Fair wear and tear: A guide for landlords

Beyond work, home is where we spend most of our time. At home we travel up and down stairs and hallways, around kitchens and to and from bathrooms with regularity. All that usage will inevitably have an impact on the condition of the property. From scuffed skirting boards, to worn carpets and rugs, to wobbly kitchen unit doors, any home will take a hit from the traffic that passes through it. So it’s important to account for fair wear and tear to a property when working out the costs of letting it out.

Our fair wear and tear guide for landlords will help you anticipate the time and cost of maintaining a property and what to do if damage is done.

What is fair wear and tear?

Prior to the start of any tenancy, it’s a sensible idea for the landlord and tenant to undertake an inventory of the property’s contents and existing defects. This document can help both parties to identify any damage that happens subsequent to the beginning of a new tenancy.

So what is fair wear and tear? Is it fair for landlords to hold tenants accountable for every scuff and scrape that should befall their property, or indeed the furniture, fixtures and fittings? The definition of fair wear and tear is different from damage caused by the tenant. But understandably this distinction can be somewhat subjective. An example of the distinction between the two can be illustrated by a carpet that has been flattened and worn over time, in contrast to a carpet that has sustained a cigarette burn.

A thorough check-in/check-out process is therefore a sensible way to protect both landlords and tenants .

Examples of reasonable wear and tear in a residential property

Perhaps the best way to decide what constitutes reasonable wear and tear to a property is to contrast it with what is more clearly damage by the tenant. For example, loose hinges, handles or doors are likely to be the result of repeat use as opposed to damage to a door due to forced entry, for which the tenant would be accountable. Faded curtains due to prolonged exposure to sunlight is to be expected, whereas torn curtains are more likely to be a result of damage (albeit most likely accidental).

Another example might be that a stain appears on the ceiling due to bad plumbing. If that stain had been caused by an overflowing bathtub then that would constitute damage.

Having a detailed inventory in place before the start of a tenancy can help clear up any uncertainty later on.

Fair wear and tear on a commercial lease

While it might be straightforward to determine what is fair wear and tear in a rental property, fair wear and tear under a commercial lease places the bulk of the responsibilities on the tenant.

In general, the landlord is responsible only for structural repairs. The common definition of a structural element is one that holds the building together, such as foundations, walls, roofs and floors. Mechanical systems like plumbing and heating might not be considered structural elements under the terms of your lease.

As with residential lettings, there are distinctions between what constitutes fair wear and tear and what is damage. It’s important to establish these distinctions at the contract stage. This will help to avoid disputes arising out of situations where a component is considered worn out due to lack of proper maintenance, or whether it’s because of reasonable wear and tear.

Factors affecting fair wear and tear

There are a number of factors that influence what constitutes fair wear and tear on a rental property. What is reasonable wear and tear to one person may be considered less than reasonable to another, so it’s important to tidy up any ambiguities before the start of a tenancy and to have the conditions securely outlined in the contract.

Age and quality of fixtures, furnishings and/or furniture

Determining reasonable wear and tear while renting can be informed by a number of factors. Whether a property is furnished or unfurnished will have some bearing.

An unfurnished property will likely sustain wear and tear on fixtures and kitchen fittings for example, as well as on floor coverings on thoroughfares and on paintwork. One might expect a property to accrue scuffs on bannisters and the tread on the carpet to become less springy over time. 

Furniture, meanwhile, can take more of a battering. A sofa can go from plump and supple to collapsing under the weight of sustained use. Drawers can fall apart due to repeated opening and closing. What is reasonable wear and tear will depend largely on subjective interpretation and, of course, on the quality and age of those fixtures, furnishings and furniture to begin with.

Length of tenancy

The length of a tenancy can impact what is deemed to be acceptable wear and tear as well. During a long-term occupancy you might expect a property to experience significant knocks, whereas a short-term tenancy during which disproportionate wear and tear is sustained might be considered less acceptable to a landlord.

Normal wear and tear and the security deposit

At the beginning of a tenancy, a security deposit from the tenant will be placed in a deposit protection scheme. This money belongs to the tenant, but if specified in the contract it can be used by the landlord against things like cleaning, damage to the property and any unpaid rent or bills. Withholding the wear and tear deposit can open up difficulties if the tenant believes that the property has sustained only fair wear and tear.

Dealing with disputes over wear and tear

Ensuring good communication with tenants, from establishing clarity as to the responsibilities of both parties to ensuring a detailed itinerary is undertaken, can cut the chances of a dispute. In the event that tenancies are longer term, it can be worth checking in to review the property at intervals and making sure the tenant is well supported by the fixtures, fittings and (where relevant) any furnishings you have supplied. In the event that an unfortunate dispute does arise out of what is deemed to be reasonable wear and tear, there is plenty of  detailed guidance available  that can be helpful to both parties.

The best time to review your property is between tenancies. Then you can revive it and bring it up to standard for your next set of tenants. You can find out more about how landlords can  claim expenses for wear and tear  here.

Maintaining a good relationship with your tenants is the best way to ensure your property is well looked after as well as well lived in. Get covered against the biggest risks to your property investment with  Landlord Insurance  from NatWest.

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