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Wear and tear in a rental property

Paint marks on walls? Damaged carpet? Here's who's responsible for what in a rental property. 

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In Australia, tenants are generally not responsible for paying for fair wear and tear to a property.

Since a contract term like "fair wear and tear" can be a little vague, it's understandable that disagreements arise. To ensure there are no disagreements between tenant and landlord, it's important you know the difference between fair wear and tear and damage.

What is considered fair wear and tear in a rental home?

Fair wear and tear is the inevitable deterioration that occurs over time in a property from ordinary, everyday use. It does not include negligent, irresponsible or intentional actions that cause damage to the property. Fair wear and tear can include:

  • Furniture indentations in the carpet
  • Scuffed wooden floors
  • Faded curtains or frayed cords
  • Paint that has faded, cracked or chipped
  • A time-worn kitchen worktop
  • Worn sliding tracks and loose handles and hinges on windows and doors
  • Cracks in the walls due to building movement
  • Water stains from rain as a result of a leaking roof or bad plumbing

What is accidental damage and who is liable?

Accidental damage caused by the tenant (or their houseguests) is generally the tenant's responsibility. When it comes to home insurance, accidental damage is considered any loss or damage caused by a sudden, unintended or unexpected event that is accidental. This can include accidents like spilling wine on the carpet or breaking a vase. While it's ordinarily the tenant who is liable to pay for accidental damage, disputes can regularly occur.

What state does the property need to be in when it's vacated?

In a nutshell, the property needs to be in a similar condition to when the tenant first moved in. Landlords should be able to compare the current condition of the property to the original condition report. As always, this should not include any fair wear and tear such as furniture indentations and chipped paint.

If the property is not as clean as it was when the tenant moved in, then the landlord might try and withhold the bond. This is so that they can cover the costs of paying for a cleaner so as to restore the property to its previous condition. A landlord has the right to charge you for a cleaner if the property is dusty, unvacuumed or there's grime in the bathroom, so it's a good idea for the tenant to clean it thoroughly before they leave.

To avoid any dispute, the best thing to do is make sure the property is as clean as possible before you vacate it. That way, the landlord will be able to release the bond as soon as possible.

How do I prove fair wear and tear?

Proving fair wear and tear can be tricky at times. The best approach is to know exactly what it covers. Broadly, fair wear and tear is the normal and inevitable deterioration of a property. Factors such as exposure to the elements, deterioration over time and just day-to-day use can cause fair wear and tear.

The fine line between fair wear and tear and damage is often hard to determine. The best way to avoid a dispute is a thorough rental condition report. This should include lots of detailed photos of every room and specific areas of the home, even video.

What should I do if I disagree with my tenant or landlord?

If you're having problems with your tenant or landlord, the first thing to do is try to resolve the issue by speaking with them directly about the issue. Read the terms of the rental agreement so that you have a clear idea of what is and is not expected of you.

If you can't resolve the matter that way, write or email them about the problem. This is important as it shows written evidence of an issue. You can then go to a residential tenancy and real estate complaint service like NSW Fair Trading. The complaints service you use will depend on the state you live in. If it cannot be resolved by a government complaint service, the next step is a civil and administrative tribunal. These will likely cost both the tenant and the landlord.

Does home insurance cover me?

Home insurance can cover the costs of accidental damage. That means if you spill red wine on the carpet, your home insurer will pay for the reasonable costs for it to be cleaned, repaired or replaced.

Both tenants and landlords can protect themselves from accidental damage. It's usually included as an optional extra with most home insurance policies. This can help pay for accidents such as:

  • Scorch marks caused by a hot pan on a kitchen benchtop
  • Smoke or soot when no damage from fire has occurred
  • Glass or crystal items
  • Glass that is in a television set or visual display unit
  • Glass that forms part of a vase, ornament or lamp
  • Accidental loss or damage caused by any animal or bird kept at the insured address (if they are included in the cover and tenant's agreement)

Keep in mind that most home insurance policies won't protect you from what is deemed malicious damage. This is deliberate damage caused to the property such as a mark on the wall because of a nail or screw. A home insurance policy generally won't cover you for the following either:

  • Any construction, alteration or renovation work
  • Scratching, chipping or denting caused by normal use
  • Professional cleaning, repairing, restoring or renovation
  • Scorching or burning by a cigar, cigarette or pipe
Picture: GettyImages

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