Wear and Tear

What do you do about scuff marks on the hardwood flooring? Or nail holes from hanging pictures? What about dirty appliances? Can you charge a tenant to bring the property back into the same condition it was in before they moved in?

Of course, tenants want their security deposit back in full, but as a landlord, you must retain the deposit to apply toward any damage that the tenant is responsible for. When it comes to assessing what issues were caused by normal use and which problems are more excessive, it can get complicated.

When a tenant moves out, it’s up to the landlord to process their security deposit and return it in a timely manner. This deadline varies considerably from state to state, but for most areas, it’s about 30 days.

To further compound the issue, state and local regulations vary considerably on how security deposits should be handled. Not surprisingly, disputes regarding security deposits are among the most common reasons landlords and tenants end up facing each other in court.

To clear up some of the confusion surrounding this issue, here are some guidelines for the typical areas where damage occurs in a rental to help you determine whether it falls under the category of normal wear and tear or is something more serious.


In most cases, you can’t expect the floor to be in pristine condition after a tenant leaves. Carpet naturally has a limited lifetime, especially if it’s a lighter color. High-traffic areas will naturally become worn down, and it’s common to see a few light stains and indentations from furniture. A steam clean, customarily performed in between tenants, should bring carpet back into decent shape. However pet stains, holes, and burns generally go beyond everyday wear and tear. When it comes to hardwood flooring, the same standards apply. Worn or scuffed flooring in areas that receive a lot of traffic is to be expected, while deep gouges or an extensive series of scratches are usually indicative of tenant damage. With tiles or linoleum, it largely depends on the quality of the flooring and what has caused the damage. If linoleum is starting to peel near the door, for example, it’s most likely the result of normal use. Broken or chipped tiles or deep scratches in flooring could have been caused by dropping heavy items or dragging something across the floor and may be damage the tenant could be held responsible for.

Walls and Doors

Faded paint or wallpaper is considered normal wear and tear, and minor superficial damage — such as a few small nail holes, or a hole where a door handle hit the wall — is usually considered normal wear as well. These small issues can easily be repaired and shouldn’t come out of the tenant’s security deposit. However, pen marks all over the walls, or deep gouges or dents that will require more than some quick plaster to repair, are usually considered excessive. Similarly, the cost to repair or possibly replace doors that are hanging off the hinges or sliding doors that have come off of their tracks and been banged around can usually be deducted from the tenant’s security deposit.