What is classed as fair wear and tear?

Often, costly landlord-tenant disputes arise as a direct result of differing interpretations of what exactly is classed as ‘fair’ wear and tear.

Fair wear and tear is a hot topic for debate, but a clear definition of what is reasonable is critical when it comes to returning or retaining a tenant’s deposit so, although the issue will always ultimately be situation-dependent, Assist Inventories, a London property inventory company, have given us some common benchmarks to consider.

What is wear and tear?

The House of Lords defines fair wear and tear as: ‘Reasonable use of the premises by the tenant and the ordinary operation of natural forces’. But when do these ‘natural forces’ exceed what is considered ‘ordinary’?


Age – Were the walls painted or carpets laid at the start of the tenancy, or have they been there for a longer duration? By knowing the age of items, you can make an accurate judgement on how much wear and tear the item has had throughout the tenancy. Tip – keep invoices in order to know and prove age.

Quality and Expected Lifespan – It is important to take note of the quality of items, décor, fixtures of fittings and be honest about their lifespan.

Occupiers – The more rooms and occupants, the more likely there will be wear and tear in common areas, e.g. living areas, kitchen, bathrooms. Moreover, it is important to consider whether children are living in the property. We all know that scuffs and accidents are common and even unavoidable in a family home.  Compare this living situation with that of a single professional and what can be expected differs greatly.

Tenancy Length – Naturally, the longer the tenancy the more wear and tear.

Wear and Tear VS Damage

Wear and Tear

  • Worn out, scuffed or dirty carpets, flooring or lino
  • Worn out keys
  • Loose/stubborn door locks, hinges or handles
  • Worn countertops
  • Water stains from rain or plumbing
  • Cracked, chipped or faded plasters or paint
  • Loose wallpaper
  • Faded blinds/curtains or heat blistered blinds
  • Dirty windows/glass


  • Badly scratched or damaged flooring
  • Torn, stained or burned carpets
  • Broken of missing locks
  • Damage to door through forced entry
  • Lost keys
  • Burns/cuts on countertops
  • Water stains from accidents such as overflowing baths etc
  • Holes in walls
  • Unapproved painting
  • Ripped or marked wallpapers
  • Torn, broken or missing curtains/blinds
  • Broken Windows

Dispute Prevention

As a landlord you can prevent any confusion or differing opinions on wear and tear by maintaining a good relationship with your tenant(s). By offering clear guidance on what is expected and the best way to look after the property, you’re less likely to encounter issues further down the line.

However, the most effective method of preventing disputes is to ensure the property’s condition is fully recorded by having a comprehensive inventory in place on the check in, and making sure that a check-out report is completed at the end of the tenancy. Moreover, you can stay on top of any potential issues through mid-term inspections.

As an industry professional Charlie Saunders, Managing Director of Assist Inventories, has commented on the matter, “It sometimes feels as though there is an everlasting dispute over fair wear and tear within the letting industry. However, we believe disputes can be prevented and we break it down into simple terms to help all parties have a better understanding. The chance of a dispute can be lowered right from the start of the tenancy and of course a proper inventory being carried out.”

Photographic evidence is also helpful in order to record the condition of the property from the beginning to end of the tenancy. If a tenant, landlord or agent has this evidence clearly dated it can verify detail and serve an effective negotiating tool at the end of the tenancy.

If any issues surrounding fair wear and tear were to arise an adjudicator cannot assume and will make a decision based on evidence alone. This once again highlights the importance comprehensive property inventory reports.

Wear and tear is a topic that is open to interpretation. All parties should aim to minimise the level of wear and tear throughout the tenancy and ensure they are covered in the unlikely event of a dispute over the return of a deposit.

This article was written by Assist Inventories.

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