Fair wear and tear: Everything you need to know as a landlord

One thing you’ll always hope to avoid as a landlord is a dispute with your tenants.

Unfortunately, though, this does sometimes come with the territory.

And often it can be down to deposits at the end of a tenancy.

2017 survey by ARLA Propertymark confirmed what will come as little surprise to many of you – that a large percentage of disputes are down to damage to property or fixtures and fittings and deposits being withheld.

That’s where fair wear and tear comes in.

But what is considered ‘fair’ when it comes to wear and tear?

How do you measure it?

And how to do you find a resolution to a dispute surrounding it?

What is fair wear and tear?

Believe it or not, the best place for a definition of ‘fair wear and tear’ is not the Oxford concise, but the House of Lords…

The House says: “Reasonable use of the premises by the tenant and the ordinary operation of natural forces.”

I appreciate that is a very House of Lords way of looking at it.

So, perhaps a better way to consider fair wear and tear would be looking at standard living habits against time.

Here’s an example…

Your tenant walks on the landing carpet every day for their two-year tenancy.

The condition of that carpet at the end of their tenancy is likely to be worse than when it started, but that would be considered fair wear and tear.

If your tenant is practising their putting on the landing while wearing golf spikes then the condition of the carpet at the end of their tenancy would almost certainly not be considered fair wear and tear.

So, essentially, fair wear and tear is as much about common sense as it is actual evidence.

It’s also about time.

As a landlord you should consider the length of a tenancy, and even the number of people in your property, when looking at fair wear and tear.

In the case of your landing carpet, a two-year tenancy with five people in the property will almost certainly mean increased wear and tear than a six-month tenancy with three people.

Fair wear and tear and outright damage

What would you class a broken dining room chair as?

Fair wear and tear or damage for which you could withhold part of your tenant’s deposit to pay for?

Firstly, you should consider the condition of the chair at the start of the tenancy.

Then you should consider the amount of use over the period of the tenancy.

That should help you make a decision on whether the item has worn out through standard use or whether it has been damaged outright.

Then consider a burn mark on a bedroom carpet from hair straighteners.

This would unquestionably be classed as damage through negligence and you would be within your rights to use your tenant’s deposit to pay for a replacement carpet.

Your responsibilities as a landlord

It’s important to remember, when considering fair wear and tear, your responsibilities as a landlord.

The fixed areas of the property and things like plumbing, heating, basins, baths, pipework and structure all fall under you to maintain.

And doing so can often help these areas of the property last longer – saving you money in the long-run.

Preventing wear and tear

By far the best way to slow down the effects of wear and tear is to ensure your tenants are happy.

Regular changes of tenant are never good for wear and tear and, generally, long-term tenants will have a stronger attachment to your rental property and take good care of it.

Keeping up routine maintenance is also important, as I outlined above.

As well as that, let your tenants know, at the start of their tenancy, what you expect from them.

While tenant obligations should be set out in the tenancy agreement, often an informal chat can really drive home the point.

Finally, make regular inspections of the property, giving adequate notice of course, and flag up anything you’re concerned about with your tenants.

The role of inventories in disputes

When it comes to landlord and tenant disputes over damage, evidence is everything.

So, having an accurate inventory produced at the start of a tenancy is key.

Disputes can often drag on if it’s your word against your tenant’s, so make sure your property inventory is accurate and signed off by the tenant when they move in.

Be clear on reasons for deductions

If your tenant does cause unreasonable damage to your property or its fixtures and fittings, you should only look to deduct from their deposit to cover repairs or replacement of items.

Tenants can ask to see receipts or quotes for repair work or replacement items, so always be honest and up front with them.

If you are unable to reach a resolution with your tenant, you should use an independent mediator from your chosen tenancy deposit scheme, who will attempt to find a solution that suits both you and your tenant.

Property management

Often the best way to avoid conflict over wear and tear and damage is to use a good lettings agent to manage your property, liaise with your tenants and look after routine maintenance requirements.

To find out more about Martin & Co Chelmsford’s full management service, contact one of the team today.

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