   Appliances

The standard manufacturer’s warranty for most home appliances is 12 months. So, if an appliance is used within the manufacturing guidelines, the wear and tear you can expect should be manageable. For instance, scratches, burned-out light bulbs in fridges and microwaves, and the thermostat giving out in the dryer are all within the realm of normal wear and tear.

However, problems arise when tenants ignore product specifications. For example, overloading a washing machine will cause damage to the drum and the bearings, which can result in leaks and loud noise during the wash cycle. Similarly, failing to regularly clean the lint trap in the clothes dryer can result in it not turning on at all – or, even worse, a house fire. Along the same lines, putting metal objects in the microwave will cause arcing, which can result in the appliance catching fire. Other damage includes broken doors and hinges, burn marks, mold in the fridge, and missing shelves and accessories.

2.   Wood Flooring

Hardwood usually has a life expectancy of 25 years. Signs of wear and tear are visible in the faded color or scuffed varnish in areas that are walked on frequently, such as hallways or living rooms. The most common and easily noticeable type of damage to wood flooring is scratching, whether from furniture being moved around, items dropped or pet claws. Another type of wood floor damage comes from water that has been spilled or windows left open during rain.

3.   Tiles

Like hardwood, tile flooring has an average life of 25 years. Yet, tiles tend to be more resilient, and the most common sign of wear and tear is usually the grout around the tiles that becomes loose, dirty or discolored.

Tile damage can easily occur when dropping a heavy item – such as a pot – resulting in a cracked tile. Missing tiles also count as property damage. Another concern is moldy grout. Usually, mold occurs in bathrooms and even kitchens due to a lack of proper air circulation and humidity. However, it’s the tenant’s responsibility to keep the place tidy, which includes regularly wiping the tiles. An abnormal buildup of mold is generally due to improper cleaning and, therefore, falls under property damage.

4.   Walls & Paint

Interior walls normally last about four to five years before needing another coat of paint. Wear and tear includes fading colors, hairline cracks that occur as the wall settles, and peeling paint as a result of humidity. However, if large portions of paint have been scraped off or if the wall has been chipped or has holes, that is a sign of tenant damage. Similarly, drilling holes to hang shelves, mount a TV or hang artwork leaves several holes in the walls that would need filling and then repainting.

Other types of wall and paint damage include drawings or crayon markings directly on the wall, food stains (a common occurrence, especially in kitchens that don’t have tiles), and smoking damage (which results in both a smell and a yellowing of the walls).

5.   Wardrobes, Cabinets & Doors

By default, any wooden piece of furniture will experience some degree of wear, mainly due to the fact that wood “shrinks” over time as it dries out. Conversely, if your house is a bit humid, you might notice the opposite with the wood expanding over time; this leads to doors not closing properly or laminate starting to crack and peel at the edges.

Signs of property damage include scratched surfaces, doors that have been broken or ripped off of their hinges, and even missing shelves. You may also notice sticky surfaces – sometimes even mold – due to food that wasn’t stored properly or spills that weren’t wiped clean and have thus set into the wood. What’s more, any of these situations will also create unpleasant odors.

6.   Bathroom, Kitchen & Plumbing

Plumbing can be tricky depending on the age of the building and the pipes themselves. Occasional clogging – in both bathrooms and kitchens – is a normal sign of wear and tear. A sprinkle of rust on the shower or sink fittings is also common, as are worn enamel on ceramic surfaces.

However, tenants can do significant damage to plumbing when sinks and toilets become waste disposals. Chunks of food, clumps of hair, diapers and sanitary pads will build up in the drains and cause blockages. In the bathroom, watch out for cracked or broken mirrors, make-up stains, chipped enamel, broken ceramic on the sink and toilet, and torn or missing shower curtains and rails.

7.   Carpets

Carpets usually have a life expectancy of about five years; signs of wear and tear include faded colors and mildly worn patches due to walking. However, because it can be difficult to clean and maintain them, carpets are also very susceptible to damage.

Specifically, holes, tears or even areas that have gone threadbare are not normal. Water damage is also significant, as it can often hide damage to the floor underneath. Plus, if it occurs repeatedly, it can also result in mold.

Furthermore, if your tenants have pets, shedding can be a real issue, too, as it can be very difficult to remove. Pets may also cause damage from urine, vomit or claws.

Finally, food and drink spills also count as property damage, as well as burn marks caused by cigarettes, candles or hair styling appliances.

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