The deposit for a rental property can be a sizeable sum of money, and the majority of tenants rely on getting their deposit back, quickly and in full, at the end of their tenancy. After cleaning, wear and tear can be one of the most divisive areas when it comes to checking out of a rental property as landlords and tenants can interpret fair wear and tear very differently. We take a look at wear and tear, how it is decided, and how tenants can protect themselves from unnecessary deposit deductions.
What is fair wear and tear?
Fair wear and tear is a term used in tenancy agreements to define the expected deterioration of a properties décor, fixtures and fittings due to normal use during the course of a tenancy. Landlords and letting agents must be able to distinguish clearly between acceptable wear and tear and tenant damage to avoid unnecessary deposit disputes.
Landlords should account for wear and tear as they cannot reasonably expect to get their property back in exactly the same condition at the end of a tenancy as when it was first let. Tenants are, however, responsible for covering the cost incurred for any damage to the property. For example, a carpet will naturally flatten over time and may have some light marks due to tenants continually walking on it - this is acceptable wear and tear - but a burn mark on the carpet would count as tenant damage.
Due to the nature of wear and tear, there is unfortunately no precise guideline on what exactly constitutes fair wear and tear. It comes down to judgement, on a case by case basis, of what can be deemed as reasonably acceptable. In most situations landlords and tenants, guided by their letting agent as an impartial third party, can agree on what is wear and tear and what is damage and make deposit deductions accordingly. In cases where an agreement cannot be reached, the deposit scheme can step in and assist in reaching a conclusion that all parties are happy with.
Considerations when deciding what counts as fair wear and tear
Below are some of the considerations when deciding what constitutes fair wear and tear.
Length of tenancy
How long the tenants have lived in a property is an important consideration when deciding if damage is fair wear and tear or not; a property lived in for 2 years will experience a significant amount more natural wear than one that has been tenanted for 6 months.
Age of items
It is important to know how long an item has been in the property, or when any refurbishment work was done. It is best practice for landlords to hold onto receipts and invoices so that these can be used as evidence in the event of a dispute. The condition at the start of the tenancy is also important, for example, was the property freshly painted for this tenancy or have there been several tenancies since it was done?
Lifespan of decor, fixtures and fittings
Every item in a property has a lifespan, this is the length of time that it can reasonably be expected to last with normal use. The quality of the decor, fixture and fittings also plays a part in the lifespan. For example, quality curtains fitted at the beginning of a tenancy should, even after the wear and tear of a 2 year tenancy, have a minimum of 3 further years of use. If the tenants have damaged the curtains, resulting in them having to be replaced, the tenants should contribute to the cost.
The number and type of tenants living in a property should also be considered when it comes to wear and tear. If a landlord owns a 4 bedroom HMO property with student tenants, then there will be more wear and tear in communal areas than there would be in a 1 or 2 bedroom flat.
Tips for tenants
Return you inventory
All good landlords and letting agents will provide a photographic inventory at the beginning of a tenancy. The inventory records the condition of all aspects of the property, including decor, fixtures and fittings. Reading the inventory to ensure that you are happy with the contents is on the of the best ways to protect yourself from unnecessary deposit deductions. The inventory should be signed and returned within 2 weeks of the tenancy beginning.
If tenants are not happy with the contents of the inventory, they should contact their landlord (or their letting agent) immediately. Sending a list of amendments, with photographic evidence, and keeping a copy in case of a deposit dispute, is advisable.
Don't wait to report an issue
There is bound to be some maintenance issues during the course of a tenancy, the majority of which can be dealt with quickly, preventing any further damage. Although landlords and letting agents will carry out regular property inspections, it is still the responsibility of the tenant to report any issues that arise in the meantime. Failure to report an issue that could have been rectified may result in a tenant being charged for damage.