What Exactly is “Normal Wear and Tear”?

When you are in the business of owning and renting properties, you should be aware of the condition of the unit before and after each tenancy.

Your rental property will certainly not be in the same condition before and after a tenancy. Does this mean that any form of damage is acceptable? What extent of damage can a tenant be held liable for?

Such questions have plagued landlords over the years. And without the correct answers, some have found themselves in legal disputes. It's important to be well-informed on this matter to avoid ending up in court with your ex-tenant.

Windermere Property Management, the premier rental management company in Spokane, is here to offer you some advice. With our years of experience in the rental management industry, we have some helpful knowledge on what wear and tear really is.

washington rental damage

The Definition of Normal Wear and Tear

Normal wear and tear can be defined as “property damage that occurs from the property being used for its intended purpose.” What this means is that a property will appear slightly worn out after a person lives in it for a while.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary uses the term “normal depreciation” to define normal wear and tear.

What's defined as normal wear and tear can vary from one state to another. As a landlord, you should stay up-to-date on any and all provisions of the Washington Landlord-Tenant Law.

What Qualifies as Property Damage?

Property damage is a result of abuse, neglect, misconduct or unreasonable use of the property, its amenities or appliances. It often causes intentional and permanent alterations to the property.

You should know that if the damage was not caused by the tenant but rather by one of their guests, the responsibility still falls on the tenant.

If you have a good tenant, they'll report any damages in the property when they happen. Often, however, a landlord will only discover damages once a renter leaves. This highlights the importance of having a high-quality tenant occupying your premises.

Signs to Look Out for

It's often hard for landlords to differentiate between normal wear and tear vs. property damage. To unpack this issue, here's our list of a few examples of both:

Examples of Normal Wear and Tear

washington normal wear tear

  • Small nail holes in the walls
  • Smudges, dents or chips in the walls
  • Faded blinds and curtains
  • Faded, worn, or thin carpets
  • Scuffed and faded wooden floors
  • Scratched and worn enamel in sinks, toilets and bathtubs
  • Worn-out appliances due to use over time
  • Lack of shine in bathroom and kitchen tiles

Examples of Property Damage

  • Big holes in the walls
  • Poor, often unapproved paint jobs or colors
  • Stains, burns and holes in carpet, blinds or curtains
  • Gouged and chipped wooden floors
  • Broken window panes and doors
  • Cracked or missing bathroom and kitchen tiles
  • Grime and mold in bathroom or kitchen
  • Damaged appliances
  • Cracked/Broken mirrors

As you can see from these examples, there's a clear line that separates normal wear and tear from property damage. If, during your property inspection, you suspect neglect or abuse, the damage is probably undergoing property damage and not ‘normal wear and tear.’

The Role of the Security Deposit

The security deposit serves as an insurance to you as the landlord. This is a deposit that protects you from damages done or lease violations by your tenant.

State law specifies how much security deposit you can charge your tenants, so make sure to read up on the specific rules regarding security deposits in Washington.

That said, property damage is a reason to withhold a tenant's deposit after they leave. But how should you legally go about this?

First and foremost, you should obtain clear and undeniable evidence of the damage. As a landlord, it's recommended that you do move-in and move-out inspections, complete with photographs. This documentation will come in handy if the tenant questions your claim to the security deposit.

security deposit washington

Estimating the cost of repair comes next. You might be asked to provide a quote from a third-party, which can be in the form of a reputable repair company in the area. In addition, you can only charge the renter for the applicable amount of property damage.

After the cost of repair has been deducted, you must return the remaining balance of the security deposit to the tenant.

Disputes over the Security Deposit

We can confirm that this is quite the common scenario in the property management industry. It often arises when a landlord takes a deduction as property damage, while the tenant considers it normal wear and tear. Depending on the tenant, the amount of the deduction, and severity of the damage, the issue can end up in court.

As a landlord, rely on the law for reasonable interpretation of the difference. Detail the damages to the tenant while referring to the lease agreement as well as past documentation.

Conclusion: Property Damage Vs. Normal Wear and Tear

The property management industry is a highly technical field guided by the provisions of local, State, and federal laws. But you don’t have to worry about these responsibilities when you have the leading Spokane property management company as your partner.

Windermere Property Management offers exceptional management services to landlords in Spokane and the surrounding area! AS your property manager, we'll find you high-quality renters, reducing the risk of property damages.

Our transparency, integrity and honesty have given us a great reputation in the field. These principles are reflected in the services as we offer as we grow our client’s investments.

Get in touch with us today, and we can discuss how to maximize your Spokane real estate investment.

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