Normal wear and tear in a rental refer to the expected amount of deterioration of a rental unit due to a tenant’s everyday use. 

Many landlords are unsure about whether or not their landlord insurance policy covers normal wear and tear or not, so make sure you know what your policy covers (and what’s considered normal wear and tear).

Does Landlord Insurance Cover Normal Wear and Tear?

While landlord insurance policies do cover some types of tenant damage to rental units, it’s important to note that it does not cover normal wear and tear from tenants simply living in and using a rental unit daily.

The distinction to be made here is that landlord insurance only covers unexpected damages, whereas normal wear and tear is expected damage.

What Is Considered “Normal” Wear and Tear aka "Reasonable Damage"?

Normal wear and tear in a rental is any type of natural, gradual deterioration of materials within the property.

Carpets wearing down, wood floors getting mildly scuffed, paint fading or peeling, and tub and sink enamels wearing down are all examples of normal wear and tear that occur due to regular use and the passage of time.

Other examples of what normal wear and tear is in a rental include:

  • Cracked or peeling linoleum (particularly where appliances are/were)
  • Doors and windows sticking (from settling or due to humidity)
  • Small chips in wall plaster
  • Faded flooring
  • Faded blinds and/or curtains
  • Loose grouting in between tiles
  • Loose door knobs or cupboard handles
  • Worn enamel on toilets

Landlords cannot charge tenants to repair these types of expected, reasonable damages, and landlord insurance doesn’t cover them, because they are basically unavoidable.

For instance, the sun inevitably fades carpets and other furnishings over time, door hardware can become loose over time from opening and closing the door all the time, and enamel on toilets wears down because people sit on them every day.

What Is Considered To Be Beyond Normal Wear and Tear?

In general terms, any type of damage that’s not due to normal use over time can be considered beyond normal wear and year. In other words, it’s unexpected, avoidable property damage.

This includes accidental damages, damages due to negligence on the part of tenants, and damages purposely committed by tenants or someone else who has been to the property.

Examples of property damages that are beyond normal wear and tear include:

  • Burns on carpets or other surfaces
  • Pet stains on carpets
  • Holes in doors or walls
  • Broken windows
  • Broken or missing window and door screens
  • Mildew stains or water damage from plant pots
  • Missing fixtures
  • Missing or cracked tiles
  • Unauthorized paint or wallpaper

Landlords can deduct money from tenants’ security deposits to pay for repairing these types of damages because they are considered avoidable, and landlord insurance can cover them.

However, it’s important to note that not all damages considered to be beyond normal wear and tear are necessarily the fault of the tenant. 

Avoidable damages can also be caused by landlord negligence, such as failing to perform necessary maintenance, which results in problems getting worse.

So, in order to be able to charge tenants for damages they are responsible for, make sure you uphold your part of the rental agreement by keeping the property in good shape.

A cracked or missing tile would normally be considered beyond "normal wear and tear"

When There Is a Dispute About Whether Something Is Considered Normal Wear and Tear or Not, Who Decides?

As with all parts of the landlord-tenant relationship, the best way to avoid disputes is to outline everything very clearly in the lease agreement.

This includes specifying what types of maintenance and repairs each party is responsible for and what condition is acceptable to leave the rental unit in when the tenant moves out.

If you specify what is considered normal wear and tear and what is not in the lease agreement, there can be no doubt about it when tenants move out.

Also, to help avoid disputes down the road, make sure you take very detailed pictures of your rental unit before you rent it out. That way, you can refer back to them to determine whether a certain damage was already there or happened after a tenant moved in.

As long as you outline all expectations in your lease agreement and take thorough photos of your property’s condition, tenants should have very little reason to dispute who’s responsible for any non-reasonable damages.

And, in the unlikely event that a dispute goes to small-claims court, the lease and your photos will help uphold your side of the argument.

Bottom Line

As a landlord, you have to expect some normal wear and tear to your property every time a tenant moves out.

But, it’s important to understand what types of damages are not normal wear and tear, so you can deduct them from a tenant’s security deposit and/or file an insurance claim as needed.

Remember to outline who’s responsible for what in great detail in your lease agreements and take photos before and after tenants move in and out, and you should be able to avoid any issues related to normal wear and tear in an apartment or house you own.