Your aim should be to leave the apartment in the same condition as it was, before you had moved in.Let me begin by making you aware of the definition of 'normal wear and tear'. It simply means the damages that would occur, no matter if someone was living in the apartment or not. It is the wear and tear that happens to non-living objects as a result of passage of time. But, it sometimes happens that the owner may try to pass on the charges of wear and tear to you, under the garb of damages incurred. The landlord may go to the extent of withholding a part of the rental deposit as compensation, and you may suffer if you don't have any way of proving that the damage was not your doing.
The only way you could avoid this from happening to you, is by taking pictures of the probable wear and tear areas. When you move in, start clicking pictures of such areas, before you start using the apartment. Sign and date the pictures, and if possible, show the pictures to the owner, and make him aware of the present situation. In the meanwhile, Buzzle thought of putting together a list of what's considered 'normal wear and tear' areas, that you could use as a reference. Keep these areas in mind, remain vigilant, and observe minutely.
Wall Paint and Walls
Generally, the paint on walls lasts for around 2 - 3 years. If the paint has started to fade or has already faded, then the tenant should not be held responsible for the charges of repainting. For walls, the only damage that cannot be counted as normal wear and tear are crater-like holes left behind by heavy-duty anchor-like nails. Smaller nails do not justify deduction from your security deposit either.
Unless the owner proves that the tenants were the cause of direct damage to the carpet(s), he cannot claim damages from them. There are many reasons for a carpet to get worn out. The carpet may have run its course, and now it's time for a replacement. The next could be that the carpet was already damaged when you had moved in. Click pictures of marks on the carpet, such as animal stains, tears, or burn marks. Obviously, if you have caused a spill or burn, then it's your responsibility to repair/replace the carpet.
Doors and Windows
If there is any difficulty in closing or opening the door, if the peep-through hole is damaged, or if the hinges are off track, then the tenant is not liable to pay for it, as it falls under normal wear and tear. If the window panes or glass panes are broken by the tenant, then he will be charged for the same.
Door Locks and Hinges
Before moving in, the tenant should check each and every door for broken and loose locks or hinges. Ideally, the owner will not charge for wear and tear on the locks and hinges, because these fall under normal wear and tear. But you should click pictures of worn out hinges, as proof, in case he tries to pass on the charges to you.
Blinds and Curtains
If the blinds or curtains weren't dusty and in good condition when you had moved in, then they should be in the same condition when you move out. If they are dusty or not in a good condition, or missing altogether, then it is not counted as normal wear and tear, and eventually, you may be charged for it. If the curtains that the owner provided are faded, then you can change them on your own. But, do not forget to replace the originals before leaving. Remember, you will be charged for missing items.
You will be charged for extermination, if infestation is caused by your pet. If you think that bugs are already present, then any extermination charges will not have to be borne by you, and the owner has to get it done. If the owner proves that the tenant brought the bugs in, then the charges will have to be borne by you. Check all probable areas of the house properly for bug infestation, and discuss any issue with the owner beforehand.
You have to proactively ask the owner about the warranty periods of all the appliances around, and they should be checked properly before moving in. The refrigerator should be checked for broken shelves or lights, or dirt/dust in the vents. The dishwasher and the cook-top should have their knobs in place. If any bulbs or lights stop working, then it is counted in normal wear and tear. If the knobs were in good condition when you rented the apartment, and broke when you started using it, check if they fall under any sort of warranty. If they do, then you may not have to pay to get them replaced yourself. Otherwise, the charges will be your lookout.
Drains and Pipes
Unless you are responsible for directly breaking or damaging plumbing pipes, they would fall under normal wear and tear. Older apartments that have old pipelines may have some roots growing in or through them, which may clog the system. The owner cannot charge you for getting these cleaned or repaired. But if the drains get clogged due to incorrect disposal of waste items, then he has the right to charge you for getting the issue sorted out.
What Does Not Count as Normal Wear and Tear
➘ Piling up of debris, rubbish, trash or refuse. If you do not clean the apartment and return it to the owner in a dirty condition, then it is highly probable that you will be charged for it.
➘ Huge holes in the walls are also considered unreasonable, such as those made for installing coolers or heater vents.
➘ Badly cracked tiles, damaged kitchen worktops, heavily scratched floor, spill or burn marks, animal stains, and heavy odors that require the carpet to be changed, do not pass off as 'normal wear and tear'.
➘ Painting the walls in unusual, custom or designer colors, that require an additional coat of paint to cover up later.
➘ Any alterations brought about in the design of the apartment, without getting the owner's authorization in writing.
Lastly, I can say that, cleaning all the dust, mildew, and muck before moving out, would increase your chances of getting the security deposit back without any deductions. You could also go through your lease thoroughly, before you sign and move into your apartment, as well as when you are ready to leave, because it may have exhaustive answers to these issues.