One of the most common dispute scenarios between landlords and tenants surrounds deposit deductions at the end of a tenancy.
And, as a 2017 survey by ARLA Propertymark revealed, a large percentage of disputes are sparked by issues regarding damage to the property or its fixtures and fittings.
However, landlords need to factor in fair wear and tear before starting the process of withholding all or part of a tenant's deposit.
But measuring fair wear and tear requires many factors to be taken into consideration. Check out Martin & Co Camberley's guide below, which will help...
HOW IS FAIR WEAR AND TEAR DEFINED?
The House of Lords defines fair wear and tear as: "Reasonable use of the premises by the tenant and the ordinary operation of natural forces."
A simpler way of looking at the Lords' definition would be to factor in normal living habits against time. So, if someone walks normally on a hallway carpet every day for a two-year tenancy, that carpet will likely be naturally worn by the end - that would be classed as fair wear and tear.
LENGTH OF THE TENANCY AGREEMENT
Landlords should consider the longer the tenancy, the more wear and tear is likely to occur.
In the case of a worn carpet, before deciding to make a deduction to a tenant's deposit, you should ask yourself what kind of condition the carpet was in at the start of the tenancy and refer to the check-in inventory.
If the carpet had already endured two tenancies prior to the current one, would it be fair to deduct from the current tenant?
CONSIDER THE NUMBER OF TENANTS AND THEIR AGE
Increased wear and tear on your rental property is likely to occur if you have more tenants living in the same property, such as a family of four.
The property's common parts, such as hallways, living rooms and bathrooms will also be more susceptible to increased wear and tear if there are children living in the property, so consider this when making a judgement at the end of the tenancy.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN WEAR AND TEAR AND DAMAGE
When faced with a broken chair, for instance, landlords could be within their rights to withhold some of a tenant's deposit.
This would be classed as 'damage' in most cases, although landlords should bear in mind the condition of an item before the tenancy when making a call.
A burn mark in the carpet due to hair straighteners being left on, however, is pure negligence and you would be within your rights to deduct for replacement or repair.
KNOW YOUR RESPONSIBILITIES
As a landlord, generally speaking anything that was in the property before your tenants moved in is your responsibility.
So walls, inside and out, doors, supplied fixtures and fittings, basins, sinks, baths, pipework and heating systems are all your responsibility to maintain.
STANDARD OF ACCOMMODATION
Another factor that should be considered is the age and condition of the property at the start of the tenancy.
Modern buildings and new-build houses tend to be more susceptible to damage due to the way things like internal walls are built compared with older homes that may be more solid.
WAYS TO SLOW DOWN WEAR AND TEAR
The easiest and most convenient way to halt wear and tear in its tracks is to keep your tenants happy, meaning they are more likely to stay in the property longer.
A hefty turnover of tenancies means constant redecorating and repairing, plus long-term tenants are likely to care for your buy-to-let property better than those on a short-term let.
Regular maintenance can also help, even during longer-term tenancies. If a wall has become marked and scuffed during a long tenancy, offer to repaint it and keep an eye on the condition of carpets and fixtures and fittings.
At the start of the tenancy, though, make clear your expectations to your tenants. Insist they keep the property clean and habitable and request they inform either yourself or your managing agent of any maintenance issues that arise quickly.
It is also worth making regular inspections, although you should consider your tenants' right to quiet enjoyment and give plenty of notice.
THE IMPORTANCE OF INVENTORIES
There's no better evidence than photographic evidence. At the start of the tenancy, ensure a full inventory is carried out detailing the condition of the property and its fixtures and fittings.
Photos or videos should be clearly dated on both check-in and check-out inventories and your tenant should sign both.
Most disputes can be quickly resolved with clear evidence and this means both tenant and landlord know where they stand.
A SOLID TENANCY AGREEMENT
Think of the tenancy agreement as your protective barrier when it comes to wear and tear. It should set out clearly who is responsible for all areas of the property, inside and out, as well as making clear the obligations of your tenant.
This, in conjunction with your inventory reports, is the most important document you'll have as a landlord, so make sure it is water tight.
USE COMMON SENSE
Wear and tear is very much down to interpretation on both the tenant and landlord side, so try to use common sense and avoid disputes at all costs.
As a landlord, you should always be looking to reduce wear and tear to keep your costs down, but also ensure you have covered all your bases legally and in terms of your inventories in case a dispute is unavoidable.
IF YOU DO HAVE TO DEDUCT...
You must give clear and valid reasons for why you are deducting any of your tenant's deposit. You should also only deduct the amount required to fix any damage.
Your tenant can ask to see receipts or quotes for items being repaired from their deposit so consider this when seeking estimates or paying for repairs.
If things go south with your tenant then work with a mediator from the tenancy deposit scheme your tenant's deposit was lodged with. In all cases, try to reach an agreement that is fair to everyone.
If you are thinking of investing in property in Camberley, speak to one of Martin & Co's experts today to discuss your plans.