What is Normal Wear and Tear?

Image of water damage due a broken pipe

What is Normal Wear and Tear?

When it’s time to move out of your apartment or rented house, you may ask yourself: “is my landlord going to charge me for this?” When you signed your lease, you may have paid a security deposit (ie, rental deposit). In general, your landlord must return that deposit after you move out and return the keys. But the landlord is allowed to keep the deposit to repair damages that you or your guests caused.

The question sometimes arises: Can the landlord keep deposit money to fix things that gradually fell apart?  What is ordinary wear and tear? Where is the line between “damages” and wear & tear? There is no clear-cut definition of wear and tear, but there are some hints.

In Arizona, the landlord can keep deposit money to pay for “damages” to the property caused by:

  • The tenant collecting “rubbish, garbage, and other waste”;
  • The tenant creating a health or safety hazard in the apartment;
  • The tenant dumping things into the drains that don’t belong there;
  • The tenant “deliberately or negligently” destroying, defacing, damaging, or removing parts that belong to the house or apartment;
  • The tenant allowing another person to destroy, damage, or remove parts that belong to the unit.

If the landlord has kept the deposit money to pay for something outside the above list, there is a good chance it’s ordinary wear and tear. Generally, it’s ordinary wear and tear if:

  • No one could have avoided it without hiring a professional;
  • No one could have discovered it without special tools or special knowledge;
  • It’s obvious that no one intentionally caused the harm;
  • It’s the type of thing that always falls apart over time;
  • It’s an appliance, air conditioner, or heater that always develops mechanical issues when it gets older;
  • It’s a case of “deferred maintenance”, meaning that the landlord should have been keeping up with it over time;
  • It was caused by a leak in the roof;
  • It was caused by a leak in a pipe that is located inside one of the walls

The following are examples of specific things that are typically (but not always) considered ordinary wear and tear:

  • Damages to a wall caused by a leaky roof;
  • Smudges on a wall
  • Loose door handles
  • Loose bathroom fixtures
  • A toilet that runs
  • An air conditioner that needs servicing
  • A couple small stains on the carpet
  • A couple small scratches on a wood floor
  • A faucet that needs replacing due to gradual mineral build-up
  • A dent in a wall caused by a doorknob
  • Peeling paint
  • Faded paint from the sun
  • Wear patterns on the carpet caused by furniture
  • Wobbly toilet
  • Scuff marks on a linoleum floor
  • Broken strings on the window blinds

Examples of things that are typically considered not to be ordinary wear and tear:

  • A smashed bathroom mirror
  • A broken toilet seat
  • A hole in the middle of a bedroom door
  • Missing door handles/locks
  • Holes in the wall not caused by a door knob
  • Missing curtains or blinds
  • Cuts or burns on the countertops
  • Broken or cracked windows
  • Missing window screens
  • A child’s drawings on the walls
  • Broken toilet seat
  • Missing refrigerator or other appliance
  • Excessive carpet stains caused by pet urine

However, keep in mind that a lease agreement might define “wear and tear” differently. It is not common to find a lease that defines this term, but sometimes a lease will be very specific about certain things. For example, a lease might specify that the tenant is responsible for paying to fix things that might otherwise be considered ordinary wear and tear. For this reason, it’s important to carefully read a lease agreement before signing it.

In general, an Arizona landlord cannot charge the tenant for redecorating the apartment. How does a tenant know if a landlord might be trying to charge them for a simple redecoration of the apartment? This might be the case if:

  • A tenant leaves behind three or four nail holes in the living room and a landlord insists on repainting all the rooms;
  • A tenant broke the bathroom mirror and the landlord insists that all bathroom fixtures must be replaced to match the new mirror;
  • A tenant left several large stains in the bedroom carpet and the landlord insists on replacing the carpet in the entire apartment.
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