Landlords playing fast and loose with wear and tear laws, research suggests

New research has found that landlords and agents often have unrealistic expectations when a tenant leaves, and are still pushing rental homes to be in better condition.

Current law stipulates that a tenant has a duty of care to return a property to the state of when the tenancy began, which is usually guaranteed by an inventory list detailing the current condition of the residence, plus its appliances and furniture.  However, the law does not allow for landlords to claim ‘new for old’ from the tenant’s deposit.

This, the research suggests, has become an increasing legal issue within the UK, leaving tenants vulnerable to fastidious landlords.

The research was conducted by the Association of Independent Inventory Clerks (AIIC), and found that many agents and landlords appeared to be unaware of the ‘betterment’ principle, which means an item that was old at check-in cannot be replaced with a new one out of the tenant’s deposit if it sustains damage over the tenancy.  Instead, the landlord is only entitled to claim compensation towards future development, proportionate to the original cost and condition of the item.

Furthermore, the tenant cannot be made liable for the repair costs of an item already damaged at the beginning of their tenancy, such as being charged for the replacement of already-stained carpets.

Pat Barber, chair of the AIIC, said: “We have seen many cases where the landlord or letting agent has not bothered to read the check-in inventory, so when it comes to the check-out, they are unrealistic over issues, which they believe should be included in the check-out and charged to the tenant.

“The key underlying problem is that landlords, agents and tenants have different expectations when it comes to fair wear and tear issues.  Obviously, there is a distinct difference between fair wear and tear and actual damage.  For example, carpet tread will flatten over time where there has been foot traffic, but cigarette burns, stains or soiling will require a charge.”

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Nigel is the Managing Partner and Head of Litigation and Dispute Resolution in the London office of Mackrell Turner Garrett.