Major expenses related to general maintenance and repair belong to the homeowner, unless caused by the gross negligence of a tenant. Substantial damage caused by the tenant are the responsibility of the tenant. It's for this reason that a landlord in New Jersey is allowed to collect a security deposit from a tenant. There are a number of laws in place to protect the tenant, but the security deposit is intended to protect the landlord. The security deposit is not meant to provide landlord recovery for damage that is considered normal wear and tear.
eHow has some nice coverage on your rights by law.
Defining Normal Wear and Tear
As you walk through your living room you are diminishing the life of your carpet with each footstep. As a dwelling gets lived in, its inhabitants are expected to cause some degree of natural erosion. A carpet has a finite life span. Walls cannot be expected to maintain the fresh coat shininess. Faucets may occasionally leak. Drains and septic systems will eventually need to be cleaned out. Harsh winters may cause natural erosion or damage to different parts of the house. Tile grout will eventually diminish and cause loose tiles. It's part of maintaining a home and is considered normal wear and tear in New Jersey.
Abnormal Wear and Tear
Permanent stains and cigarette or iron burns to a carpet will prematurely end the life of a carpet. If a tenant causes terminal damage to a carpet that will require the landlord to replace the carpet prematurely in order to secure a new tenant, that damage is not considered normal wear and tear. Excessive holes from nails or thumb tacks is not considered reasonable wear and tear either. Holes kicked or punched into walls are not normal. Wild and destructive living will generally cause damage that is not considered reasonable or normal. Pipes that burst or backed up due to carelessnes or negligence are not reasonable, causing the repair expense to be the burden of the tenant
In New Jersey a landlord is allowed to collect a security deposit from a tenant for 1 to 1 1/2 month's rent. This money must be placed by the landlord into an interest bearing account. The account details are to be given to the tenant. The landlord has 30 days after the tenant vacates the premises to refund the entire security deposit, plus interest earned. If the full amount of the deposit is not returned, details of the damages for which deductions were made must be provided to the tenant in writing with any money that was not used for repairs.
Documentation of Damages
To protect yourself as a tenant document the condition of the apartment before you begin moving your personal effects into the dwelling. Take pictures and make notes. It would be a good idea to scan the images electronically and email them with your notes to yourself. Doing this provides you with a time stamp that will work in your favor if there is a dispute when you move out. When you move out you are advised to be present with the landlord or superintendent for a final inspection. Take pictures and make notes. Have the landlord or superintendent sign a note stating the condition of the premises and any damages. Scan and email this information to yourself to obtain a timestamp.