Fair wear and tear is the gradual and natural deterioration of a property caused by the normal use of an occupying tenant.
Throughout the lifetime and use of your buy to let some wear and tear is unavoidable. Damage naturally occurs when tenants live in a property, scuffs on the paintwork, wearing of the carpet, and appliances breaking. The majority of this damage isn’t a result of neglect or abuse by the tenants. This means the tenants themselves can’t be held responsible.
However, if the damage goes beyond fair wear and tear, the tenants can be held responsible. And under the tenancy agreement would be liable to pay for the necessary repairs to restore the property to its original condition.
As such, it is important for landlords to understand exactly what counts as fair wear and tear, what constitutes damage from tenants, as well as when landlords have the right to take action and claim the cost of the repairs or replacements.
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Fair wear and tear is the gradual deterioration of the property over time. Examples of fair wear and tear include worn carpets, minor scuffs and scrapes on the walls, floors or skirting boards, faded curtains due to sunlight, and other minor unavoidable damages.
Generally, fair wear and tear occurs naturally over time and most likely isn’t the result of a single tenant in habitation. As a landlord, you cannot legally charge the costs to repair normal wear and tear to a tenant.
Damage to the rental property that's caused by the tenant is treated differently to fair wear and tear. This is when the damage isn’t naturally occurring, instead, it’s harm to property that is caused by accident, on purpose, or through neglect that affects the normal functioning or usefulness of the property. Unlike wear and tear this kind of damage is the tenant’s responsibility to pay for or fix.
Examples of this include significant stains on the carpet. (This can be a difficult one to judge as carpets need replacing routinely anyway. However, if a tenant were to spill red wine all over a brand new carpet resulting in it needing to be replaced sooner than normal this would be deemed as damage, not wear and tear.)
Other examples might include a smashed window or mirror, broken door handles, damaged cupboards, and holes or dents in walls. Generally, a landlord will charge the repairs to the tenant either during the tenancy or deduct these expenses from the deposit after the move-out inspection has been completed. It’s always a good idea for the landlord to maintain control of any maintenance and repairs using trusted contractors to ensure the work is done properly.
Tenants can also get tenant liability insurance, which covers accidentally caused damage to furniture, fixtures, and fittings in the home, so they don’t end up with a large bill or big subtractions from their deposit.
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Assessing wear and tear vs damage can be a subjective issue. As such, it is important to stick to the facts. In order to charge the cost of repairs to a tenant, you will need to prove that it was this tenant that caused the damage and that it is not classifiable as fair wear and tear. Often, if the landlord does not have the required evidence, a dispute over damage may not be honoured by the courts and the landlord will find themselves having to pay in full for the repairs themselves.
The best way for landlords and agents to ensure that a property’s condition is fully recorded is to have a comprehensive inventory in place at the start of any new tenancy. This thorough inventory should be paired with a check-in and check-out inspection and report. It is this report which can be used as evidence should a dispute arrive arise.
Without written and photographic evidence it can be very difficult to claim remuneration.
Related: What Fees Are and Aren’t Allowed According to the Tenant Fees Act 2019
Conduct a walkthrough inspection with your tenant before they move in taking pictures and documenting the condition of the property room by room. The inventory should record the current condition of floors, walls, windows, curtains, and any appliances, fixtures, or fittings.
Any existing damage should be carefully documented and photographed. Both you and your tenant should then sign this inventory to confirm that you both agree with the condition report. When your tenant moves out, you should do another walkthrough inspection with your tenants and document any changes to the condition of the property, noting any specific discrepancies and taking pictures as evidence.
If you spot anything that you believe should be classed as tenant damage, rather than wear and tear explain why you will be taking deductions from the tenant’s deposit and the tenant can then either agree or dispute the findings. Giving a clear and concise breakdown of information to your tenants is a good way to help avoid any disputes.
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Certain amounts of wear and tear are unavoidable in a rental property. This fair wear and tear must be paid for by the landlord. Damage caused by tenants, on the other hand, should be paid for by the tenants. Normally, damage repair costs will be claimed from the deposit.
Excluding fair wear and tear, landlords are entitled to reclaim the possession of their property at the end of the term of the tenancy agreement in the same condition as when they gave possession to the tenant.
A detailed and accurate inventory should be made and a check-in and check-out report undertaken and signed off by both parties. Landlords should record the current condition and any changes in the condition of the property dating and providing photographic evidence.