Many renters count on their returned security deposit to use as a security deposit on their future home, so when a landlord withholds said money, it can be financially devastating. If this happens to you, you may wonder if your landlord is in the right, or if you have a civil suit on your hands. 

In Ohio, a landlord can withhold rent for select few reasons, one of which is “normal wear and tear.” Unfortunately, this phrase is vague and leaves a lot of room for interpretation. The Balance Small Business does its best to define normal wear and tear by comparing it to outright damage. 

Expected deterioration of the property  

A couple of stains on the carpet. Dirty grout. Scratched up wood floors. Loose door handles. These are all items that The Balance SMB uses as examples of normal wear and tear. 

According to the publication, normal wear refers to the anticipated degeneration of a home or apartment unit due to age, normal everyday use or both. It is depreciation that is the result of you living in the property, and not your abuse or neglect. 

Purposeful or neglectful damage 

Damage refers to issues that are not naturally occurring, or problems that would not have arisen had you used the property as intended. Damage affects the usefulness, value and normal function of the rental property. Though most people assume damage is the result of intentional misconduct, it can also occur through neglect. Examples of damage include a hole in the middle of a door, a broken window, a carpet soaked with pet urine and missing door handles or locks. 

Why this distinction is important  

It is important, for your sake, to be able to discern between normal wear and tear and damage, as it could mean the difference between getting your security deposit back and not. If your landlord lists “damage” on the notice informing you of the withholding, ask for details and pictures. Otherwise, your landlord can say you damaged the bathroom when, in reality, the bathtub simply needed a good scrubbing. 

Inspections are key  

Walk-through inspections, both before you move in and after you move out, can significantly help to avoid security deposit disputes. When you first move in, make note of any possible issue of future contention, from wiggly doorknobs to broken mirrors. Take picture. Both you and your landlord should save a copy of the signed list to use as a reference during the move-out inspection. 

When you move out, go through the property again and make note of any changes. Again, take pictures. If your landlord has an issue, you can use your documents to either agree with him or her or dispute the claims.