The House of Lords defined fair wear and tear as “reasonable use of the premises by the tenant and the ordinary operation of natural forces”. The word ‘reasonable’ can be interpreted differently, depending on the type of property and who occupies it. In addition, it is an established legal principle that a landlord is not entitled to charge his tenants the full cost for having any part of his property, or any fixture or fitting, “…..put back to the condition it was at the start of the tenancy.”
Landlords should therefore keep in mind that the tenant’s deposit is not to be used like an insurance policy where you might get “full replacement value” or “new for old”. The landlord also has a duty to act reasonably and not claim more than is necessary to make good any loss.
• Replacement of a damaged item may be justified where it is either severely and extensively
damaged beyond economic repair or, its condition makes it unusable;
• Repair or cleaning is a more likely award where replacement cannot be justified;
• In cases where an item has had its value reduced or its lifespan shortened, for example by
damage, an award of compensation may be appropriate;
In addition to seeking the most appropriate remedy, the landlord should not end up, either
financially or materially, in a better position than he was at start of the tenancy, or than he would
have otherwise been at the end of the tenancy after having allowed for fair wear and tear.
ADJUDICATORS CONSIDER FACTORS AS:
• Length of tenancy – the longer the tenancy, the more natural wear. Also was it brand new or has it already seen a few tenancies come and go.
• Number and age of occupiers – the more bedrooms and occupants, the higher the wear and tear that should be expected in all the common parts e.g. sitting room, passages, stairs, bathrooms and kitchen. If you are letting to a family with children, factor that in too. Scuffs and scrapes are unavoidable in normal family life. A property occupied by a single person should see far less wear than a family of four, so bear this in mind when it’s time for tenants to check out.
• Wear and tear vs. actual damage – Damage i.e. breaking something is not wear and tear –
meaning either replacement or repair. Light marks on a carpet might have to be viewed as
unavoidable. On the other hand, damage such as nail varnish spills on the floor or iron burns that
have occurred due to negligence could see the tenant liable for repair. Consider whether the item
has been damaged or worn out through natural use versus negligence when making a judgement
• Quality and Condition – consider the original quality of the item at the start of the tenancy and what it originally cost to provide. It would unreasonable for a landlord to provide a cheap and flimsy set of bedroom furniture and then blame the tenant if the items are damaged through normal usage. Adjudicators may expect to see receipts or other evidence to confirm an item’s age, or its cost and quality when new. Another consideration is the quality or fabric of the property itself. Many new builds tend not to be quite as robust as older properties or conversions. Walls, partitions and internal painted surfaces tend to be thinner and therefore likely to suffer more stress, particularly in higher footfall areas of the property. This inevitably means that there is a greater need for redecoration at the end of the tenancy period. An adjudicator may therefore consider more than a simple contribution to the cost of redecoration from the tenant to be unreasonable.