They say "All's fair in love and war", but what's fair in wear and tear?

Fair wear and tear isn't just a catchphrase that happens to rhyme nicely - it's a legally recognised term surrounding the change that will take place in a property over time, through neither intentional damage or neglect. The House of Lords definition of fair wear and tear is:

"Reasonable use of the premises by the tenant and the ordinary operation of natural forces."

It is important to distinguish between damage and fair wear and tear. Take a carpet for example - if it's scorched by a dropped iron or gains a new red wine pattern, that's damage. If the carpet has started to flatten over time in areas of regular foot traffic, and is not looking its best, that would typically be a case of fair wear and tear. Similarly a crack in plaster through settling is very different to a deep scrape or hole gouged in a wall through carelessness. The colour of some curtains can fade in the sun - not something that anyone has control over.

A variety of factors should be taken into account when considering fair wear and tear.

Age is one such factor - how old is the item, or how long ago was the wall decorated? Quality and realistic lifespan is another - some items are made to last longer than others. And the length of tenancy should be considered too - if you were to fit new carpets in two properties and then rent these out; you would expect the check-out conditions for the tenant in Property 1 who moves out after two months, and the tenant in Property 2 who stays for five years, to be different.

Which brings us to the importance of check-out (and check-in) reports in this matter.

If the change in condition of an item or property is identified as being a result of fair wear and tear, the landlord will not be able to claim a deduction from the deposit for said change. In the instance of a dispute surrounding deductions to a deposit, adjudicators will make judgements on whether or not any change in property condition is above what would be expected based on the evidence provided by the landlord and tenant. The best insight into "before and after" conditions can be provided by sufficiently detailed check-in and check-out reports, detailing the property and its contents at the beginning and end of the tenancy. Evidence relating to the age of items or the date of decoration - such as invoices and receipts - is helpful to include in a check-in report.

Fair wear and tear is among the subjects covered in our guidance document to Deposits, Disputes and Damages.