At the end of a tenancy, a landlord is entitled to receive their property in the same condition as when the tenancy started, except that fair wear and tear is to be expected. According to the Supreme Court, a tenant cannot be held liable for changes in a property which are caused by ‘the reasonable use of the premises by the tenant and ordinary operation of natural forces’. But in practical terms what does this mean?
It is frequently difficult to delineate between what is “unreasonable damage” and what represents “reasonable wear and tear”. In our experience, this issue is the biggest cause for dispute at the end of a tenancy and the source of much frustration for both landlord and tenant. Recent figures from the Tenancy Deposit Scheme identifies that over 50% of all disputes between landlords and tenants are the result of the proposed deductions from the deposit that the Landlord seeks to make for damage to the property.
Normal wear and tear refers to the gradual damage that you would expect to see in a property over time through its normal use. Unfortunately, what constitutes a reasonable amount of wear and tear is not easy to define or determine. There is no legal definition of “fair wear and tear”, it is subjective and is determined on a “case by case basis” taking into account the relevant factors. In assessing the amount of wear and tear that might be reasonable, the following should be taken into consideration;
The age, quality and condition of the property and fixtures at the start of the tenancy
Each property has a different quality of build and contains fixtures at various stages of their useful lifespan and of differing quality. A low grade carpet can be expected to wear out much quicker than a higher grade alternative. A ten year old cooker is more likely to stop working during the period of a tenancy than a brand new cooker. For each fixture and fitting in the property, consideration should be given to its quality, expected lifespan and its current age and condition.
It should also be remembered that the law does not allow for “betterment”. If an item was old or damaged at the start of a tenancy and becomes further damaged during the period of rental, the law will not allow the landlord to charge the tenant the cost of replacement with a new item. This concept of betterment also applies to the condition of the property. If the property was given to the tenant in a dirty and run down condition, the landlord cannot expect the tenant to pay for it to be professionally cleaned at the end of the tenancy. Landlords should keep in mind that the deposit cannot be used like an insurance policy to get "full replacement value" or "new for old".
The length of the tenancy
It goes without saying that the longer that a tenant resides at a property, the more wear and tear that should be expected. If a tenant is at a property for six months, the landlord should expect to receive the property back largely in the same condition that it was provided to the tenant. However, if the tenant has occupied the property for six years, then a greater degree of wear and tear is to be expected.
Clear evidence of damage
Wear and tear allows for the normal degradation in a property in the period it was occupied. However, it does not allow for any damage occurring to the property due to the actions of the tenant or the negligence of the tenant. Light carpet stains are to be expected and accepted; however, a significant red wine stain is not. See further examples below of what might constitute wear and tear and what might be determined to be damage.
The degree of wear and tear to be expected should take into account the usage of the property. If the property is let with pets or children, then more wear and tear would be expected than if let to an elderly single person.
Given the uncertainty that surrounds this matter, it is critical that the landlord completes an accurate record (including photographs) of the property condition at the start of the tenancy and also ensures that the property is inspected at regular intervals during the rental period.
Examples of reasonable wear and tear
Examples of reasonable wear and tear might include:
- Fading or worn carpets and curtains
- Small scuffs and marks on walls
- Cracks in walls caused by settlement or thermal expansion
- Loose taps, toilet seats, cupboard doors etc
- Loose hinges and handles on doors
- Faded or cracked paintwork
- Small tears or cracks on furniture
- Small scrapes on wooden floors
- Off coloured grouting of tiles
Examples of Damage
Examples of things more likely to be classified as damage include;
- Large stains on carpets
- Torn curtains
- Broken locks or doors
- Large scratches on wooden floors
- Damaged kitchen work surfaces
- Holes in walls
- Poorly painted surfaces
- Broken windows
- Broken tiles
Tenants need to be allowed to use a property as their home without worrying about every scratch or small stain. But at the same time, landlords have a right to expect that the tenant takes all reasonable and appropriate measures to preserve and protect the property and fixtures. At the end of the day, common sense should prevail.