What is fair wear and tear and what is damage?

This question regularly crops up at the end of a tenancy.


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 ‘natural forces’ being sunlight, rain, wind and ageing.


Whilst there is no one legal definition of damage it is widely interpreted as permanent or temporary impairment of value or usefulness


When considering whether something is damaged, ask yourself if the part of the property or item in question has been devalued or has had it’s usefulness impaired. If the answer is no, then there is no damage. (Hint: Would you expect to pay the same price for chipped tiles in the local hardware store as tiles that are not chipped?) Then ask yourself was the tenant making reasonable use of that part of the property? If the answer is no, then the tenant is liable for the damage.



Examples of “Fair Wear and Tear” include:



• cracked window panes due to old warped frames
• paintwork that has faded or discoloured over time
• plaster or brickwork cracks that appeared as the building settled
• cracked floor or wall tiles resulting from structural movement
• carpets worn from day-to-day use
• Micro-scratches on kitchen worktops marked or scratched by kitchen implements – but not dents or deep scratches
• Micro-scratches on laminate flooring or floor tiles marked or scratched by people walking on the floor – but not dents, chips or deep scratches
• White goods worn as a result of normal usage – rather than the tenant’s misuse
• Paint worn around light switches and door handles – but not dirt



The Guide to Best Practice for Inventory Providers published by the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) states that fair wear and tear is based on the following criteria:



1. the length of the tenancy
2. the number and ages of the tenants
3. the condition and age of the item or items at the start of the tenancy
4. the expected useful lifespan of the item or items and the expected appropriate use of such item or items
5. whether any work or repairs were carried out during the tenancy



Two points to remember when involved in fair wear and tear assessments:



1. The tenant is paying rent for fair wear and tear. Don’t penalise a tenant for walking on the carpets!



2. If damage needs to be put right, the landlord cannot demand betterment i.e. be in a better position than he/she was before the damage occurred. Demanding a ‘new for old’ replacement is not acceptable and if the tenant has scraped his bicycle along the wall then you cannot expect the whole wall to be redecorated.

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