Fair wear and tear can be a frustratingly obscure concept to get to grips with for both landlords and tenants alike. There’s no fixed legal definition of wear and tear, meaning it’s hard to account for what can and can’t be deducted from a deposit. It really is a scenario where common sense needs applying, with landlords making fair and proportionate judgements regarding tenant liability. For that reason, we’re using this guide to answer questions you might have about fair wear and tear with our FAQ.
What is fair and wear and tear?
Fair wear and tear refers to the deterioration of an item, fixture and fitting or area of a rental property as a consequence of age and reasonable everyday use. For example, if a tenant lives in a furnished property for four years, it’s not unreasonable for items like sofas to have wear and tear such as the occasional scuff mark, light discolouration, and fraying fabric.
Items susceptible to fair wear and tear:
- Fixtures and fittings
The tenant isn’t at fault for any fair wear and tear, which essentially means you can’t withhold the security deposit from them because something in the property has aged. It’s down to you as the landlord to replace or repair items that have succumbed to the ravages of time.
When and how is the concept applied?
At the end of each tenancy, the landlord will need to check that the property is in a similar condition to when the tenant moved in. Most landlords do this through a check-in and check-out inventory service performed by a professional. This includes an inspection of the property and 'schedule of condition' confirming the general state of repair and cleanliness of the property and an inventory list of all contents and their condition.
The inventory clerk (or landlord - though this is not recommended) reviews the rental home before the tenants move in and takes note of any existing defects, such as marks and scruffs on the walls. They will then perform another check at the end of the tenancy, reporting back to the landlord with advice regarding any damages where costs can be claimed from the deposit because the tenant is at fault.
Whether it's a property professional or the landlord performing the inspection at the end of the tenancy, they will need to differentiate between fair wear and tear and actual damage. Landlords can't claim for any discrepancies in the condition of the property that are regarded to be a consequence of fair wear and tear, meaning they will need to pay the full security deposit back to the tenant if there aren't any other significant issues.
What does ‘betterment of the property’ mean?
In residential lettings, the term 'betterment of the property' describes the process whereby the value or condition of a property is materially improved due to factors other than investment made by the landlord.
Landlords are prohibited from using the deposit for the betterment of their property, and is why the concept of fair wear and tear exists. Landlords can't claim against a deposit to upgrade the condition of their property, for example by replacing an old and worn fitting with a new modern replacement. They also need to make exceptions for factors such as the age, quality and condition of any item at the start of the tenancy, average useful lifespan of the item, reasonably expected usage, number and type of occupants in the property and the length of tenancy.
On top of this, landlords must also avoid making the property better, even if the tenant causes any damage. Money withheld from the deposit needs to be used for like-for-like fixes. Landlords are not permitted to improve or upgrade the condition of their asset at the expense of the tenants.
For example, if a tenant stains the carpet, you can only charge them for the cost of the professional cleaning required to restore the carpet to its original condition. If you decide to replace the carpet, you cannot pass the bill on to the tenant even though they are at fault for causing some damage. You could only charge what would be reasonable for rectifying the damage, any costs incurred in addition to that would need to come out of your own pocket.
What factors contribute to wear and tear?
The condition of your property and its contents will deteriorate over time for a number of reasons, regardless of how well your tenants take care of the place during their time there.
The age of an item is a key factor to consider when assessing wear and tear. The older the item, the more likely it is that any defects are an unavoidable consequence of everyday use.
Number of tenants
More tenants mean a higher chance of fair wear and tear. If you rent your property out as a HMO or to a family, you can expect items to see heavier usage and foot traffic than if you let to an individual or a couple. One family using the same sofa every day will cause more fair wear and tear than a single-tenant using the same furniture.
Length of tenancy
All landlords want a long-term tenant who pays the rent on time and looks after the property. But if you have a tenant in your rental home for an extended period, then it's only natural to expect a greater discrepancy in condition between at the start and end of the tenancy compared with a shorter let.
Expected usage of an item
You also need to think about the frequency with which different items around the property are used on a daily basis and their projected natural lifespan. Fridges, freezers and other kitchen appliances should last longer than, say, soft furnishings. Also, consider the quality of the item – cheaper furniture and fittings will suffer wear and tear faster than higher-quality items.
Does 'fair wear and tear' apply to the cleanliness of the property?
Fair wear and tear applies to the property's condition and not the cleanliness. The standard of cleanliness required in a rental property is often a cause for dispute for landlords and tenants, with new rules in the Tenant Fee Act stating that landlords can't legally require the tenant to conduct a professional clean of the property.
The expected level of cleanliness is generally open to individual interpretation and lead to disputes between both parties before and after a tenancy. However, it has nothing to do with wear and tear and should be treated separately.
How can you tell the difference between fair wear and tear and damage as a result of negligence?
Making a fair distinction between fear wear and tear and damage is vital to ensuring everything runs as smoothly as possible at the end of the tenancy, with no disputes over the release of the deposit.
As a rule of thumb, fair wear and tear is when the property has
- Small marks or light stains on carpets
- Small scuffs or marks on the walls
- Loose or tight tap handles
- Naturally fraying carpets
- Faded or cracked paint
- Frayed fabric
- Faded curtains
- Dirty windows
- Loose hinges or handles on doors
- Small tears or cracks on furniture
And it’s considered damage when there are:
- Broken locks
- Broken doors
- Broken toilet seat
- Broken windows
- Large scratches on wooden floors
- Burnt or split kitchen worktops
- Holes in walls
- Poorly painted surfaces
- Torn curtains
- Tears, large stains or burns on carpet.
There are no hard and fast rules for assessing fair wear and tear, so it’s important to use common sense, do your research, and consider all the relevant variables (e.g. tenancy length, type of tenancy, age of the property and appliances) when making judgements regarding deposit deductions. Getting an inventory clerk to perform a check-in and check-out inspection can also help as they are qualified and can make objective judgments based on their professional expertise . Taking all these factors into consideration can help ensure you know the difference between fair wear and tear and damage.
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