Spending money on repairs and refurbishments is part of being a landlord. Your tenant should report any repairs and damages to you, but they might not always do so – especially if the damage is their fault.
This article looks at how to deal with tenant damage to your property.
Prevent tenant damage with good preparation
Problems with property management are much easier to deal with if you have prepared ahead of time. Prepare for damage to your property by following these steps:
1. Take an inventory
Take a thorough inventory each time a tenant moves in or out. This includes a detailed, room-by-room account of any minor blemishes or safe and unobtrusive wear and tear that you intend to leave uncorrected.
The goal of an inventory is to evidence the state of the property at the beginning and end of a tenancy. It is wise to take photos and give copies to your tenants. Ask them to sign the inventory form if they are happy with the contents.
You can find a free-to-use inventory form in our landlord downloads section.
2. Take a deposit
It is very common to take a damage deposit from tenants before a tenancy commences. Landlords can withhold deposits in the event of rental arrears or tenant damage.
Deposits are usually between a month and six weeks’ rent. There are strict rules on how to deal with tenant deposits:
- you must protect a deposit in an approved scheme within 30 days of receipt
- you must give your tenant prescribed information, again within 30 days of receipt
Note that a security deposit only allows you to claim for tenant damage or unpaid rent, as well as related court expenses. The deposit protection scheme you use will resolve any disputes that arise between you and your tenant.
3. Have a well-written tenancy agreement
The assured shorthold tenancy (AST) agreement that you and your tenant sign outlines the responsibilities and rights of both parties. It is one of a landlord’s most important legal considerations.
In the case of tenant damage, the AST agreement should outline:
- the landlord’s obligation to keep the property safe and in a good state of repair
- the tenant’s obligation to look after the property
- whether the landlord has taken a damage deposit, how much it is and under what circumstances the landlord may withhold it
Dealing with tenant damage
It is, of course, not always possible to prevent tenant damage. How you deal with damage after the fact will depend on the situation.
The tenant has left
Your tenant may already have left before you discover that they have left your property damaged.
Provided that your tenant did not abandon the property without notice, you should have a forwarding address. Otherwise, you can attempt to get in touch with their guarantor.
Notify the tenant in writing that you intend to withhold some or all of their deposit to pay for the damages. (Your deposit protection scheme will advise you how to do this.) If the tenant consents, the protection scheme with which you registered the deposit will split the money appropriately. If the tenant does not consent, you will need to take the problem to the scheme’s dispute resolution service.
If you can’t get in touch with your tenant
If you have no current address for the tenant and they do not respond to your written notice within 14 days, you may be able to make a single claim. The process is outlined in the Housing (Tenancy Deposit Schemes) Order 2007. Talk to your deposit scheme provider for more information.
If the deposit isn’t enough to cover the repairs, you can make a claim for compensation through the courts. Sums under £5,000 are small claims cases. Higher amounts will necessitate a formal hearing, in which case it is advisable to speak to a solicitor.
The tenant is still in occupation
The tenancy may still be in effect when you discover that your tenant has damaged your property. In this case, your tenant may be willing to repair the damage. If not, depending on the severity of the damage, you might wish to issue eviction proceedings.
If serving a section 8 notice, you will cite grounds 12, 13 and/or 15. These grounds cover breach of contract, deterioration of the property or damage to your furniture respectively.
You will need to provide proof, which is where the inventory and photographs come in. Bear in mind, though, that none of these grounds are mandatory grounds for eviction. Courts are only likely to grant possession in particularly extreme cases of tenant damage.
What if the damage was deliberate?
Deliberate damage is criminal damage, and is much more serious. It is possible to involve the police, but they are likely to consider your case a ‘civil dispute’.
Your best option for redress is probably still through the courts. If the courts issue a county court judgement (CCJ) to your tenant, this will also affect their credit rating and make it harder for them to find a place to rent in the future.
In more extreme cases of tenant damage such as this, it is wise to seek the advice of an experienced solicitor.