Everything You Need to Know About Tenancy Disputes

No one wants a tenancy dispute, so how can you avoid them or make them run more smoothly if they do happen?

We caught up with Lisa Williamson, senior partner at Independent Adjudication Services, to get the lowdown on how to manage any issues that may arise if you and your tenant decide to part ways. 

We hear many tales of woe from landlords who have had to negotiate this tricky issue – anything from rent arrears to properties being left in disarray, and Lisa is going to provide some expert advice on how to tackle even the most troublesome goodbyes.

Common tenancy disputes

It’s unlikely that there is a landlord (or tenant) in the land who hasn’t had some sort of hiccup at the end of a tenancy. After all, when two parties are parting company, there’s likely to be some elements that they don’t see eye-to-eye on. Are there any common issues that you see time and time again? 

Without doubt the most common disputes revolve around cleanliness, whether that might be the overall standard of cleanliness, of the cleanliness of kitchen appliances (especially the oven), or the standard of cleanliness of the carpets.

‘Damage is also a common issue, which could relate to the decor, furniture, fitted units, sanitaryware and so on.’

‘I would say the third most common dispute is regarding what constitutes ‘fair wear and tear’ with both parties often holding widely different opinions!’

Differing opinions are always going to be a tricky issue to resolve, after all, who’s going to admit they are in the wrong? With this in mind, is it wise to get independent advice from an adjudicator in the first instance to resolve an issue quickly? 

‘I would say it’s always best in the first instance for landlords and tenants to try and resolve any disputes themselves and would urge both parties to negotiate and to be flexible,’ stressed Lisa. 

If both parties can reach an amicable agreement, precious time is saved in having to prepare the required documentation for formal adjudication and the tenant stands to get the balance of their deposit returned far quicker.

So, flexibility and good communication is key?

‘Both parties may need to take a step back and consider whether they can reach a compromise,’ agreed Lisa. 

‘I would suggest that the landlord provides genuine quotes/estimates/receipts for any works they’ve had completed or for replacement items, including receipts for cleaning so that the tenant can see for themselves the actual costs incurred by the landlord.’

Preventing issues before they arise

Of course, in an ideal world, there would be no disputes to resolve. Are there any steps a landlord can take at the start of a tenancy to prevent any headaches at the end? 

A watertight tenancy agreement, professional signed inventory with good photographs, regular property visits, dealing with repairs promptly and trying to maintain a good rapport with the tenant,’ explained Lisa. 

A professional inventory is a good idea, it is independent, unbiased, usually has high quality photographs and focuses on the condition and cleanliness of items. Many inventories compiled by landlords have poor quality photographs and no written descriptions, so it can be difficult for an adjudicator to accurately assess the condition and level of cleanliness of the property at the start of the tenancy.’

‘The inventory should be updated each time a new tenant moves in, and it is vital to either get them to sign it or else to prove that it was sent to them and that they were given seven days to advise the landlord of any discrepancies.’

OK, so the inventory is really your move-in safety net, giving a clear guide to the state of the property. That will help provide clear evidence of any damage (outside of reasonable wear and tear) that has occurred throughout the duration of the tenancy. 

Does this need to be revisited at the end of the tenancy, upon checkout? 

‘Yes, most definitely!  And it’s worth noting that even if a landlord has prepared their own inventory, they can still instruct a professional inventory clerk to conduct the checkout report,’ said Lisa.

‘Naturally a landlord is going to be more biassed towards their property than an independent inventory clerk who will provide a detailed report with clear photographs to include close-up pictures of any dilapidations including cleanliness issues. Generally, adjudicators will give more credence to an independent checkout report and the inventory clerk’s findings and opinion regarding liability rather than that of the landlord.’

What is fair wear and tear?

We’ve used the term ‘fair wear and tear’ a couple of times now, but it is often met with some confusion, and it’s not hard to see why. One person’s ‘fair’ might be another person’s ‘totally trashed’… is there a clear guide as to what constitutes fair wear and tear over a certain duration that landlords can use?

‘That age old question which is always so subjective!’ laughs Lisa. 

A landlord must take into account the type of tenant they have allowed; it goes without saying that a property let to six students for a year will inevitably suffer more wear and tear than a property let to a couple of professional sharers. Similarly, a family with young children are likely to cause more wear and tear than a single person.

‘The adjudicator will take into account the original condition of the property, the term of the tenancy, the type and number of occupants and the apparent quality of fixtures and fittings. A budget, foam backed carpet would only be expected to have a one-to-two-year life expectancy, whereas a higher quality carpet with underlay would be expected to last for four to five years.

Presumably this is looking at things like tread marks and where the carpet has worn down in high traffic areas like hallways and near doors? What about if there’s a whacking great read wine stain in the middle of the living room?

‘Wear and tear is different to ‘damage’. If a carpet is worn to the central walkway this is generally regarded as wear and tear, but if the carpet is stained or has cigarette burns, this would be classed as damage and therefore the tenant would have some liability for compensation to the landlord,’ explained Lisa. 

What is betterment?

Some landlords may have come across the term ‘betterment’ when dealing with end of tenancy claims. Can you explain what this means, and how it can impact a dispute? 

‘The landlord must avoid ‘betterment’ which means that they cannot be in a better position at the end of the tenancy at the tenant’s expense than they were at the start,’ said Lisa. 

‘I would say the most common example is where a landlord claims for the full cost of professional cleaning of a property, and yet the check in inventory proves that the property was only cleaned to a domestic standard at the start of the tenancy. Whilst the standard of cleanliness may have deteriorated, the landlord will only be awarded an amount which the adjudicator considers as fair and reasonable to reinstate the level of domestic cleaning presented at the start.’

Other examples include landlord’s wanting to charge for brand new carpets, full costs of redecoration, garden tidying etc, when the inventory confirms that these items/areas were not new or in good order at the start of the tenancy.

OK, so in those cases a landlord may be awarded some costs, which would allow them to put the property back to the same condition it was in at the start of the original tenancy, but they wouldn’t be awarded costs to replace a ten-year old B&Q kitchen with a brand new, hand-made bespoke one, for example. Nothing to say they can’t pay the extra and put the beautiful kitchen in, but they can’t expect the outgoing tenant to cough up for it! 

5 top tips for ending a tenancy on a high note

We don’t often think about the end of a tenancy at the start, but according to Lisa, that’s exactly what we should be doing if landlords want to safeguard themselves (and their tenants) from a whole heap of paperwork and hassle. 

But here are 5 top top tips for keeping the end of a tenancy sweet:

  1. Don’t forget to carry out an inventory. Ideally, an independent inventory and checkout if possible
  2. Make sure to get the inventory signed! Get the tenant to sign within seven days of receipt, be sure to chase up!
  3. Pictures speak a thousand words. Make sure your inventory includes clear, high-quality photographs of all areas of the property
  4. Keep a paper trail. All documents should be filed, and follow up with emails if necessary 
  5. Be fair with dilapidation costs. If they seem to be unrealistically high it’s inevitable that the tenant will dispute the claim

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