Dealing with Property Damage

Added on July 22nd 2019

One of the things that landlords dread is serious damage being caused to their property or inventory items. Not only does it involve potentially expensive repairs, but it can also result in drawn-out disputes.

It helps both parties – tenants and landlords – to know what their rights are and what are the best routes to take to reach resolution.

When the damage occurs

The tenant has a responsibility to inform the landlord of any breakages or damage as soon as possible. This means that repairs or replacements can be carried out straight away and arrangements to pay for these repairs can be discussed and agreed upon.

In the event of disagreements about the obligations of each party, the Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement usually makes clear who needs to do what.

Legally speaking…

There’s also the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, which explains who’s responsible for fixing damage. Section 11 is important:

It says that tenants should“Make good any damage to the property caused by the behaviour or negligence of the tenant, members of his/her household or any other person lawfully visiting or living in the property.”

So, if a tenant or a visiting friend spills chilli onto a cream carpet, it’s the tenant who must pay for the cleaning or replacement of the carpet.

The difference between damage and wear and tear

This is an important distinction as it helps to assign responsibility to the right party.

The law separates wear and tear from damage and it’s actually becoming more clearly defined – a landlord can’t classify something as damage or fair wear and tear anymore.

Fair wear and tear is damage that is expected due to normal usage. Paint will become scuffed and curtains will be faded by the sun. this damage is gradual and unavoidable and the tenant can’t be liable for this – it’s all part of the deal.

Damage, on the other hand, is avoidable, or occurs by genuine accident. A smashed mirror, spilled red wine or deep scratches on a table are examples of damage and the tenant is liable to pay. Payment is usually in the form of deductions from the deposit.

More about deducting from the deposit

If the property is excessively dirty, there’s damage to the inventory or structure or there are rent arrears, then a deduction from the deposit is a good way to recoup the money needed to rectify the situation.

If the tenant claims that the broken mirror was unavoidable because it wasn’t securely hung, then the Tenant Deposit Scheme will make a decision, which is final. Both parties will have to state their cases if it comes to this, which is why photos and a thorough inventory are vital.

The landlord should also show receipts for repairs or replacements so that the tenant can be sure they’re not losing more of their deposit than is necessary. If the costs of reparations exceed the amount of the deposit and the tenant is unwilling to pay more, then the landlord has the option of going to county court to claim the full amount.

The last resort is eviction

If the tenant is still resident and the landlord is unhappy with the damage caused and the lack of response or responsibility from the tenant, then taking steps to evict the tenant may be next. Having a clear tenancy agreement and keeping regular contact with the tenants is the best way to avoid conflict in the future.

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