Wear and Tear and Security Deposits Under California Law

Many landlords and tenants struggle with how to define “ordinary or normal wear and tear” with respect to security deposits. Most disputes over security deposits come down to what constitutes normal wear and tear. When a tenant moves out of a unit, the landlord may deduct from a tenant’s security deposit to repair damage to the premises that is caused by the tenant, but only for damage beyond ordinary wear and tear. Cal. Civil Code § 1950.5(b)(2). Residential rental leases often contain clauses requiring a tenant to maintain a unit in a “good and clean condition” and to return the unit in “the same condition as received, excepting normal wear and tear.”

What does “ordinary or normal wear and tear” mean?

Generally, “ordinary or normal wear and tear” is the unavoidable deterioration of a unit resulting from normal use by the tenant. A repair issue warranting a deduction is typically damage that was avoidable and negligent, and not due to simply living in or using the property. For example, a carpet worn thin due to normal traffic is ordinary wear and tear, while a cigarette burn in the carpet is preventable negligence.

Additionally, a tenant may be charged for cleaning where the tenant has caused filth beyond ordinary use. For instance, an inordinate amount of pet hair or a urine smell left in the carpet would be beyond normal wear and tear as these are avoidable conditions and beyond normal use.

A good rule of thumb is if a condition was caused by the tenant’s own neglect, misuse, or abuse, and not from just using or living in the premises, it will likely be considered a damage that the tenant will be financially responsible for.

Common Examples

Ordinary Wear and Tear Tenant Liable
A few small nail holes, chips, scuffs or smudges An inordinate amount of nail holes, or a gaping hole in the wall
Faded paint Unauthorized paint colors, water damage caused by hanging plants, furniture scrapes, crayon marks
Carpet faded or worn thin Holes, rips, tears, burns, or stains on carpet
Minor scuffs on wood floors Gouges or excessive scratches due to pet claws or from moving furniture
Scratched or worn enamel on bathtubs or sinks Chipped or broken enamel
Garbage disposal motor dead Broken garbage disposal due to avocado pits placed down the drain
Loose door handles or cabinet pulls Missing door handles or cabinet pulls
A few small nail holes, chips, scuffs or smudges An inordinate amount of nail holes, or a gaping hole in the wall
Stuck door or window Broken door or window
Worn countertops Cuts in or burns on countertops
Running toilet Broken toilet tank
Dirty mini-blinds Missing or broken mini-blinds
Leaky faucet Structural damage due to unreported water leak

How can a tenant protect their security deposit from repair deductions for damage?

Prior to or at move in, tenants should do a walkthrough of the unit and document any areas of damage and deterioration. The tenant should take photographs if possible. A copy of the results of this initial walkthrough should be given to the landlord. This will give both landlord and tenant a record of the exact condition the unit was in at the time tenant moved in.

During the tenancy, tenants should promptly notify the landlord of any items in need of repair, especially those that can result in extensive damage later that the landlord may try to hold the tenant responsible for. A tenant who allows a leak to go unreported for months may be held responsible because damage caused by neglect is not normal wear and tear.

A tenant is entitled to request a walkthrough inspection just prior to vacating. Cal. Civil Code § 1950.5. This can take place two weeks before the termination of the tenancy. Id. Based on this walkthrough inspection, the landlord is required to give an itemized list specifying proposed repairs or cleanings. This walkthrough is meant to provide tenant with the opportunity to address any issues before vacating.

Please contact the experienced tenant rights attorneys at Tobener Ravenscroft LLC should you have any questions about normal or ordinary wear and tear.

Have questions? Contact us and speak to a tenant lawyer.



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