What defines ‘fair wear and tear’ when renting?

July 9, 2015

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As a renter it is your obligation to leave the property with fair wear and tear when it comes time to vacate. But this can be confusing and if it’s not clear can later cause disputes. So what exactly defines ‘fair wear and tear?’

Definition of ‘fair wear and tear’

Even if a tenant is clean, tidy, and respectful, the simple actions of daily life can take a toll on a property’s condition. This is what is known as ‘fair wear and tear.’ Examples could include the toll on a carpet from people walking on top of it, or a cracked window pane due to warping in the frame. Neither of these would be the type of damage that a landlord could reasonably expect the tenant to pay for. By contrast, if that same window pane is cracked from the tenant carelessly slamming it repeatedly, or the carpet is damaged from red wine spillage, this would be the responsibility of the tenant. The issue of fair wear and tear generally comes up at the end of a tenancy agreement, when the tenant is trying to get bond money back. Distinguishing between fair wear and tear and tenant-caused damage is also a problem should there be a dispute regarding who is responsible for repairs – the owner or tenant.
Responsibilities of the tenant

Section 38 of the Residential Tenancies Act states that tenants have the responsibility to:

Keep the property reasonably clean
Inform the owner within a three day time period if there is any damage
Ensure that you don’t cause damage to the property, whether it’s due to carelessness or is an intentional act.

Provided that you have abided by these three responsibilities, there is a good chance that you have fulfilled your duty as a tenant and any other damage is the responsibility of the owner. However, it’s always a good case to keep a written report of any damage, in the event of a dispute down the road. You should always check the written terms of your tenancy agreement when in doubt, as you may have agreed to terms such as steam cleaning, painting the walls, or paying for a professional deep cleaning as part of the lease.

What to do if there’s a dispute

The issue of fair wear and tear is often misunderstood, and landlords may have unrealistic expectations of their tenants. Figures from a Tenancy Deposit Scheme survey show that cleaning-related issues are the basis of over half of all landlord-tenant disputes. So what can you do if you feel you have been unfairly charged for damage that is, in your mind, fair wear and tear? The first course of action is to speak directly to the real estate agent and ask them to explain. It’s best to do this in writing, to start a paper trail of your interaction. Explain clearly why you disagree with the charge. You can refer back to the original property condition report, which should describe the property’s condition at the time that you moved in. If the dispute continues, you can take the case to court.

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