Whether you’re the landlord, tenant, or property manager, you must have heard or used the phrase “fair wear and tear or damage” more often than not. The real question is: how sure are you that you understand what constitutes fair wear and tear and damage?

At the end of a tenancy or during a routine inspection, landlords and tenants can find themselves at opposite ends of the great debate: is it fair wear and tear or damage? The reason why it’s important to be on the right side of such debates is that those on the wrong side of it get to pay for the damages made to the rented premises.


The lines that divide what’s fair wear and tear and what’s damages can be a little blurry sometimes. That’s why we have written this guide to provide more clarity so you can be able to argue your case more confidently if the need ever arises.


What is “Fair Wear and Tear”?

Fair wear and tear refer to reasonable wear that naturally occurs in an investment property due to aging and use. Typically, this wear and tear results from the tenant’s daily use of the property, like walking on the floor, using the kitchen sink, carpets becoming flattened in high traffic areas, or timber window frames fading from sunlight.


From the above scenarios, it’s correct to say that fair wear and tear is just something that happens over time with the normal use of a property. It’s fair wear if the degradation of the property has not been caused intentionally, or by misuse, neglect, and abuse of the property.


What is Damage?

Damage is anything that is done to break, harm, or destroy an item or property or parts of the property. These damages may be caused by misfortune, negligence, carelessness, or abuse of an item or property. For instance, if you deliberately or ignorantly wear pointed heel shoes inside a room fully aware they can harm timber floorboards, that constitutes damage under this heading.


Also, in a rented property, tenants are expected to report a potential maintenance matter immediately. If the initial issue goes on to cause extensive damage, failure to report such issues as soon as they appear can be classed as negligence on the tenant’s part.


There are three types of damages insurers typically recognize:


  • Accidental: these are damages that occur suddenly as a result of an unexpected and non-deliberate external action. Accidental damages are usually one-off actions that affect an item, or parts of a property. These damages don’t only have to be visible physically. Loss of function can also be termed as damage by insurers.


  • Malicious or Deliberate: this refers to all damages caused with intent to harm. It can be motivated by spite or vindictiveness. For instance, driving a car through the wall.


  • Intentional: this results from all actions carried out intentionally but without the knowledge that it will alter the state (or parts) of an item. It can also be any activity carried out without express permission from the landlord.


Who Takes Responsibilities for Fair Wear and Tear?

Generally, the tenant is not responsible for fixing any fair wear and tear. However, to be on the safe side, always confirm with the Presidential Tenancy Acts for the state that you reside. Also, from the tenant’s perspective, it can be very hard to distinguish what would be considered fair wear and tear and what wouldn’t be. But with what we have stated above, the picture should become clearer, hopefully.


So, Who Takes Responsibilities for Damages?

The tenants are responsible for any damage caused by the tenant, their child, their pets, or guests. They are thus obligated to perform any repairs or provide a replacement to bring back the item or property to a usable state.


What about Third-party Damages?

If the damage is caused by a third party not directly related to or invited by the tenant, the landlord or owner of the property takes responsibility for it. Examples of these include break-ins, floods, a neighbor’s activity.


Does an insurance policy cover the damage?

Landlords may resort to their insurance to cover the costs of repair or replacement if the tenant fails to meet their responsibilities (depending on their policy).


Although the landlord's insurance company will foot the bill for the repairs, the tenant is still responsible for the damage. As a result, an insurer has the option of going after the tenant to recoup losses (although this often only occurs where negligence or malice was involved in the loss).


Fair Wear and Tear vs Damages

Fair wear and tear happen everywhere, including in the landlord’s residence. A good way to differentiate between what’s fair wear and what’s damage is to check if it’s likely to occur over time, through normal daily use.


In any case, it’s important to avoid accusations and counter-accusations. It doesn’t help any party’s case. You can always reach us to provide more clarity for any similar issues you may be facing.