What is Fair Wear and Tear in Your Rental Property?
Most of us understand the term wear and tear as damage to a physical object that isn’t intentional, and on many occasions, is accidental. An example would be when an item such as a sofa or mattress gets worn over time.
It is also the condition you would expect to find that item in with reasonable use over a certain period. Or, as the House of Lords puts it – “the ordinary operation of natural forces.”
Curtains fading over time, a wooden cutting board full of knife marks and a hall carpet which has been flattened through heavy foot traffic are all examples of fair wear and tear.
When an item is damaged
If that same sofa or mattress has a red wine stain or a burn from hair straighteners, for example, then damage has been caused. This is regardless of whether the damage was intentional or simply due to negligence.
It is important to distinguish between ‘fair wear and tear’ and damage to a piece of furniture, appliance or other object in the property you have rented out. This is because, in the case of damage you can claim the cost for its replacement from the tenant.
If, on the other hand, it is fair wear and tear you’re looking at then you - as the landlord - must replace the item (if it’s not of a reasonable standard).
Factors that determine reasonable wear and tear
Some tenancies are longer than others, the number of occupants can also vary. The longer the rental period, the more worn that sofa or mattress will be when the tenants check out.
Similarly, you would expect more wear and tear in a student flat of four tenants compared to a single occupant in a one bedroom flat. A tenancy with children will no doubt means scrapes and scuff marks on wooden floors and skirting boards.
Other factors include the quality of the item at point of move in. It’s worth considering if the goods were built to last or expected to be replaced after a few years.
These interpretations can be extremely subjective however, and it is why fair wear and tear can prove a little controversial at times. In such instances the landlord-tenant relationship can become fraught and this is when disputes arise.
When there is a dispute
This is where the tenancy deposit scheme you have chosen to sign up to comes into play. Adjudicators will look at the state of the item before the tenant moved in and what it looks like on their departure.
This is why it is important to have a good inventory of items, with photographs, prior to a new tenant moving in to your buy to let property.
Receipts and invoices can also be helpful in determining the age of the item. In fact, the more evidence you can produce in the event of a dispute, the better.
If the adjudicators rule in your favour then you will be able to deduct the money to replace the item from the tenant’s deposit. This means you won’t be out of pocket for the negligence of your tenant.
Deposits are taken against a tenancy for this reason, and while they should not be abused, do provide a safeguard against unnecessary damage to your property.