Normal Wear & Tear vs. Damage

Legally, your landlord can deduct money from your security deposit for the cost of cleaning and repairs to restore the rental unit to its condition at the beginning of your tenancy - they must provide you with a written statement outline their costs with receipts - see security deposit blog here.

Landlords cannot charge tenants for the cost of remedying ordinary wear and tear. Ordinary wear and tear is reasonably expected when tenants occupy an apartment. However, deciding what constitutes ordinary wear and tear vs. what constitutes damage is often a point of conflict between landlords and tenants.

There are no hard and fast rules distinguishing wear and tear from damage, but generally things like holes in walls, carpet tears, ripped drapes, or broken bathroom fixtures are considered damage. The cost to make those repairs will almost always be deducted from the tenant's security deposit. On the other hand, things like sun faded curtains, nicks on walls, worn rugs, or tack/nail holes are generally considered normally wear and tear. Any cost to repair these items should be at the expense of the landlord.
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Your landlord must be reasonable when determining repair/cleaning costs. If you apartment was not in great shape when you moved in, then your landlord cannot expect you to have it in better condition when you move-out, nor can your landlord charge you to return the apartment to a better condition than it was when you moved-in. It is critically important for you and your landlord to complete an accurate apartment inventory/condition form when you move in and for you to document the condition of the apartment with photos when you move in and out.

Note: if you are charged for repairs, you should be charged a fair price. Your landlord is obligated to spend only what is needed to accomplish the job. If you feel that you are being price-gouged, you may want to get quotes from others and compare them with your landlord's bill.

Examples of Ordinary Wear and Tear 
(Landlord's Responsibility):
  • Curtains faded by the sun
  • Water-stained linoleum by shower
  • Minor marks on or nicks in wall
  • Dents in the wall where the door handle bumped it
  • Moderate dirt or spotting on carpet
  • A few small tack or nail holes in wall
  • A rug worn thin by normal use
  • Worn gaskets on refrigerator doors
  • Faded paint on bedroom wall
  • Dark patches on ingrained soil on hardwood floor that have lost their finish and have been down down to bare wood
  • Warped cabinet doors that won't close
  • Stains on old porcelain fixtures that have lost their protective coating
  • Moderately dirty mini-blinds
  • Bathroom mirror beginning to "de-silver"
  • Clothes dryer that delivers cold air because the thermostat has given out
  • Toilet flushes inadequately because mineral deposits have clogged the jets

Examples of Damage or Excessive Filth 
(Your Responsibility):
  • Cigarette burns in curtains or carpets
  • Broken tiles in bathroom
  • Large marks on or holes in wall
  • Door off its hinges
  • Rips in carpet or urine stains from pets
  • Lots of picture holes or gouges in walls that require patching as well as repainting
  • Stains in rug caused by your leaking fish tank
  • Broken refrigerator shelf
  • Water damage on wall from hanging plant
  • Water stains on wood floors and windowsills caused by windows being left open during rainstorms
  • Sticky cabinets and interiors
  • Grime-coated bathtub and toilet
  • Missing mini-blinds
  • Mirrors caked with lipstick and makeup
  • Dryer that won't turn at all because it has been overloaded
  • Toilet won't flush property because its stopped up with a diaper

The source of this information is NOLO, Law for All.

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