Partners and Suppliers Sandy Bastin 30/05/2022

What determines fair wear and tear vs tenant damage?

Wear and tear is inevitable in rental properties, so clearly understanding what "fair wear and tear" means is essential for landlords and tenants. But what exactly constitutes "wear and tear" versus "damage caused by tenants?" Here, Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) looks at this common landlord problem.                                                                                                                                                          

What's considered fair wear and tear?

Though there are no precise rules on what counts as fair wear and tear, the House of Lords defines the term as the "reasonable use of the premises by the tenant, and the ordinary operation of natural forces." So, normal wear and tear refers to gradual damage that you would expect to see in a property over time.  

For example, faded curtains, worn carpets and slight scuffs would be expected and unavoidable over time and classified as fair wear and tear. If items were worn at the beginning of tenancy and the items condition had worn further, through everyday use, this would also be a case of fair wear and tear.

It is worth noting that wear and tear refers to the 'condition' but not the 'cleanliness' of the item. The property and contents should be cleaned to the same standard at the end of the tenancy, or tenants could face a deposit deduction.

When does it go beyond fair wear and tear?

Whilst wear and tear is an unavoidable process, damage caused to the property and its contents is a different story. Tenant carelessness, recklessness, or negligence causes damage, and the person responsible for that damage will be financially accountable for fixing it. 

For example, a worn carpet is to be expected, but a stained and ripped carpet would be defined as damage. A worn kitchen countertop would be classed as wear and tear, but burn marks across the worktop are evidently damage.

To establish whether the damage has exceeded 'normal wear and tear', consider the:

  • product age
  • product quality
  • product lifespan
  • number of tenants in the property
  • hether pets have been in the property
  • length of the tenancy; a 5-year tenancy would cause a lot more wear and tear than a 6-month let.

Who is responsible for fair wear and tear?

Landlords are responsible for the maintenance of the rental property, and tenants have their own obligations as laid out in the tenancy agreement, the tenant is not responsible for wear and tear deterioration, which occurs as the property ages.

How to manage or prevent disputes around wear and tear

As to whether an item is damaged or its condition deteriorated due to wear and tear is one of the biggest causes of disputes between landlords and tenants. Therefore, to protect yourself when dealing with a potential dispute around this subject:

  • Ensure you have a detailed check-in and check-out inventory report, detailing the property and its contents accurately.
  • Remember that the burden of proof lies with the landlord, so ensure you keep written records of anything that may help you in disputes, such as invoices, emails and receipts.
  • Communicate well with your tenants! Happy tenants are likely to stay longer, reducing further wear and tear with a low tenant turnover.
  • Maintain the property well; replacing worn interiors or updating with a fresh coat of paint.
  • Perform mid-tenancy checks to ensure the property is being looked after, and address any potential problems as soon as possible.
  • Avoid betterment (a landlord replacing old items for new and the tenant footing the cost); you must avoid improving the property or the value of its contents. Landlords are not entitled to end up financially or materially better off once a tenancy ends.

Guidance for Landlords

TDS has a wealth of free guides to help landlords with inventory check in, check out and product lifespans. Visit the TDS Information Lounge to find guides, tools and templates, all designed to make the life of a landlord easier.

Have a potential dispute? Try our Dispute chatbot to check whether your claim and evidence are both valid.

Some of our resources are only available to landlords who use the free deposit protection scheme at TDS Custodial or the insured scheme at TDS Insured. You can access all templates, tools and the full tenancy deposit management dashboard by joining TDS.

It's quick and easy to join, and NRLA members also receive a discount on TDS Insured.

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Sandy Bastin

Sandy Bastin Head of TDS Adjudication Services

Sandy Bastin is a qualified solicitor with many years’ experience practising and specialising in real estate, Sandy joined Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) in 2008 and is now Head of TDS Adjudication Services. Sandy is responsible for recruiting and training TDS adjudicators, providing continued support and mentoring to include quality assurance activity to ensure the high standards expected from TDS adjudication decisions are met.

See all articles by Sandy Bastin