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Understanding Wear and Tear vs. Damage During Inspections

Property inspections can often unearth a lot of unexpected surprises. Hidden problems, maintenance oversights, and overall issues of cleanliness can all become uncovered. One issue that is often hard to account for is the wear and tear vs. damage, which can be tricky to tell apart. So what’s the difference, and how can you tell them apart? Let’s explore the issue in more depth.

What is Wear and Tear?

Wear and tear is a natural occurrence. As time passes and things are used by tenants, they start to show signs of age. It is a representation of the passage of time and should be expected. Common examples include:

– Light fading of carpets and other surfaces
– Discoloration on paintwork
– Dullness of taps
– Stretching of fabrics

Wear and tear is normal and should not be charged as a deduction to the tenant.

What is Damage?

Damage is the exact opposite of wear and tear. It is generally unexpected and caused by something other than passage of time. Common examples include:

– Stains on carpets or walls
– Unexpected scuffs on skirting boards
– Grips marks on doors
– Cracks in plaster

Damage is often caused by accidents or poor care from tenants. It is an issue that should generally be deducted from the deposit of tenants.

Difference Between Wear and Tear vs. Damage?

The biggest difference between wear and tear and damage is that damage is not expected. Wear and tear is unavoidable and something a tenant should not be responsible for but damage is usually caused by misuse, negligence, or poor maintenance which should be the responsibility of the tenant. However, distinguishing between the two isn’t always as easy as it may appear.

It’s All about Timing

It’s not always easy to tell whether something is wear and tear or damage. But there are certain ways to tell the difference between the two. Whether something is categorized as wear and tear or damage is all about when it was noticeable. The general rule of thumb is if it’s noticed before a new tenant moves in, then that is considered to already be present and should fall under the wear and tear category. If the issue is created or becomes evident when a tenant moves in or during their stay, that would fall into the damage category.

What’s a Landlord Responsible for?

As a landlord, you should generally make sure that any major issues are caught before a tenant moves in. You should check for smoke and fire alarms, that there are no major plumbing issues, that the upholstery is in good condition, and that the general overall space is safe and habitable. This should be checked and counted as wear and tear, not damage. After that, it becomes subject to the tenant’s care and usage.

Cleanliness vs. Damage

It’s not always easy to make out whether something is a result of uncleanliness or property damage. For example, staining on carpets can be caused by spills or dirt that has accumulated over time. If there is dirt and dust, it should be relatively easy to tell if a tenant has been cleaning or not – or at least attempting it.

Understanding Tenant Habits

One good way of getting a good grasp of the difference between wear and tear and damage is by understanding the tenure of the tenant and their impact on the property. Are there any visible signs of misuse or poor care? Do the carpets look particularly worn in certain areas? Is there a layer of dirt and dust on surfaces such as skirting boards? Are there visible signs of neglect caused by the tenant? Asking yourself these questions can make the determination process easier.

When in Doubt, Get an Expert Opinion

If you’re still uncertain, it would be wise to get an expert opinion. That could be anything from a local handyman to a professional home inspector. Getting a specialist opinion can be beneficial if you’re uncertain of the results of an inspection and need help distinguishing between wear and tear and damage.


The difference between wear and tear and damage can be hard to differentiate but with a little knowledge and by asking the right questions, it should be possible to tell them apart. Of course, if in doubt it’s a good idea to get a third person opinion to help to make the assessment. Knowing the difference between the two can be an invaluable asset when considering the cleanliness of a property, as well as any potential deductions that may be required when the tenant vacates the premises.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1: Is it Wear and Tear or Damage?

It can sometimes be hard to tell the difference between the two. To determine this, it’s best to consider when the issue was first noticed. If it was noticed when the tenant moved in, it is likely to be classified as damage and will likely be the responsibility of the tenant.

Q2: Who is Responsible for Wear and Tear?

In general, wear and tear falls to the landlord and is not the responsibility of the tenant. However, any damage that caused by the tenant during their stay is usually the responsibility of the tenant.

Q3: When it Comes to Cleanliness, What is the Difference Between Wear and Tear and Damage?

Wear and tear is often caused by a lack of cleanliness and is generally something that falls to the tenant. Damage, on the other hand, is usually unexpected and caused by something else, such as pets, misuse, or carelessness.

What is the difference between normal wear and tear and actual damage?

Normal wear and tear is an expected and acceptable level of deterioration of a property or item due to ordinary use. This could include slight scuffing, fading paint, minor scratches, etc. Actual damage is any deterioration above and beyond normal wear and tear, as a result of neglect or intentional damage. It includes things like deep scratches, broken furniture, and water damage.

What types of damages are considered normal wear and tear?

Normal wear and tear is generally considered to be damage that is (a) expected and (b) occurs over time as a result of average and reasonable use. Examples of normal wear and tear may include fading of paint, dust/dirt buildup, scratches or small dents, minor cracks or chips, and general deterioration of materials due to age or exposure to elements.

What constitutes normal wear and tear in a rental property?

Normal wear and tear in a rental property includes minor damages that occur over time due to normal everyday use of the property. This includes minor scratches or scuffs to walls, scratched tangible surfaces, small carpet stains, and/or minor dings and dents to the walls. It does not include damages from improper use or lack of maintenance by the tenant.

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