Landlords: What damages can you make a claim for?

End of tenancies can be a tricky path to navigate. Tenants would like their deposit funds returning straight after they have vacated, and landlords want to make sure the property is returned in pristine condition. This article sets out what deductions can be made against the deposit and why.

The tenancy agreement sets out several clauses explaining how the deposit can be used at the fulfilment of the tenancy. It must be made clear that any deductions the landlord wishes to make must be backed up with evidence, and the burden of proof falls with the landlord. The deposit, after all, is the tenant's money and the landlord/agent must be able to prove deductions are not only necessary, but justified. The landlord should also take into account betterment and fair wear and tear.

Evidence needed

The documents landlords must have to prove their case are as follows:

  • Tenancy Agreement setting out which clauses specifically have been breached.
  • Fully conditioned inventory both at the start and end of the tenancy
    • Photos if possible that are date and time stamped
    • Signed by both parties if possible, or at least evidence the inventory has been provided and a signature requested
  • Invoices/quotes from third-party contractors
  • Rent ledgers
  • Any correspondences

Rent Arrears

The tenants have a responsibility to pay the rent for each day they have possession of the property or the fulfilment of the agreement. If it's been agreed tenants may have the property up until a certain date, they are responsible for the rent up to that date. If however the keys aren't returned until after, the landlord has a right to charge at a daily rate.  

Cleaning

The property should have been presented in a clean state at the start of the tenancy and the check-in inventory should reflect this. If the check-out inventory shows the property has not been returned to the clean state it was presented in at the start of the tenancy, the landlord has the right to make deductions against the deposit. 

The reality is many people have different understandings of what constitutes 'clean', so a good principle to follow is to consider 'what is reasonable'. Generally speaking, a property should be free from dust, grease, mould and bad smells. Typically this is found on woodwork, appliances, around wash facilities and fabrics such as carpets and curtains. 

Damages / Wear & Tear

Many landlords believe that the property should be returned to them in the same condition as at the start of the tenancy but this is a misconception. Deductions are often claimed from the deposit for minor damage that should be expected in any normal use of the property. Similarly, some landlords seize the opportunity to ‘replace’ items in the property which are coming to the end of their natural life e.g. redecorating an entire room when minor scuff marks have been caused by the tenant. This would be unacceptable. Landlords would need to condsider the following:

Length of tenancy - the longer the tenancy, the more natural wear. Common sense, but think, for example, how much wear a carpet in your own home shows after one, two or three years. Also consider what the item’s condition was when the tenancy started; was it brand new or has it already seen a few tenancies come and go?

Number and age of occupiers - the more bedrooms and occupants, the higher the wear and tear that should be expected in all the common parts e.g. sitting room, passages, stairs, bathrooms and kitchen. If you are letting to a family with children, factor that in too. Scuffs and scrapes are unavoidable in normal family life. A property occupied by a single person should see far less wear than a family of four, so bear this in mind when it’s time for tenants to check out.

Wear and tear vs. actual damage - when is it no longer normal wear? Damage i.e. breaking something is not wear and tear - meaning either replacement or repair. Light marks on a carpet might have to be viewed as unavoidable. On the other hand, damage such as nail varnish spills on the floor or iron burns that have occurred due to negligence could see the tenant liable for repair. Consider whether the item has been damaged or worn out through natural use versus negligence when making a judgement call.

Quality and condition – consider the original quality of the item at the start of the tenancy and what it originally cost to provide. It would unreasonable for a landlord to provide a cheap and flimsy set of bedroom furniture and then blame the tenant if the items are damaged through normal usage. Adjudicators may expect to see receipts or other evidence to confirm an item’s age, or its cost and quality when new. Another consideration is the quality or fabric of the property itself. Many new builds tend not to be quite as robust as older properties or conversions. Walls, partitions and internal painted surfaces tend to be thinner and therefore likely to suffer more stress, particularly in higher footfall areas of the property. This inevitably means that there is a greater need for redecoration at the end of the tenancy period. An adjudicator may therefore consider more than a simple contribution to the cost of redecoration from the tenant to be unreasonable.

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