San Diego Property Management Blog


Normal wear and tear is damage that naturally occurs in an investment property due to aging. It typically results from a tenant living in the property and is considered normal depreciation. It’s not caused by neglect or abuse of the property. Landlords need to fix normal wear and tear but aren’t required to fix tenant caused damage.
Landlords need to thoroughly document the condition of the property so they can account for normal wear and tear. Avail helps landlords stay organized by offering online property management software. They screen tenants, set up online rent collection and most importantly schedule maintenance requests. The first unit is free.
Normal Wear and Tear vs Damage
Normal wear and tear is different than tenant caused damage. Normal wear and tear occurs naturally over time. Damage caused by tenants isn’t a result of aging but is a result of negligence, carelessness or abuse. Normal wear and tear is required to be paid for by the landlord and tenant damage is not.
In the table below we will illustrate examples of types of normal wear and tear and tenant caused damage and the differences between the two.

Differences Between Normal Wear and Tear vs Damage

Type of MaterialAverage Useful LifeNormal Wear and Tear
(Landlord’s Responsibility)
Tenant Damage
(Tenant’s Responsibility)
Carpet5 yearsGently worn carpets that show some worn patches but no holes or stainsPet caused damage such as heavily stained carpets and ripped carpeting
Hardwood Flooring25 yearsFading of flooring due to sunlight exposureDeeply scratched hardwood floors or pieces of the hardwood missing
Tile Flooring25 yearsDirty grout surrounding the tilesBroken or chipped tiles or missing tiles
Windows20 yearsLightly scratched glass and worn, loose hardwareBroken glass, ripped screens, broken window hardware
Countertops20+ yearsScratches and light watermarksChipped countertops, burnt areas, and/or multiple stains
WallsLifetimeCracks in the walls caused by settlingHoles in the walls, damage from hanging pictures
Paint3 yearsFading paint from sunlight and minor scuffing from daily usePaint that has been scribbled on, unauthorized paint colors
A landlord checklist can help you figure out what’s normal wear and tear vs damage by forcing you to document all of the above. For a better understanding of the difference between the two (and when you can deduct the tenant’s deposit), let’s take a look at the two most common examples, which are normal wear and tear vs damaged carpet and normal wear and tear vs damaged paint.
Normal Wear and Tear vs Damaged Carpet
If the carpet has been in place for 5 years or longer, it’s the landlord’s responsibility to replace it, since that is the length of the carpet’s useful life. If the carpet has light sun damage or is showing signs of wear, that is normal wear and tear and the landlord cannot blame the tenant.
It’s the landlord’s responsibility to keep the property free of hazards. So, if the carpet has worn out over the years and become a trip hazard, it should be immediately replaced and paid for by the landlord. But, if the carpet has been ripped or has excessive fraying, it’s the tenant’s fault and the cost to replace it can be deducted from the tenant’s security deposit.
Further, if the carpet is stained either by a pet or spilling food, wine, dirt, and more, it’s considered tenant-caused damage and can also be deducted from the security deposit. State laws vary on landlord tenant laws regarding security deposits but generally, the landlord needs to get a repair quote from a licensed contractor and send the tenant an itemized list of the damage along with the check for the remainder of the security deposit.
Normal Wear and Tear vs Damaged Paint
Peeling paint, sun damage or a small number of scuffs are considered normal wear and tear and the landlord should touch them up between tenants. Ceiling paint usually lasts longer since no one is constantly touching the ceiling. Ceiling paint should be touched up when a leak occurs or on an as-needed basis.
If the paint has holes in it, excessive scuff marks or other marks such as drawings or scribbles, it is considered damage caused by a tenant. In this case, the cost to fix the damage and paint the walls will be deducted from the tenant’s security deposit. You can do this by getting a quote from a licensed contractor and sending the tenant an itemized list of the damage, along with the check for the rest of their security deposit.
“The easiest way to discern between wear and tear and tenant caused damage is to think of wear and tear as any damage that’s caused by natural forces or damage that’s caused by daily use. Tenant caused damage should be thought of as damage requiring more than routine maintenance to repair. Obviously, this doesn’t include things like a leaky pipe or things that would happen to the property regardless of who the tenant was.”
– Timothy Czekaj, Real Estate Attorney, Czekaj Dusharm LLC
As a landlord, there’s a lot to deal with including tenant-caused damage and related issues.
How to Deduct Expenses from a Security Deposit
Landlords collect security deposits at the beginning of a tenant’s residency. These security deposits help protect the landlord from having to pay for expenses that go above and beyond normal wear and tear. Landlords are allowed to deduct certain tenant-caused expenses from security deposits.
The laws on security deposits vary by state. However, typically, landlords must return a tenant’s security deposit and send them any accounting records within 21 days from the time the tenant moves out. This means that within 21 days, you must get a contractor’s bid to repair tenant caused damage, subtract it from the security deposit, and mail the tenants the itemized deductions and a check for the difference between the deposit and the cost of the damage.
In most states, an itemized deduction list can be used in place of a contractor’s bid, but it’s better to be safe by using a contractor. Other deductions can include unpaid utilities and overdue rent, but you only need proof of the bill and not a contractor’s bid. If the landlord doesn’t send the full list of itemized deductions to the tenants within the stated time period the tenant can take them to small claims court.
If the tenant’s security deposit does not cover all of the tenant caused damage, the landlord can take the tenant to small claims court. However, this can be costly and time-consuming. If the damage exceeds small claims court guidelines, the landlord hires an attorney and sues the tenant in municipal court. This can be even more costly and time-consuming, and it may be difficult to enforce a judgment against the tenant.
Here’s an example to better understand security deposits and deductions:
Example of Security Deposit Deductions

Security Deposit Received$2,500
Past Due Rent-$1,000June rent not paid in full
Late Fees-$250June rent late fees
Past Due Utility Bills-$175Electric Bill
Pet Damage-$250Clean & deodorize carpets
Broken Tiles-$350Replace broken tiles & grout
Total Deductions$2,025
Security Deposit Amount Returned$2500-$2025= $475Certified Funds mailed to tenant
“In most states, laws give benefit of the doubt to the tenants and it’s up to the landlord to prove that damage was done intentionally and isn’t just normal wear and tear. The longer a tenant lives in a property, the more leeway they have since more time has elapsed for normal wear and tear to occur.
As a landlord, you have to be confident that you can convince a judge that there is reason to subtract a deduction from the tenant’s security deposit. This damage is limited to willful or negligent acts including holes in the wall, damage from pets, abuse and damage occurring from illegal acts.”
– Sotereas Pantazes, Landlord & Founder, EFynch