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What is ‘wear and tear’ in a rental property?

wear and tear definition

As an independent insurance broker, our aim is to provide advice, guidance and support to make sure our customers get the best cover for their needs. In this article we are answering the most common questions about what counts as ‘wear and tear’ in an insurance policy.

What is ‘wear and tear’?

When the term ‘wear and tear’ is used in a tenancy agreement, it’s referring to: “Reasonable use of the premises by the Tenant and the ordinary operation of natural forces.” Unfortunately, there are no precise rules on what counts as ‘reasonable use’. Is that carpet just worn, or are those stains never coming out? What about picture hooks left in walls, or loose wallpaper?

The level of wear and tear you can expect depends on a few things:

  • Length of tenancy – the longer your tenants are in the property, the more natural wear and tear you can expect
  • Condition of the property before they moved in – was it brand new? Or had the fixtures and fittings been in for a couple of years. Think about these factors before deciding what’s fair.
  • Number and age of tenants –more bedrooms and occupants means more wear and tear in communal spaces, such as the living room, hallways, bathrooms and kitchen. If there are children, factor that in too – scuffs and scrapes are an inevitable part of family life. Similarly, a group of students will cause more wear and tear than an elderly couple.

So, what actually counts as wear and tear?

Wear and tear is the gradual damage you would expect to see in a property over time. Things like small marks on walls, faded, chipped or cracked paint, worn carpets or stubborn locks are all expected to happen in a property after a couple of years of occupation.

Think about your own home and what it looks like after a few years of living there. Are your carpets still pristine and the paint on the walls looks like new? Of course not, so if you’re not sure, think back to your own experience.

It’s worth noting that as a landlord you are not entitled to get the property back in a better condition than which it was let at the start of the tenancy. This means if things need replacing it must be done on a like-for-like basis and tenants must not pay for damages that would happen naturally throughout the length of their tenancy.

What doesn’t count as wear and tear?

Damage caused on purpose, by accident or through neglect. For example, cracks in the plasterwork could happen through natural settling, but a hole in the plasterwork might not. Lost keys, broken windows, torn curtains and badly scratched wooden floors can all count as damage caused by the tenant and not wear and tear. This kind of damage is what the deposit is for, but if there is a dispute and you do want to make a claim, it’s important to be mindful of ‘tenant lifestyle’ as this can affect the outcome of a claim.

See the list at the bottom of this article for some examples of what does and does not count. 

What can you do to prevent excessive wear and tear?

Prevention is always best, so here are a few things you can do to keep wear and tear on your property to a minimum:

  • Keep your tenants happy – happy tenants stay in your property longer and are more likely to look after the place like it’s their own home. Having a lower tenant turnover will mean less cost for you in redecorating/renewing your property.
  • Look after the property like you live there yourself – Refresh the property from time to time. Every two years or so is a good rule of thumb to update something in the property, whether a fresh coat of paint or replacing a tired carpet. Looking after the property in this way helps keep tenants happy and will help minimise wear and tear and redecoration costs when they move out.
  • Set your expectations at the start of the tenancy – remind your new occupants that regular cleaning and maintenance will keep the property in good condition and reduce the risk of them experiencing any issues.
  • Hold regular inspections – visit the property every 3-6 months to check everything is in order and highlight issues sooner rather than later.

Do I need to do an inventory at the start of a tenancy?

What counts as wear and tear is a subjective issue, so it’s vitally important to take a detailed inventory before and after the tenancy. It’s even better if the inventory includes photos or videos but make sure these are clearly dated. This will take away any ambiguity and ensure you have photographic/video evidence in case there is a claim.

If you’re preparing the inventory yourself, provide a copy to the tenant at check in and check out stage. Make sure they sign a copy showing they understand and give them a chance to discuss any deductions you are proposing to take from their deposit.

Examples of wear and tear:

Below is a list showing common examples of wear and tear. This is an example list only and may vary depending on who your insurer is and what your policy says. Always make sure to read your policy documents to see what’s covered.

Wear and tearNot wear and tear
Old, worn keysLost keys
Loose or stiff door lock Broken or missing locks
Loose door handles or hinges Damaged door due to forced entry or carelessness
Worn out carpets Torn, stained or burnt carpets
Scuffed wooden floors Scratched or badly marked wooden floors
Thin or worn lino Lino with holes, tears or stains
Worn countertops Cuts, scratches and burns in countertops
Finger marks around light switches Unexplained stains on ceiling or walls
Cracks in plaster from settling Holes in plaster from carelessness or kids
Chipped, cracked or faded paint Unapproved painting or decorating done by the tenant
Loose wallpaper Ripped or marked wallpaper
Faded curtains Ripped, torn or missing curtains
Blinds warped by heat Blinds with broken or bent slats
Dirty windows Broken windows
Loose, stubborn or inoperable tap handle Missing or broken tap handle
Sliding door that’s come off track Missing or damaged sliding door

Please be aware that a policy excess applies to each and every loss. If you have purchased a policy from Alan Boswell Group and aren’t sure about the wording please give us a call.

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