“Normal wear and tear” and “damage” are difficult to define; but you can protect both yourself and your tenants from misunderstandings or confusion.
Communication is key
If both you and your tenants are clear about the condition of the unit at move-in, the importance of promptly reporting needed repairs, and expectations at move-out, the tenancy and the end of the tenancy will be smoother.
Insist on a walk-through with new tenants.
At the walk-through new tenants will have an opportunity to note in writing existing damage and wear and tear in the rental. Encourage tenants to examine the rental from floor to ceiling, open and close doors, test all appliances and locks, looks for leaks in the kitchen and bathrooms, and look for signs of pest infestations. In addition, consider taking dated photographs of the unit for your tenant file. Both landlords and tenants are protected by the walk-through: tenants can’t be blamed for damage that was noted in the file at the beginning of the tenancy and landlords have a baseline to refer to upon move-out.
Require in the lease that tenants promptly notify you of needed repairs.
Make it clear to tenants that if they don’t notify you of a leaky pipe or broken dehumidifier, they could be responsible for any damages. Make it easy for tenants to notify you by making your contact information available.
Provide tenants with a “Wear and Tear versus Damages” checklist.
Give new tenants similar charts and have them initial them at the time they sign the lease agreement. In addition, give new tenants a cleaning checklist, so they know what will be expected of them at move-out.
Before move-out refer tenants to the “Wear and Tear versus Damages” checklist.
Being reminded of the difference between “normal wear and tear” and “damage” can be helpful to tenants when they are cleaning their rentals in preparation for moving out.