From malicious damage to accidental scuffs and scrapes, as a landlord it’s important to know the in’s and out’s and what to do in the event of damage to a rented property. When should a landlord pay for repairs, and when is it the responsibility of the tenant?
Landlords in the UK lose £4.5bn every year as a result of damage to rental properties. It makes up 43% of all disputes, making it the second most common cause of tensions. Understandably, most would like to avoid a nasty dispute with the tenant about who is responsible for shelling out for the repairs, so this handy guide from CIA Landlord Insurance may be helpful in laying out the basics.
The tenancy agreement
Your saving grace here in the event of damage will be your tenancy agreement. It won’t protect your property from bumps and breaks but it will clearly set out who is responsible for what, so there’s less likelihood of a fall out with your tenant. It should detail what is expected of both parties, serving as a reference point throughout the tenancy.
It’s also a good idea to draw up an inventory with photographs at the start of the tenancy so that you have a record of the condition of everything in the property. That way, you can determine what goes beyond fair wear and tear which is vital when deciding whether you need to make any deductions from your tenants deposit.
If you need more clarity, you can refer to the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 for the correct information on who is responsible for fixing any damage. Section 11 addresses repairs, stating that tenants should:
“Make good any damage to the property caused by the behaviour or negligence of the tenant, members of his/her household or any other person lawfully visiting or living in the property.”
In basic terms, if the tenant or anyone invited into the property causes damage, for example spills a glass of red wine, it is the tenant who is legally required to pay for or repair it.
It varies from tenancy to tenancy, however generally speaking, anything that was already in the property before your tenants moved in is your responsibility to maintain. This usually includes the structure and exterior of the property, so the roof, walls, window and exterior doors, and any furnishings, appliances and fittings you supplied such as basins, sinks, baths, pipes and drains, heating and hot water, electrical wiring and the chimney if you have one.
Keep a close eye on the safety features within your property as it’s your responsibility to keep the smoke, carbon and heat detectors, accessible escape routes and fire-safe furnishings and fittings in good working order. Put together a maintenance schedule for your property to determine which checks need carrying out and when. Any issues around damp, heat and safety must be repaired as soon as possible as these can cause potential risk. If your tenant is unhappy with your response time and get the council involved, you may face prosecution and/or fines!
Do what you can to keep your tenants safe, however you only need to make necessary repairs and you do not have to make improvements, such as putting in double glazing windows, even if your tenant requests them.
Fair wear and tear & genuine damage
One of the more difficult parts of property damage can be determining what classifies as damage and what is simply fair wear and tear. Fair wear and tear is defined as damage that will inevitably occur as a result of the property being lived in, such as scuffs on the wall or worn carpets, and a tenant cannot be expected to pay for this or have money deducted from their security deposit for the repairs. The law differentiates between actual damage and what can be regarded as fair wear and tear, so it is no longer down to your discretion as a landlord to classify between the two. This is where your inventory accompanied by photographs can come in handy.
Genuine damage is typically considered to be avoidable destruction or damage that is more than just the result of use, such as a burn in the carpet or a broken chair. Obviously, accidents happen so even this kind of damage should not escalate into disputes, but you are able to deduct money from your tenants deposit for this or, in extreme cases, take legal action against them for compensation.
Deducting from the deposit
When deducting money from your tenants deposit, you must give valid reasons as to why you are making said deductions and you can only deduct the amount needed to correct the damage. A tenant is well within their rights to ask to be shown receipts or estimates for items that they are paying for from their deposit. You can also take deductions for missing items, cleaning fees and unpaid rent. If the cost of the damage is bigger than the deposit, you can apply to a county court to file a claim for a larger amount.
If things have turned sour over damage between you and your tenant, you may have sufficient grounds to evict them. But make sure you take legal advice first, as it’s not something to be taken lightly.
You’ll do well to get through a number of tenancies with little to no damage. These things happen and it’s often no one’s fault. Ensure that your tenancy agreement clearly states the consequences of any damage and keep the communication open between you and your tenant so that you can avoid any disputes.