Real estate: What is normal wear and tear?

We hear the phrase all the time, especially in your home or apartment rental agreement. "You are responsible for any damage that may occur, except for normal wear and tear."

The problem is that no one ever tells us exactly what is normal and what is not when it comes to wear and tear. This is important, because if the landlord thinks you have exceeded normal wear and tear, you will end up paying for it out of your security deposit, and maybe even get a bill after you move out.

Here to help us understand what’s normal and what’s not is real estate expert John Adams:

Q:  John, where do we start?

A:  First, let's talk about your SECURITY DEPOSIT.  It;s sometimes called a DAMAGE DEPOSIT, but in Georgia, the security deposit is intended to secure the tenant’s PERFORMANCE under the terms and conditions of the lease.

Q:  So, nothing about WEAR and TEAR?

A:  Well, that's part of the PERFORMANCE.

By performance, we mean that the tenant is required to PERFORM each and every obligation spelled out in the written rental agreement.

So here is your obligation:

When you move out, you have to return the property to the landlord in the same condition it was in when you moved IN, except for NORMAL WEAR & TEAR.  So the question always arises, what constitutes normal wear and tear?

Q:  Can you give us a definition?

NORMAL WEAR & TEAR is what the landlord might normally EXPECT the condition of the property to be after use during the term of the lease.

Another way of saying it is:  the typical deterioration of the premises that occurs during normal conditions where the tenant cleans regularly and cares for the premises reasonably."

Q:  What does Georgia law say?

Unfortunately, Georgia law doesn’t give us any way of knowing what is and is not “normal” when it comes to “typical deterioration.”

In most all cases, it is up to a judge to decide. And judges can be remarkably independent in their decisions.

All this revolves around the question:  WHAT WAS THE ACTUAL CONDITION of the property o n the DAY YOU MOVED IN?

Anyone’s memory can get foggy after a year or two, so Georgia law makes one thing clear:  the MOVE IN INSPECTION LIST shall signed by both landlord and tenant at the time on move-in, and shall become the definitive list of existing damage.

As a result, it is VITAL that you make sure the MOVE IN LIST shows every defect in the property at that time. Otherwise, YOU can be held responsible.

Q:  So what might be typical NORMAL DETERIORATION?


Faded paint or carpet due to sunlight.

Picture or pin holes in walls (unless excessive)

Broken plumbing caused by normal use

Carpet wear caused by normal use

Worn countertop

Q:  And what might be examples of DAMAGE?


Broken doors or windows

Missing or torn screens

Broken toilet seat or tank top

Marks, writing on walls or unapproved color

Carpets with tears or burn marks

The question the judge will be asking is this:  If the tenant took good care of the property and kept it clean during the lease, would this condition have occurred anyway?

If the answer is NO, then you caused the damage and you are responsible for paying for it!

THE SOLUTION:  Make sure you DOCUMENT the MOVE-IN CONDITION in painful detail and that you take pictures of ANY existing damage, then submit those photos to your landlord as an addendum to the MOVE IN INSPECTION.

Q:  Won't that be expensive?

If you shoot a hundred pictures of existing damage, the prints will be less than ten bucks.  Keep the digital files safe, and submit the prints to the landlord. At least there will be no dispute as to the condition when you moved in.

Remember though, if you are a slob or damage the property, this can be a double edged sword. Pictures don’t lie!

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