Fair Wear And Tear – An Overview

A definition of fair wear and tear

The law defines fair wear and tear as “reasonable use of the premises by the tenant and the ordinary operation of natural forces.” This refers to the twin forces of time and normal daily habits. Walking across a carpet from door to dining table, for example, will exert a wearing effect during the length of a year which is perfectly natural.

A landlord cannot ask the tenant to pay for repairs or replacement at the end of the tenancy for changes caused by such fair wear and tear.

No entitlement to betterment

It is a legal tenet that a landlord cannot expect to have old replaced with new at a tenant\’s expense. An allowance for fair wear and tear must be made when considering compensation for damage.

The lay also prevents a landlord from replacing old items with new and charging the tenant for the privilege. This is called betterment.

Assessing fair wear and tear

A professional inventory clerk uses experience and common sense to assess the many factors present before deciding what is attributable to fair wear and tear. Here are some of the things a clerk will consider:

  • The quality of the supplied item (and that varies greatly)
  • The age of the item
  • The condition at the start of the tenancy
  • The condition at the end of the tenancy
  • The usual life expectancy of the item
  • The number of tenants – and how many are adults and how many are children, when appropriate
  • The length of the tenancy
  • Any extenuating circumstances

A tenant has a duty of care to leave the property at the end of a tenancy in the same condition recorded on the inventory, with fair wear and tear taken into account.

To avoid the appearance of betterment, the allocation of costs or compensation must take into account these three elements:

  1. Fair wear and tear (as described above)
  2. The most appropriate remedy for repair or replacement (see below)
  3. That the landlord is neither financially nor materially better off at the end of the tenancy, having taken into account (1) and exercised (2)

Appropriate remedies

Some of the most common methods available to landlords for dealing with damage or decrease in value are:

  • Replacement of an item damaged beyond use or economic repair
  • Repair
  • Cleaning
  • Compensation when the value of an item had decreased more rapidly than would be normal

It’s important to note that the landlord or agent has a duty to adopt the most reasonable and practical remedy.

A simple example

At the start of the tenancy, the inventory notes that the carpet in the lounge has not been freshly cleaned and has a few spot marks. At the end of the tenancy, the Check-out report notes the carpet as soiled.

In this scenario, the landlord should not be entitled to full compensation for the carpet cleaning costs. A fair solution would be for the tenant to pay a percentage of the cleaning costs, which would be calculated by the inventory clerk using the techniques outlined above.

An example from the TDS

The TDS publish a monthly Adjudication Digest. In February 2016, they highlighted a case where the landlord and tenant were in dispute over damage to an cast iron bath. Here is the report, which is well worth reading:
Chips in the bath – repair or replace?