What constitutes Fair Wear and Tear?

If you are a landlord or tenant it is very likely that you will at some point have had discussions as to what constitutes fair wear and tear at the end of a tenancy.

Unfortunately, the law does not define exactly what constitutes fair wear and tear and a difference of opinion between landlords and tenants can in some instances lead to a breakdown of what should be a harmonious relationship between the tenant and landlord. Is that carpet just well used or irretrievably stained? What about picture hooks left on the sitting room wall? Or the cooker that looks as if it has produced a good three meals a day, every day?

A good starting point in helping define wear and tear is that a tenant cannot be held responsible at the end of the tenancy for changes in a property’s condition caused by what the House of Lords has called ‘reasonable use of the premises by the tenant and the ordinary operation of natural forces’ (i.e. a passage of time).

Clearly there are financial consequences when it comes to returning all or only part of a tenant’s deposit, so they should be viewed in the context of each particular tenancy, and the following pointers should help reach a decision as to what is fair war and tear:

1. Length of Tenancy
The longer the tenancy, the more natural wear. Common sense, but think, for example, how much wear a carpet in your own home shows after one, two or three years. Also consider what its condition was in the first place? Was it brand new or has it already seen a few tenancies come and go? Take account of all these factors.

2. Number & Age of Occupiers
The more bedrooms and occupants, the higher the wear and tear in all the common parts – sitting room, passages, stairs, bathrooms and kitchen. If some of them are children, factor that in too. Scuffs and scrapes are unavoidable in normal family life. A property occupied by a singleton will see far less wear than a family of four, so bear this in mind when it’s time for tenants to check out.

3. Wear and tear vs actual damage
When is it no longer normal wear? If it’s in good condition at the start of the tenancy but broken at the end – meaning either replacement or repair by a specialist. Or if it’s possibly more than a conventional job painter and decorator? Light marks on the carpet might have to be viewed as unavoidable: fist marks in the plaster would not be. Equally, damage such as nail varnish spills on the floor or iron burns that have occured due to negligence could see the tenant liable for repair. Consider whether the item has been damaged or worn out through natural use versus sheer negligence when making a judgement call.

Legally a landlord should not end up, either financially or materially in a better position than he was in at the commencement of the tenancy or than he would have been at the end of the tenancy having allowed for fair wear and tear. This would constitute betterment and in our next blog we will be looking at some of the factors that can assist in deciding what is fair wear and tear, and the best way in which to calculate costs.

Justin Bray