Determination of Fair Wear and Tear (1)

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Tope Ojo

There is a very fine line between what can be happily termed ‘fair wear and tear’ and what constitutes ‘damage’. A meticulous and consistent approach to check ins / check outs / inventories and interim visits should be an absolute priority for landlord and letting agents. Correctly undertaken, these will deliver the vital foundation for a successful and uncontested tenancy by providing all the necessary supporting documentation to avoid any dispute between the landlord and tenant in relation to discussions which refer to the condition of the property and its contents.

An independent inventory management company is far better equipped to provide an unbiased and objective assessment of a property and this applies throughout the period of the tenancy. Tenants are likely to respond better to someone that is not linked to the landlord in any way and whose judgment is not clouded by any existing or historic business relationship. Extensive experience of the business which includes an in-depth understanding of the potential pitfalls associated with the ‘fair wear and tear’ debate will also pay dividends – protecting both the landlord’s property investment and reducing the risk of unscrupulous claims affecting the safe return of the tenant’s deposit.

Whoever is responsible for determining fair wear and tear, it is essential that the landlord is appreciative of the need to make allowances for depreciation – whilst accepting that he / she cannot use the tenancy as a means of ‘betterment’ i.e. seeking out replacement of damaged / missing items with new ones (unless the items were brand new at the start of the tenancy). Decisions are made taking into consideration a number of key criteria including:

The Tenancy Agreement

The type of tenant e.g. family, professional couple, single occupancy, students, will have a huge bearing on the anticipated overall wear and tear on items in a property. For example, a family of four is likely to use a washing machine more often than a professional couple and therefore this needs to be considered and reflected in the decision. Likewise a medium quality carpet with a professional couple living at a property would last for typically 5 years, whereas a family occupancy would reduce the lifespan to typically 3 years. The length of occupancy will also need to be taken into consideration – the impact of two-year occupancy may vary enormously to the toll of a 6- month occupancy. Equally, when a tenant has enjoyed a five-year stay in the same property, it becomes very difficult to prove unacceptable wear and tear.

Consent for smokers or pets in the property will have implications on the expected condition of the property at the end of the tenure. The tenancy agreement may contain specific clauses relating to the required care and attention of particular items / amenities which the tenant has access to during the term of his / her stay. Care of the external living area i.e. the garden represents a classic example of this and is so often the cause of heated debate between landlord and tenant. In the majority of cases the garden will be treated as an ‘outdoor room’ and as such, should be returned to the landlord in the same condition / state of maintenance as when the tenancy agreement / inventory is first signed. This is an accepted requirement regardless as to whether or not the tenants have chosen to take advantage of the garden facilities.

To be continued…

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