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What to do if a tenant has damaged your property

Damage to a rental property can cause quite the headache for a landlord. Not only because your property has been mistreated, but thee is also all the dealings afterwards. For instance, who pays? You or the tenant?

It's the tenant’s duty to report any damages to you or your letting agency, with all parties then expected to agree how replacements or repairs are going to be arranged and paid for – but agreements aren't always reached amicably. 

In the unfortunate event that your tenant has damaged your property and neglected to notify you, or is refusing to pay for repairs, you can follow the advice below to resolve the situation. 

What damage is classed as wear and tear?

The first thing you need to do is differentiate between what is ‘fair wear and tear’ and what is actual damage. The law is becoming more defined in regard to fair wear and tear, so with more rigid guidelines in place it is no longer down to the landlord’s discretion to classify wear and tear. 

A tenant can no longer be charged – or have any money deducted from their security deposit –  for damage that would have inevitably occurred as a result of the property being inhabited. For example, if the walls of a property appear to be lightly scuffed at the end of a tenancy, the landlord could not reasonably accuse the tenant of causing the damage - minor marks such as these are to be expected in a property that's been lived in. 

A tenant can no longer be charged – or have any money deducted from their security deposit –  for damage that would have inevitably occurred as a result of the property being inhabited.

Genuine damage is typically considered to be destruction, which could have been avoided. This is more than simple wear and tear, it's incidents like a burn in the carpet. For wear and tear, your tenancy agreement should contain a clause with worded similarly to this:

'The tenant shall keep the interior clean and well maintained and the property is expected to be found in the same state as when the tenancy first began – the exception being fair wear and tear.'

In what instance would I deduct from the deposit?

You have the right to retain part or all of the security deposit to cover the cost of repairs. It is also possible to evict a tenant for breach of contract, if they've caused serious damage to your property.

The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 sets out the responsibilities of both landlords and tenants. Section 11 deals with the issue of repairs and states 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.'

This means that any damage caused by the tenant, or by anyone the tenant invites to the property, will need to be repaired or paid for by the tenant. For example, if your tenant's guest spilled red wine on the carpet, it would be the tenant’s duty to clean or even replace the carpet – with money deducted from their deposit.

How do I deduct from the deposit?

If deducting from the deposit, your tenant has the right to see receipts and to dispute any costs. If the damage is less than £3,000, you can write to the small claims court and you won’t need a solicitor. 

The deposit should – by law – be placed into a deposit protection scheme. This money will become available to the landlord, if any damages ocur during the tenancy.

How do I prevent future tenancy issues?

At the beginning of each tenancy, you should take an inventory of the property – along with photographic evidence of its condition – before the tenant moves in.

The inventory should include all walls, carpeted areas and any furnishings – for example furniture and appliances. Make it clear that, by signing the tenancy agreement, the tenant is acknowledging the current condition of the property, and agrees to maintain this state until the tenancy terminates. 

If, at the end of the tenancy, you cannot come to a mutual agreement with the tenant in regards to the condition of the property and the cost of any repairs, then the third party holding the security deposit can act as an independent adjudicator. It’s worth noting that the decision of the third party is final - after the decision has been made, you cannot take the claim to court. 

To minimise the risk of lengthy dispute processes, make sure your tenancy agreement clearly states the consequences of causing damage to the property - and that your communication channel with your tenant stays as open as possible. 

Finally, you should always keep evidence of any communication regarding damages for instances where a claim needs to be made against your landlord insurance policy, or a dispute is escalated to litigation.