The Upad Landlord: Damage, or Fair Wear and Tear?
When a tenant vacates a property, they should leave it as they found it, but landlords must make an allowance for “wear and tear”. However, deciding what is “fair wear and tear” and what is “excessive” or outright damage can be tricky.
To make it easier, it helps to have an inventory combined with check-in and check-out reports prepared by an independent third party. The inventory clerk will describe the condition of the property and all of its contents when the tenant moves in and again when they move out, and make a note of any damage.
A good inventory clerk will also state whether they consider any deterioration is wear and tear or damage and whether any repairs should be paid for by the tenant or the landlord.
An inventory doesn’t cost a lot when you consider the amount of time it takes to prepare, but if you don’t want to buy one, at least take some photos of the property and the contents – including any pre-existing damage – and get the tenant to sign these to state they are a true reflection of the condition of the property. When they leave, make sure you take photos of any damage to keep as evidence.
However, when considering whether wear and tear is fair or excessive, a landlord must take into consideration the length of the tenancy and the number of tenants. A group of sharers who have occupied a property for several years will cause more natural wear than a single person after just six months, and this must be taken into account.
When deciding how much to deduct from a tenant’s deposit for excessive wear and tear or damage, remember that you can’t expect them to pay the full replacement cost of an item, only a proportion based on the price, the age and how long it was likely to last anyway.
For example, if the tenants burned a large hole in a year-old sofa that cost £500, which you would have not needed to replace for a further four years, it would be reasonable to charge them £450 towards the cost of a new one. However, if the sofa was four years old, you should only charge them £50. Keep receipts of everything you buy.
That said, where it is possible and cheaper to repair rather than replace an item, you can only expect the tenant to pay the cost of the repair.
Just to be clear, dirt – including limescale, grease and burnt on fat in ovens – is not considered wear and tear and tenants should always leave a property as clean as when they moved in. As tenants and landlords might have different ideas about how clean a property is- in fact, this is one of the major causes of deposit disputes - it’s a good idea to have it professionally cleaned at the start of the tenancy and insist it is professionally cleaned at the end. Again, always keep receipts as proof.