Every landlord and renter knows all too well that no rental unit can remain pristine forever. Over time, there’s bound to be some damage to the suite from sustained use. If the damage is severe enough to impede enjoyment of the unit, or if it’s caused by negligence on the part of the tenant, this can quickly become an issue for both parties. That’s why most lease agreements set out a stipulation that damage beyond normal wear and tear is grounds for either withholding a security/damage deposit in B.C., or seeking damages through the Landlord & Tenant Board in Ontario. What exactly constitutes “normal wear and tear”, though?
In this article, liv.rent will be defining this nebulous topic, as well as providing definitions and examples and resources to help both landlords and tenants recognize the difference between normal wear and tear and damage, as well as tools and resources to help navigate disputes.
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What is the difference between normal wear and tear and damage?
Most standard lease agreements will mention conditions for maintaining the condition of the rental unit, specifying that normal wear and tear is expected, but additional damage is to be paid for by the tenant accordingly. We’ll provide some examples in the following section, but to give a blanket definition, normal wear and tear is generally considered to be any damage that is minor, doesn’t affect the livability of the unit, and is caused by reasonable, everyday use. When there is a significant difference in the quality of the unit, especially if it’s caused by neglect or intentional activity, this crosses the line into damage.
Since this difference is so hard to recognize and prove, the subject can often result in lengthy disputes between landlord and tenant. We’ll discuss responsibility at length in a later section, but typically landlords are responsible for initially providing proof of damage, while renters also have the opportunity to prove that the damage was either already or there, or is actually caused by normal use. Things like small scuffs on floors, worn carpet, or chipped paint are nearly always viewed as normal wear and tear, while large holes in walls or pet-stained carpets are typically seen as damage.
If you’re in doubt about specific situations, it’s always best to defer to your lease agreement. Before a tenant moves into a unit, they must complete a Condition Inspection Report which outlines any issues or pre-existing damage in the unit. This way, when it comes time for them to move out, there’s a clear record of the exact condition of the unit prior to their tenancy. For landlords, including a lease addendum about security deposits and damages is a great idea as well, as it makes clear exactly what degree of wear and tear is acceptable, and what to do in the event of a dispute.
Examples of normal wear and tear vs. damage
Every situation is different, and unfortunately, there are no hard and fast rules for recognizing and deciding whether something is or isn’t normal wear and tear. With that being said, the following types of damage are almost always seen as normal wear and tear:
- Faded or chipped paint
- Scuffed floors
- Loose taps/faucets
- Worn carpet
- Dirt build-up around windows
- Cracked doorframes due to age
While the following is generally considered to be damage:
- Scratches/burns on kitchen counters
- Stains or burns on carpets/scratches on floors
- Broken/damaged appliances
- Missing/broken blinds
- Drastic paint jobs/wallpapering that weren’t previously discussed
- Large holes in walls
Remember that this isn’t an exhaustive list, and ultimately any sort of damage is up to the tenant and landlord to discuss when performing a move-out inspection. As always, the best way to make clear what is normal wear and tear and what is damage is to lay it out in clear, written documentation at the beginning of the tenancy.
What to do when there’s a dispute
As with most rental-related issues, there’s always the chance that landlord and tenant won’t see eye-to-eye when it comes to whether or not there’s damage to the rental unit. With such a subjective topic, especially one where money is at stake, it’s easy for confusion to arise as to what’s considered damage, and what’s caused by reasonable use. Thankfully, each Canadian province has its own process for resolving these types of disputes. Let’s look quickly at how processes work in Ontario and B.C.
Dispute resolution in Ontario
Recall that in Ontario, landlords cannot legally require a security or damage deposit to be paid at the time of move-in. Instead, in the event of any damages to the unit, the landlord should provide a list of the damages and any associated charges. If the tenant chooses not to pay, or disputes the charges, the landlord can apply to the LTB to determine whether or not damage exists, and if so, what should be done about them.
As we mentioned previously, the burden of proof is originally on the landlord to explain and demonstrate to the tenant that the damages are severe enough and weren’t there at move-in. Following this, the tenant has the chance to provide their own argument and evidence as to the damage either already being there, or being normal wear and tear.
Dispute resolution in BC
In B.C., the process is a little more straightforward. Since damage deposits are typically requested upon move-in, the landlord can simply inform the tenant that they intend to keep part, or all of the deposit to cover whatever damage occurred. As in Ontario, proving that the damage a.) was caused by the current tenant, and b.) warrants damage and not normal wear and tear, is originally the landlord’s responsibility. Once the landlord has made clear to the tenant what the damage is and what they must pay for it, the tenant has the opportunity to refute the charges and provide evidence that the damage was pre-existing.
In order to actually keep some or all of the damage deposit, B.C. landlords must obtain the tenant’s written consent, or an order from the Residential Tenancy Branch to keep the money, if an agreement can’t be reached independently. B.C. also has its own unique dispute resolution process, which can also result in an order being given to the tenant to pay the required amount.
To read more about the dispute resolution process in B.C. and Ontario, take a look at our article on the subject here.
Renters: tips for getting your security deposit back & preventing damage charges
Renters obviously want to do everything in their power to avoid either having their security deposit withheld in B.C. or other provinces where they’re permitted, or being charged for damages in Ontario, where security deposits aren’t permitted by law. Once the damage is there, it’s hard to avoid being charged, but there’s plenty you can do to avoid losing money for damage you didn’t cause.
Here are a few tips for protecting yourself against unfair charges and preparing for a conflict-free move-out:
- Document any existing damage – During your move-in inspection, ideally, make sure you’re making note of any pre-existing damage to the unit, and confirm the landlord is aware of it. It’s also a good idea to take photos or notes for your own record in order to further protect yourself in case the landlord tries to dispute the issue.
- Use a moving checklist – Whenever you move, it’s a good idea to use a moving checklist to ensure you’re ticking off all the many boxes that come with a move. We’ve prepared our own moving checklist with everything renters need to navigate their move with ease.
- Educate yourself on tenancy laws – While the definition of wear and tear vs. damage rarely varies between province or country, the process for resolving disputes can. In addition to studying up on what defines normal wear and tear, renters should familiarize themselves with their province’s dispute resolution process, and what happens in the event of damges.
Landlords: tips for maintaining your unit & avoiding disputes
For landlords, keeping their unit in tip-top shape and avoiding unnecessary costs is a huge priority, and essential to keeping their rental operation profitable. Damages that go beyond normal wear and tear can be a huge burden, and it’s important to make sure your bases are covered and you’ve made clear to the tenant precisely what the rules and responsibilities are. Recognizing different types of damage and knowing the proper avenues for claiming compensation are key parts of your job as a landlord, and it’s important to have this vital information.
Here are some tips for ensuring your unit is maintained properly, as well as avoiding disputes in the event of damages:
- Screen tenants thoroughly – The best way to ensure your unit stays in good shape throughout a tenancy is by having a robust, efficient process in place for screening tenants. The new & improved Trust Score from liv.rent is a great place to start, with free comprehensive credit reports, a unique trustworthiness metric and an updated layout that’s easy to understand, even at a glance.
- Create and follow a maintenance schedule – There are many parts of a rental unit that need to be regularly checked, and most of them are also areas where damage can occur. Having a plan in place to maintain your unit gives you the opportunity to stay on top of damage before it occurs, and ensures everything is functioning as it should.
- Perform regular inspections – There are numerous opportunities for landlords to check up on the condition of their rental unit, with permission and adequate notice to the tenant(s). Move-in and move-out checklists are hugely important for making sure you’ve properly documented any damage, but inspections throughout the tenancy are important for spotting warning signs and noticing other damage before it becomes a problem.
- Create and discuss a detailed list of charges – During the selection & move-in process, be upfront with the tenant and provide a complete list of potential damage, and the associated charge if it’s found in the unit. While not necessary, the tenant will appreciate having clear guidelines, and it will make your life easier in the event of a dispute over charges later on.
Frequently asked questions: normal wear and tear vs. damage
Are dead lightbulbs normal wear and tear?
While dead lightbulbs wouldn’t necessarily be considered damage, they are technically a renter’s responsibility to replace throughout their tenancy, unless a previous arrangement was made or specialized lightbulbs are required. With that being said though, ensuring everything is working in the suite prior to another tenant moving in would be the landlord’s responsibility.
Can a landlord charge for damages after you move out?
Yes, but specific guidelines for seeking compensation depend on the province. In B.C., security deposits must be returned within 15 days of the tenant moving out unless the tenant agrees to let them keep all or some, while in Ontario, landlords have one year to seek compensation for damages.
Are marks on the wall fair wear and tear?
This depends on the type of marks. While small indents from a door handle hitting or scuff marks from objects brushing against the wall over time are generally considered normal wear and tear. However, crayon or marker marks, large scuffs, or deep indents/scratches tend to warrant damage. At the end of the day, it’s up to the landlord to decide whether the damage is reasonable or not.
Is chipped paint fair wear and tear?
Again, this is dependent on the situation. While chipped or peeling paint is expected over time, if the damage is more serious or clearly caused by a tenant’s carelessness, there are grounds for it being termed damage.
What can a landlord deduct from a security deposit?
In terms of dollar amounts, a landlord can only deduct a reasonable amount required to fix the specified damage, and only with the tenant’s written consent (or an order from the Residential Tenancy Branch).
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