Wear and tear or accidental damage?

Wear and tear or accidental damage?

Your tenants have just moved out. Now, it’s time to do the final property inspection. You check the official condition report and realise that your property doesn’t look as good as it did when your tenants moved in. Is it wear and tear or accidental damage? You believe it’s accidental damage and withhold the bond. Your tenants disagree and claim that it’s wear and tear. Tensions rise, and you’re not quite sure what to do.

You don’t want to find yourself in this situation. Worst case scenario, you are not able to resolve the conflict, and your tenants bad-mouth you and your property on social media and file a report with the Tribunal.

The problem lies with the vague definitions of ‘wear and tear’ and ‘accidental damage.’ In all states and territories across Australia, tenants are not responsible for costs associated with fair wear and tear to a rental property (unless stated otherwise in their tenancy agreement). Tenants are liable to pay for damage resulting from irresponsible accidental or intentional actions.

Let’s take a closer look at the difference between wear and tear and accidental damage.

What is wear and tear?

Fair wear and tear is the normal deterioration of a property from standard everyday use. Things like exposure to the elements, day-to-day movement, and time can cause a property’s condition to decline.

Tenancy laws differ state by state, but generally speaking, the following occurrences of wear and tear are the landlord’s responsibility:

  • Faded or cracked paint
  • Scuffed wooden floors
  • Faded curtains
  • Furniture indentations on carpet
  • Loose hinges and handles on doors and cupboards
  • Worn paintwork near light switches

What is accidental damage?

Accidental damage is damage that occurs as a result of unexpected and non-purposeful actions. Usually, accidental damage results from one-off incidents. Damage might include physical damage (e.g., a hole in the wall) or loss of function (e.g., a broken stove).

Related: Can landlords ask tenants to pay for professional cleaning?

Depending on the landlord’s insurance policy and the tenancy agreement’s terms, tenants may or may not be responsible for accidental damage. Instead, they may only be liable to fund repairs associated with intentional, irresponsible, and negligent behaviour.

With that in mind, it’s also worth noting the difference between deliberate acts and acts of vandalism:

  • A deliberate act is an act carried out without permission and with full understanding that the act will alter the state of the property, but without spite or malice.
  • Vandalism is an act motivated by vindictiveness and carried out with the intention of causing damage to a property.

In most cases, tenants will be liable for the following:

  • Stains on the carpet
  • Burns or cuts on the kitchen bench
  • Missing or damaged (for example, torn by a pet) curtains
  • Water stains caused by indoor pot plants
  • Paint damage from décor mounted using Blu-Tac or sticky tape
  • Holes in the wall left by picture hooks

Proving fair wear and tear

condition report

The best way to prove whether damage is fair wear and tear or not is to meticulously complete a rental condition report at the beginning of a tenancy. Taking photos and videos is also advised. It’s beneficial for both landlords and tenants to ensure condition reports are complete with care and attention to detail.

How to avoid rental disputes

Disputes between rental providers and renters regarding damage to the property are never pleasant. As a rental provider, the most effective way of avoiding a dispute is to carry out thorough, periodic inspections.

Related: 10 must-know tips for new landlords

The purpose of a rental inspection is to check:

  1. The tenant is maintaining the rental property
  2. The tenant hasn’t breached the terms of the tenancy agreement
  3. If any maintenance or repairs are required

Remember, laws surrounding rental inspections differ between states. In our article, How to do a rental inspection, we walk you through the various rules and give you a step-by-step rundown of how to carry out a successful inspection. Plus, we’ve included a FREE rental inspection checklist. It’s a must-have for all self-managed landlords.

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