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Landlords, tenants and those who manage rental property will be familiar with hearing and reading the term ‘fair wear and tear’. How many of us really know what wear and tear means, however?

Why is it important to know what wear and tear means?

An astute landlord will record the condition of the property, its fixtures and fittings and its contents at the outset of the tenancy and through periodic property inspection. The tenancy agreement should require the tenant to hand back the property in the same state as at the outset of the tenancy, fair wear and tear excepted.

This is why using InventoryBase property inventory software is so helpful, enabling users to create detailed records of the condition of the property at the beginning of the tenancy. The inspection report and inventory can be shared with the tenant, easily signed to show agreement and securely stored for future use. 

Further inspection reports and any other documents or correspondence relating to the rental property can be stored in the same way. If the tenant has damaged or neglected the property or any of the landlord’s fixtures and fittings the inventory report can be used to provide evidence of the state of the property when it was first handed to the tenant. 

However, the landlord cannot expect the tenant to replace or pay for items that have deteriorated through fair wear and tear. It is a fundamental principle that the landlord should only be put into the position they would have been but for the tenant’s breach of duty – any replacement or compensation cannot make the landlord better off than they would otherwise have been. 

It is essential to be able to distinguish between items requiring repair or replacement through the tenant’s fault or carelessness, and those which the landlord is obliged to repair or replace because of wear and tear. Even if something has been damaged by the tenant, the landlord will need to make allowance for any wear and tear in its claim for a replacement. ‘New for old’ is not allowed. 

What is wear and tear

There are two factors which contribute to wear and tear on a rental property and its fixtures, fittings and contents. Firstly, the reasonable everyday use of an item will cause it to wear and degrade. A carpet which is walked on every day will flatten and, eventually, wear through. Secondly, items naturally deteriorate over time; for example, sunlight and weathering causes exterior finishes to flake, discolour and deteriorate. 

How do we determine whether or not something is fair wear and tear?

As with any rental property dispute, if the landlord and tenant cannot come to an agreement then ultimately it would fall to the courts or property tribunal to decide whether an item was the tenant’s responsibility, or fell to wear and tear. The courts would take evidence from a surveyor or professional inventory clerk into account. This same process would determine how much of a deduction should be made from any compensation payable to the landlord by the tenant to allow for wear and tear. However, this is a last resort and the process can be time-consuming, costly and expensive. 

Determining whether something is wear and tear is largely a matter of experience. We need to look at how long an item would be expected to last given normal use, its age and quality. An item of higher quality would generally be expected to last for longer than one of low quality. Some deterioration over time in most items is to be expected, but it will be obvious in many cases whether or not the tenant has abused the property and fixtures so that items deteriorate faster than would ordinarily be expected. 

As we can see, detailed records of the state and condition of rental property at the outset are vital. Without them, a landlord will not be able to claim for the replacement of an item which has been broken or damaged by the tenant as they will be unable to prove that it was not already in that state when the property was first handed over.

Inventory Base provides a straightforward, flexible solution for all rental property record keeping. The easy to use letting inventory app makes adding to and accessing property records simple and straightforward for everyone.