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What is 'fair wear and tear' for your rental property?

Posted on 2018-12-12

A certain amount of wear and tear is unavoidable in rental properties. Over time as tenants live in homes, some damage will occur. This isn’t a result of abuse or neglect by your tenants, meaning they can’t be held responsible for it. However, sometimes tenants do cause an unacceptable level of damage to furniture, fixtures and fittings which they’re liable for under the tenancy agreement.

So, what exactly is the definition of  ‘fair’ wear and tear, and when do landlords have a right to take action to claim the cost of repairing or replacing their possessions?  

What is considered ‘normal’ wear and tear on a rental property?

Normal wear and tear refers to gradual damage that you would expect to see in a property over time. For example, worn carpets, faded curtains and minor scuffs and scrapes on the walls are all things that are extremely difficult if not impossible to avoid over a period of months and years.  

It’s not reasonable as a landlord to expect your tenants to have to cover the cost of repairs or replacements in these cases.

When it’s not ‘fair wear and tear’ - what is considered damage caused by a tenant?

Damage caused by a tenant is something different. Unlike wear and tear on a rental property, this isn’t naturally occurring. Instead, it is harm that’s committed on purpose, by accident or through neglect that affects the normal function or usefulness of the property. Examples of tenant damage can include anything from a broken toilet seat to a smashed mirror, missing door handles, holes or dents in walls, or carpets soaked with pet urine.   Tenants do have the option to consider Tenants Liability Insurance, which covers accidentally caused damage to furniture, fixtures and fittings in their home provided by their landlord.

Why is a detailed inventory so important?

What’s deemed as ‘wear and tear’ versus ‘damage caused by the tenant’ can be a very subjective issue, so it’s important to use some common sense - and to stick to the facts. Having a detailed and accurate inventory in place can be a big help when it comes to avoiding disputes over damage between tenants and landlords.

Commenting on this, Chair of the Association of Independent Inventory Clerks (AIIC) Pat Barber said: “Normal wear and tear is a fact of life with rental properties, just as it would be at home. The best way landlords and agents can ensure that the property’s condition is fully recorded is by having a comprehensive inventory in place at the start of any new tenancy, and that a thorough check-in and check-out report is completed.”

However, according to the AIIC, many landlords have “unrealistic expectations of wear and tear”. The organisation has found that a rising number of landlords are attempting to include additional damage into check-outs without any photographic or written evidence to support it.

What should an inventory include?

Your inventory should include details of all the furniture, fixtures and fittings in your home - along with their condition. You should also provide information concerning the condition of the paintwork, walls and flooring. 

Ideally, you should conduct a walk-through inspection with your tenants before they move in and take pictures to document the condition of your property and its contents. Any existing damage or wear should carefully recorded, and both you and your tenants should sign the inventory to confirm you agree with it.

Then, when your tenants move out, do another walk-through inspection with your tenants to document any changes to the condition of your property, noting any 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 deposit. Your tenant will then be able to either agree with you or dispute your findings.  Additionally, tenants are more likely to dispute claims they aren’t aware of so it’s best to discuss with them in advance.

As long as the damage has been caused by tenant abuse or neglect rather than simple wear and tear, and providing you have all the necessary evidence that the damage occurred during their tenancy, i.e. dated pictures of the condition of the property when the tenants moved in, you should be able to successfully claim the amount from the tenants deposit.

Useful examples

To give you a clearer idea of the difference between wear and tear and tenant damage, Rental Housing Online  has compiled the following useful list

Wear & Tear


Worn out keys

Lost keys

Loose or stubborn door lock

Broken or missing locks

Loose hinges or handles on doors

Damage to a door from forced entry

Worn and dirty carpeting

Torn, stained or burned carpeting

Scuffed up wood floors

Badly scratched or gouged wood floors

Lino worn thin

Lino with tears or holes

Worn countertop

Burns and cuts in countertop

Stain on ceiling from rain or bad plumbing

Stain on ceiling from overflowed bath

Plaster cracks from settling

Holes in walls from kids or carelessness

Faded, chipped or cracked paint

Unapproved (bad) tenant paint job

Loose wallpaper

Ripped or marked-up wallpaper

Faded curtains and drapes

Torn or missing curtains and drapes

Heat blistered blinds

Blinds with bent slats

Dirty window

Broken window

Loose or inoperable tap handle

Broken or missing tap handle

Toilet runs or wobbles

Broken toilet seat or tank top

Urine odour around toilet

Urine or pet odour throughout unit

Sliding door off track

Damaged or missing sliding door


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