What is the tenant responsible for?
The tenant is generally responsible for:
- looking after the property by using it in a ‘tenant-like manner’
- keeping the landlord informed about any repairs that are needed
- providing access to have any repair work done
- ensuring the property is safe for their visitors
What is acting in a tenant-like manner?
The term ‘tenant-like manner’ comes from the judgement of Lord Denning in Warren v Keen back in 1953.
The tenant must take proper care of the place. He must, if he is going away for the winter, turn off the water and empty the boiler; he must clean the chimneys when necessary and also the windows; he must mend the electric light when it fuses; he must unstop the sink when it is blocked by his waste. In short, he must do the little jobs around the place which a reasonable tenant would do. In addition, he must not, of course, damage the house wilfully or negligently… but apart from such things, if the house falls into disrepair through fair wear and tear or lapse of time or for any reason not caused by him, the tenant is not liable to repair it.
Here we can see that acting in a tenant-like manner has a number of different components. The tenant is:
- expected to do the little jobs around the house that someone would normally do as a householder, such as changing fuses, unblocking sinks and cleaning windows.
- not to damage the house intentionally or through their neglect.
- not expected to repair any damage caused through fair wear and tear or the passage of time.
As a result, while landlords can reasonably expect that tenants will look after the place responsibly and do the little jobs, they will be responsible for the bulk of the repairs in the property.
What is fair wear and tear?
One of the most common causes of dispute at the end of a tenancy is what constitutes fair wear and tear as opposed to damage caused by the tenant. This is not surprising, as damage is something the tenant is liable for while fair wear and tear is a cost the landlord is expected to absorb.
While there is no easy definition of fair wear and tear, the House of Lords has defined it as unavoidable deterioration caused by the ‘reasonable use of the premises by the tenant and the ordinary operation of natural forces.’ What constitutes ordinary operation or reasonable use will be a question of fact though.
However there are some sensible factors that landlord and tenants should consider before deciding what the tenant might be liable for:
- How long was the tenancy? As fair wear and tear is linked to the passage of time, the longer a tenancy goes on, the more likely it is that furnishings will wear down and fixtures will need replacing.
- What was the condition of the property at the start of the tenancy? Tenants are only expected to return the property in the condition it was let in, subject to fair wear and tear. As a result, landlords are less likely to be able to reclaim the full cost of an item for a replacement if the condition was worn at the outset.
- How many occupants live in the property? The more people there are living in the property the more that wear and tear will occur. As such landlords of large HMO properties are less likely to be able to reclaim damage than someone renting out to a single occupant.
- How has the damage occurred? Deliberate or clearly negligent activities that cause damage are unlikely to be considered fair wear and tear so it is important to find out how the damage occurred.
When does a tenant need to keep a landlord informed of a repair?
Most of the time the tenant will be required to inform the landlord that a repair is needed before the landlord is obligated to fix it or liable for any breach of contract relating to it.
However, this notice is only required in cases where the tenant has the controlling interest over the area where the disrepair has occurred and sometimes the landlord is liable immediately.