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What to Do if a Tenant Damages Your Rental Property
Unfortunately problem tenants do exists, and whilst every landlord is optimistic that their rental property will be returned in pristine condition come the close of the fixed term, this is not always the case. Of course there is the headache of arranging repairs, not to mention the inevitable bill. Whilst discovering your rental is in a state of disrepair is disheartening to say the least, there are steps a landlord can take if a tenant damages their rental property.
Is the Landlord Responsible for Damage Caused by Tenants?
It is essential to not that whilst under typical circumstance the landlord would hold the responsibility to attend to matters of repair throughout the rental property, if the damage is caused by the tenants or guests to the property then the occupants of the property will be liable for the repairs. This is clearly outlined within section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, stating that the occupants of the rental property should be “,making good any damage to the property caused by the behaviour or negligence of the tenant, members of his/her household or any other person lawfully visiting or living in the property.”
Landlords may need to remind tenants of their obligations regarding the repair and maintenance of a rental property. Although the landlord or letting agency will likely carry out inspections of the rental every few months, they do not bear the sole responsibility of documenting any issues with the property. Upon the signing of the tenancy agreement the tenants undertook a duty to report any issues that may need remedial work to the landlord or letting agent so the appropriate work can be carried out It goes without saying that a landlord cannot be expected to address issues that have not been brought to their attention, stressing the importance of a good, transparent line of communication between property owners and their tenants. It is also worth noting that residents are expected to conduct themselves in a tenant like manner for the duration of their tenancy. Whilst this is rather vague, it is common accepted that tenants must attend to the smaller aspects of maintenance such as changing the light bulbs, checking the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms, using appliances in an appropriate and safe manner alongside regularly cleaning the rental.
Can a Landlord Sue a Tenant for Damages?
If the costs of attending to any damage found to the rental property or its contents at the close of the fixed period exceed the amount taken by the landlord for the tenancy deposit then they may wish to take legal action against the tenant. Providing that the total costs of the repairs that cannot be covered by the tenancy deposit are under £3,000 or the landlord does not mind cutting their losses for anything above this threshold then the matter of seeking compensation from the tenant could be taken to small claims court. The saving grace for landlord is that cases handled by small claims don’t require a solicitor and are therefore often found to be far less expensive to pursue than other legal routes. Providing that the property owner’s claims are successful in court then the judge is able to legally compel the tenant to pay the appropriate compensation within 28 days, although it could be as fast as 14 days.
Can I Evict a Tenant for Damage?
It goes without saying that if a tenant is found to have caused substantial damage to a rental property the landlord is likely to seek repossession through serving the occupants with a notice of eviction. It is common for tenancy agreements to clearly stipulate that the tenant is responsible for ensuring that the rental property is returned at the close of the fixed period in a similar condition to that it entered the tenancy in. Therefore if the landlord or letting agent inspects the property and finds that the tenants have neglected to take care of the rental, they will have grounds for eviction.
Providing that it is somewhat close to the end of the rental period, the owner of the property may choose to issue the occupants with a section 21 notice of eviction. Commonly referred to as the no fault eviction, the section 21 notice has earned the moniker as landlords do not have to provide any justification for its serving. This is because the section 21 is unique in that it is simply stating that the landlord does not wish for the tenancy to be renewed come the close of the fixed term, rather that they would like to take back possession of the property.
With this being said the landlord will be prohibited from serving the occupants of the rental property with a section 21 notice of eviction is the tenancy is less that 4 months old. Further to this in an effort to ensure that landlords provide their tenants with the appropriate information as the let out the property, if the occupants have not been supplied with an energy performance certificate, gas and electrical safety certificate or the government’s ‘How to Rent’ guide, then the section 21 notice will not be upheld.
A more practical solution for landlord that are seeking a more immediate resolve to the damage to their property could seek to evict the tenant through issuing them with a section 8 notice of eviction. Unlike the section 21 notice that does not require the landlord to state why the notice is being served, when issuing tenants with a section 8 notice the owner of the rental property must declare the specific ‘grounds’ on which they are evicting the tenant as they have been found in breach of the terms of the tenancy agreement. The section 8 notice must clearly detail that date of the notice’s expiry, if the tenant has not vacated the rental property by this period then the landlord is able to commence court proceedings, gaining a possession order to remove the tenant from the rental property within 14 days.
Landlord Contents Insurance
It may also be worth landlords taking out additional insurance to protect themselves from the costs of significant repairs to their rental property, or replacing damaged appliances and furnishings. It is essential for landlords to note that a standard residential property insurance will not apply if their property is currently occupied by tenants, with many buy to let mortgage policies demanding that the owner take out valid landlord insurance. Whilst it is important to note that individual policies will vary between providers but typically landlord buildings insurance will cover in the event that the building, fixtures and fittings are damages through a storm, flood or fire, up to a specified value. Perhaps of more concern to landlord that offer their tenants a fully or party furnished rental opportunity, landlord contents insurance will offer the landlord protection if aspects of the property such as upholstered items, carpets, white good or kitchen appliances are damaged during a tenancy. However, this insurance will not extend its protection to any belongings that he tenant brings into the rental property and they will be required to take out their own insurance if so inclined.
What Is Wear and Tear?
Before making any deductions from the amount of the tenancy deposit that is being refunded to the tenants, the landlord must make a clear distinction between signs of damage or neglect and fair wear and tear. Fear wear and tear can simply be defined as somewhat inevitable damage or deterioration that can be expected to occur of the course of numerous tenancies and prolonged use. Anything that would fall under this definition such as scuffing, scratch marks, fading of upholstered items, cannot be used to make any deductions from the tenancy deposit. A difference commonly cited by landlords regarding genuine damage is that this can typically be avoided and has been caused through misuse or neglect on the occupant’s behalf.
Can You Make Deductions From the Deposit?
One of the more common ways in which landlords offer themselves protection from the costs associated with amending any damage to the rental property caused by its inhabitants is by taking the maximum amount for the tenancy deposit. Some landlords find that by taking this maximum amount, whilst this does present a higher upfront cost to rent the property, often deters renters from neglecting the space there are renting, returning the property at the close of the fixed term in a similar condition to which it was originally let.
Unlike the holding deposit which can be refunded to the occupants of the property before they make their first rental payment, the landlord or letting agent will withhold the amounts taken for the tenancy deposit until the end of the fixed period. This is because if the final inspection reveals that the condition of the rental property, its furnishings or appliances has deteriorated, the landlord is able to reduce the amount of the tenancy deposit that will be returned to the tenant to cover the associated costs of repair, or replacing items.
Whilst for those new to the rental sector may see this as a one sider affair, with the landlord making deductions as they see fit, not only are tenant able to dispute any deductions being made from the amount of their deposit being refunded, but any deductions must also be justified. This is because when assessing the change in the condition of the rental property the landlord or letting agent will refer to the property inventory, a document that details the condition of each room, appliance and furbishing in the rental property as the tenants move into the accommodation.
Further to this the tenant Fees Act 2019 brought a threshold on the amount a tenant is required to pay their landlord for the tenancy deposit. This maximum amount that can be taken for the tenancy deposit is determined by the annual rental charge for the property. If he occupants of the rental property pay no more than £50,000 each year in rent then they are only required to pay their landlord up to five weeks rent for the tenancy deposit. However, if the tenant pays more than £50,000 in rent per year then the landlord is able to request that the tenants pay a maximum of six weeks rent for the deposit.
It is also worth noting that whilst a landlord does not have to take a tenancy deposit form the occupants of their rental property, if they do it must be entered into a government approved tenant deposit scheme. Details of the appropriate scheme alongside confirmation of the amount being protected and the circumstances under which deductions can be made from the amount being returned must also be supplied to the tenant. If the landlord fails to protect the tenancy deposit, or provide the tenant with the appropriate information then they will be prevented from serving the occupants of the rental property with a section 21 notice during any efforts to repossess the property. Additionally if the landlord is taken to court by the tenants they will not only be made to repay the amounts taken for the tenancy deposit, but could be legally compelled to pay each tenant up to three times the amount taken in compensation.
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