Throughout a tenancy, you may notice that the condition of the things in your home may slightly change – this is called wear and tear. 

It's generally expected to happen over time, and therefore landlords can't deduct from your deposit to pay for it.

Because of this, it's essential to know what fair wear and tear is as opposed to damage caused by the tenant, so you can make sure you keep your entire deposit.

Why do I need to know about fair wear and tear?

It's important that, as a tenant, you understand the distinction between fair wear and tear and damage. This is because your landlord can't charge you or deduct from your deposit if it's something that's happened to the property as a result of everyday use.

However, it's not always a clear-cut issue. There are instances when damage to the property can occur as a result of prolonged wear and tear. In these cases, the damage caused could be considered the tenant's fault for not raising the issue with the landlord before the damage occurred, and this could mean that the landlord charges the tenant for the repairs.

So, with this in mind, it's worth ensuring you know what you need to look out for. As a tenant, put yourself in a good position by clearly defining what can be classed as typical fair wear and tear.   

What does normal wear and tear look like?

The critical point is that fair wear and tear refers to the damage you expect to see in a property over time. This element of expectation is essential, as it helps to define what's wear and tear and what's either accidental or deliberate damage.

Things that fall into the wear and tear category include worn carpets, scuffed floors, chipped paint and cracks in the plaster. These are changes that happen due to everyday life and can take place in all types of property over time – and, crucially, these are unavoidable.

Knowing what's fair wear and tear in your rental property means that you can be ready with the facts should your landlord contest this when you come to move out.

When will I see deposit deductions for damage?

Your landlord might see damage to their property and think it results from neglect or deliberate abuse. If they can prove that it's damage rather than gradual wear and tear, they can deduct from your deposit to cover the cost of repairs and replacements when you move out.

One of the main ways they can prove that damage has been caused is through dated photographs. It's worth taking and dating your own pictures when you first move into the property to ensure your account of how things looked when you arrived tally with your landlord's. Alternatively, you can speak to your landlord about creating a photographic inventory that you both agree upon (and sign and date together). Read on to find out why this is important.

What can be classed as damage and not fair wear and tear?

As with understanding what wear and tear looks like, you must know what your landlord or letting agent will attribute to damage. Whether accidental, through neglect or deliberate, damage can be one of several things. Broken windows and locks, holes in the walls and torn curtains and carpets are all classed as damage.

Also, if you mean well by painting over a scuff on the wall but the colour doesn't quite match, or you've lost your house keys, and your landlord has to replace them, these can be added to the 'damaged property' list. This is why it's good to know what your landlord will charge you before you move out, so you can address the issue.

What happens if they prove damage?

You could lose money from your deposit if you move out without fixing the damage to your rental. They could also take legal action in extreme cases. If there is severe damage to the property during your tenancy, your landlord might want to evict you.

But what if you've not damaged the property? How will you prove that it's down to everyday life rather than something more?

When you first move in, your landlord or letting agent will draw up your detailed inventory. This can prove whether the damage was there when you moved in or whether it happened during your tenancy.

No matter how long you live somewhere, it's impossible to remember every chip in the paintwork and scuff on every carpet. Therefore, you must list the condition of every part of your rental when you move in.  

This is also your chance to let the landlord know there is a large scuff on the hallway wall or that the living room curtains look faded. This is when your landlord might want to swap the fixtures and fittings or leave them as they are for your tenancy.  

If possible, take photographs too. They will help you to document and detail every part of the rental and pinpoint signs of wear and tear before you moved in. Therefore, if your landlord claims damages when you move out, check your inventory to see whether this was noted before your tenancy.   

Your deposit is protected by a scheme, which means that your landlord can't deduct for the expected wear and tear mentioned earlier. It also means that specific criteria must be met for something to be classified as damage over fair wear and tear.

So how can you prove wear and tear during your tenancy? What are the instances where your landlord can claim for damage? As a tenant, clearly understanding what is considered wear and tear and what could be considered damage can be helpful when proving the state of the property when you move out.

Worn-out keys and door locks, fading furniture and curtain, worn and dirty carpets, indents where furniture has previously sat, loose hinges, cracked paint, dirty windows and loose tap handles are all examples of wear and tear.

Missing keys and broken locks, tears in curtains or missing curtains, ripped, stained or burnt carpets, badly painted surfaces, and broken taps and windows are all damages for which your landlord could make deposit deductions.

If you disagree with your landlord about any damage claims, the deposit scheme holding your deposit is likely to include a dispute resolution service. Follow their guidance on how to resolve the issue.

However, if, for example, the inventory lists that the tap was loose at the beginning of your tenancy and it's broken by the time you move out, your landlord has a case of damage.

As well as having an inventory, you can protect yourself against deposit deductions by considering Tenants Liability Insurance. This is an additional way to get some peace of mind should you accidentally damage your landlord's items whilst you're living in your rental.

Things to remember

It's both unrealistic and unreasonable for your landlord to expect you to be able to leave the property exactly as it was when you moved in. However, by making sure you both have a clear idea of how things look when you move in and by knowing the difference between wear and tear and damage, you can move out of the property, knowing whether or not any deductions to your deposit are reasonable and fair.