What is Normal Wear & Tear on a Rental Property and When Can a Security Deposit be Withheld?

Renting has been an increasingly preferred housing option in recent years. Part of this is due to the Great Recession of the late 2000s, when so many homeowners were stung by the collapse in the housing market. As a result, many homes ended up in foreclosure, forcing large numbers of consumers to rent. 

The trend toward renting is also partially a generational preference. Recent data from the Pew Research Center shows that nearly 75% of millennials were renting as of 2016. This percentage is significantly higher than previous generations who were surveyed at the same point in their lives.

Renting certainly has some advantages, and much of its appeal centers around the freedom renters have to move when they want, and not having to deal with the headaches of maintaining a property. But someone else does have to worry about making repairs and keeping the property maintained; the landlord. And this is where landlords and tenants often have a disagreement.

When a tenant moves out, the landlord has to clean the property and make any necessary repairs in order to get the unit ready for the next tenant. And this often brings up the question, “what is considered normal wear and tear, and when can I withhold a security deposit to pay for damage a tenant caused?”

What is Normal Wear and Tear?

The owner of a rental property has to expect that there will be “ordinary wear and tear” to the property over time. This is simply the cost of doing business, and it must be accounted for. In other words, a landlord should expect that the carpet will be worn down and the walls will have nicks and scratches over time. This will eventually necessitate replacing the carpeting and repainting the walls.

According to the Maryland Attorney General’s website, “there are no hard and fast rules (regarding “damage” vs normal wear and tear) that fit every situation.” Much of it, they say, is based on common sense. For example, if a tenant left a small hole in the wall from a picture that was hung, that would be ordinary wear and tear. On the other hand, if someone got angry and punched a large hole in the wall that requires a plaster or drywall repair, that would be considered excessive tenant damage.

Essentially, normal wear and tear can be defined as the deterioration of a property that happens over time and under normal conditions. “Normal” being defined as people living in the unit (if the landlord is renting it out and making money from it).

Some common examples of ordinary wear and tear may include:

  • Minor chips, dents, scratches, smudges, cracks, and holes in the walls;
  • Carpeting that is worn thin by normal use, particularly in higher traffic areas of the rental;
  • Faded paint;
  • Slightly torn or faded wallpaper;
  • Moderately dirty or faded lamps, window shades, curtains, or blinds;
  • Dirty grout surrounding the floor tiles;
  • Scratches in hardwood floors or fading in hardwood floors due to sunlight;
  • Appliances that are malfunctioning due to normal use or defective equipment;
  • Sinks and drains that become clogged because of aging pipes.

When can a Security Deposit be Withheld in Maryland?

Landlords in Maryland are allowed to collect a security deposit equivalent to up to two months rent. When tenants move in, they have the right to request a written list of existing damages (to the rental) if they do so within 15 days of taking occupancy. The security deposit must be put into an escrow account, and if it is $50.00 or more, the landlord must pay interest on the deposit.

The landlord is required to return the deposit plus interest accrued within 45 days of the tenant moving out. Failure to do so without good reason can make the landlord liable for up to three times the amount withheld plus reasonable attorney fees.

In general, there are three instances in which a landlord can withhold part or all of a security deposit in Maryland:

  • Unpaid rent;
  • Losses the landlord incurs when a lease is broken (e.g., re-renting the property);
  • Excessive tenant damage (that goes beyond normal wear and tear).

When a landlord withholds a security deposit, they must send a written list of damages along with a statement of the costs incurred to repair the damage to the tenant by first-class mail within 45 days of the tenant moving out. If the landlord does not send an itemized list within the allotted time frame, they forfeit the right to withhold the security deposit.

Involved in a Landlord-Tenant Dispute in Maryland? Contact an Experienced Real Estate Attorney

Disagreements over normal wear and tear vs. excessive tenant damage, withholding security deposits, and other types of landlord-tenant disputes can get messy. And if you do not follow the proper procedures in dealing with these disputes, you can end up in legal hot water. If you have any type of issue related to real estate law in Maryland, the Law Offices of Matthew S Evans, LLC is here to help! Contact our office today at 410-431-2599 or message us through our online contact form to schedule a personalized consultation.