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Throughout the lifetime and use of your buy to let some wear and tear is unavoidable. Damage naturally occurs when tenants live in a property. This damage isn’t a result of neglect or abuse by the tenants. This means the tenants themselves can’t be held responsible.
However, on some occasions, the tenants are in fact the cause. Whether this is to furniture fixtures or fittings, under the tenancy agreement they would be liable to pay for the necessary repairs to restore the property to its original condition.
As such, it is important for landlords to understand exactly what counts as fair wear and tear, what constitutes damage from tenants, and when landlords have the right to take action and claim the cost of the repairs or replacements.
Related: The Rental Property Expenses Checklist
Normal wear and tear is the gradual deterioration of the property over time. Examples of normal wear and tear include worn carpets, minor scuffs, and scrapes on the walls or floors, faded curtains due to sunlight, and other minor unavoidable damages.
Generally, normal wear and tear will occur over a number of years and most likely isn’t the result of a single tenant in habitation. As a landlord, you cannot legally charge the costs to repair normal wear and tear to a tenant.
Damage caused by tenants to a rental property is treated differently. Unlike wear and tear on this is the tenant’s responsibility to pay for or fix. It isn’t naturally occurring, instead, it’s harm to property that is caused by accident, on purpose, or through neglect that affects the normal functioning or usefulness of the property.
Key examples of this include significant stains on the carpet. (This can be a difficult one to judge as carpets need replacing routinely anyway. However, if a tenant were to spill red wine all over a carpet resulting in it needing to be replaced sooner than normal this would be deemed as damage, not wear and tear.)
Other examples might include a smashed mirror, broken door handles, damaged cupboards, and holes or dents in walls. Generally, a landlord will charge the repairs to the tenant either during the tenancy or deduct these expenses from the deposit after the move-out inspection has been completed. It’s always a good idea for the landlord to maintain control of any maintenance and repairs using trusted contractors to ensure the work is done properly.
Tenants can also get tenant liability insurance, which covers accidentally caused damage to furniture, fixtures, and fittings in the home, so they don’t end up with a large bill or big subtractions from their deposit.
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Assessing wear and tear vs damage can be a subjective issue. As such, it is important to stick to the facts. In order to charge the cost of repairs to a tenant, you will need to prove that it was this tenant that caused the damage and that it is not classifiable as fair wear and tear. Often if the landlord does not have the required evidence, a dispute over damage may not be honoured by the courts and the landlord will find themselves out of pocket.
The best way for landlords and agents to ensure that a property’s condition is fully recorded is to have a comprehensive inventory in place at the start of any new tenancy. This thorough inventory should be paired with a check-in and check-out inspection and report. It is this report which can be used as evidence should a dispute arrive arise.
Without written and photographic evidence it can be very difficult to claim remuneration.
Related: What Fees Are and Aren’t Allowed According to the Tenant Fees Act 2019
Ideally, you should conduct a walkthrough inspection with your tenant before they move in taking pictures and documenting the condition of the property room by room. The inventory should record the current condition of floors, walls, windows, curtains, and any appliances, fixtures, or fittings.
Any existing damage should be carefully documented and photographed. Both you and your tenant should sign this inventory to confirm that you both agree with it. When your tenant moves out, you should do another walkthrough inspection with your tenants and document any changes to the condition of the property, noting any specific discrepancies and taking pictures as evidence.
If you spot anything that you believe should be classed as tenant damage, rather than wear and tear explain why you will be taking deductions from the tenant’s deposit and the tenant can then either agree or dispute the findings. Giving a clear and concise breakdown of information to your tenants is a good way to help avoid any disputes.
Related: How to Select The Best Available Tenant: Tenant Referencing
Certain amounts of wear and tear are unavoidable in a rental property. This normal wear and tear must be paid for by the landlord. Damage caused by tenants, on the other hand, should be paid for by the tenants. Normally, damage repair costs will be claimed from the deposit.
Excluding fair wear and tear, landlords are entitled to reclaim the possession of their property at the end of the term of the tenancy agreement in the same condition as when they gave possession to the tenant.
A detailed and accurate inventory should be made and a check-in and check-out report undertaken and signed off by both parties. Landlords should record the current condition and any changes in the condition of the property dating and providing photographic evidence.
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