What exactly is fair wear and tear?

Wednesday, 2nd Apr 2014

wear and tear

The reality of owning an investment property is that, in all likelihood, the condition of your property will decline over time. This can be hard for some investors to accept, especially when they don’t see their property very often.

All tenanted properties will experience some wear and tear, just as your own home will inevitably show signs that it has been lived in. If the wear and tear is considered to be ‘fair’, the tenant will not be liable for the damage and it cannot be claimed on your landlord’s insurance.

So, what exactly is fair wear and tear? There is no formal definition in the Residential Tenancies Act (1987), but it’s generally considered to be the damage that naturally and inevitably occurs as a result of normal use or ageing.

It sounds relatively straight-forward, but it’s an area of constant friction between landlords and tenants because of differing interpretations.

To clarify, let’s consider an example. Carpets have a limited life-span, probably between five and ten years, depending on a number of factors. Therefore, after a few years of use, you would expect to see signs of foot traffic in some areas. This damage would generally be considered fair wear and tear.

Faded curtains could also be an example of fair wear and tear, as the fading has most likely occurred through ageing and normal use. Other examples could be minor scratches on paintwork or even a lock that has broken because of its age.

What about accidental damage? How is that different from wear and tear? Accidental damage is caused by a sudden and unexpected event, such as spilling red wine on the carpet or damaging a wall while moving furniture. Wear and tear, on the other hand, accumulates over time.

What about neglectful damage? Like wear and tear, this sort of damage happens over time, but through some negligence on the part of the tenant rather than normal use. For instance, allowing mould to form in an area by failing to properly ventilate the property could be considered neglectful damage.

Tenants are normally liable for accidental and neglectful damage.

Clearly, when determining what is and isn’t fair wear and tear, it’s vital to have a comprehensive Property Condition Report. This document, produced at the start of a tenancy, will provide the basis for comparison in assessing any sort of damage.