To replace or repair? That is the question (regarding tenancy deposits)

Sandy Bastin, Head of Adjudication Services at Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS), a Propertymark Industry Supplier, discusses cleaning and damage to property and contents best practice given they continue to top the list of most common reasons for tenancy deposit disputes.

Last year, 52 per cent of disputes involved cleaning throughout the UK, whilst damage was cited in 43 per cent of claims, according to the TDS's latest Annual Review from The Dispute Service.

Sometimes, however, it isn’t always clear whether the dispute is for cleaning, damage or both – and it isn’t always obvious whether you should claim for rectifying the issue or replacing the item.

Here’s a real-life example of a cleaning and damage dispute case handled by the adjudication team at Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS). This particular case highlights the importance of following good practice at the beginning of the tenancy and shows how, with the right evidence, you can avoid costly court cases and unsuccessful claims.

Claim for replacement bathroom door

The claim was for £250 to cover the cost of a replacement bathroom door. An invoice was provided in support for the supply and installation of a new door and the disposal of the old door.

The tenant stated that the door was not damaged, except for a hairline crack which had been present for some time; the door was fully functional and of low quality. The tenant also provided an alternative cheaper quote for a replacement door.

Evidence provided by landlord

The inventory/check-in report recorded the bathroom door to be in good condition but with numerous pinholes. The check-out report recorded a hole to the top corner of one side of the door. There was no reference to a hairline crack as suggested by the tenant. To support the claim further, the agent provided a dated photograph taken at check-out showing the extent and location of the hole to the door.

In a case like this, there are typically three options:

  • To make good (for example, cleaning or repair)
  • To replace (allowing for fair wear and tear)
  • To make a compensatory award to reflect the damage

The adjudicator’s decision

While accepting that there had been deterioration to the doors condition from that noted at inventory/check-in and that the change in condition went beyond the scope of fair wear and tear, the adjudicator was not persuaded that a claim for a replacement door was the most appropriate remedy. The location of the hole and its size was such that the damage did not impair functionality.

There was no evidence to show that an attempt had been made to make good the hole by repair, or evidence to show that the replacement claim was for a ‘like for like’ quality door. The adjudicator concluded, after taking into account the numerous pinholes noted to the door at the start of the tenancy, that the most appropriate remedy was to make an award of £60, towards repair or as a contribution towards replacement, rather than the full cost of replacement.

Main points for lettings agents

As this case shows, property professionals must show that cleaning or rectifying (usually the less costly remedy) has been attempted without success before an adjudicator can consider an award for either replacement or compensation for loss of value (aesthetic or function).

A report from a third-party professional contractor confirming that the damage to the door could not be repaired or that repair works would have an impact on functionality would be required in support of any statement.

This would demonstrate to the adjudicator that the agent had considered the most economical solution, as they are duty-bound to do, before claiming. An adjudicator can consider a claim for a failed attempt, for example, cleaning supported by an invoice, as well as either a contribution towards the cost of replacing the item, if justified, or a compensatory award.

For an award involving a replacement to have been considered, the adjudicator would need to have been satisfied that the door was so severely and extensively damaged that its condition made it unusable or uneconomic to repair. An agent is not entitled to charge tenants the full cost of returning items to the condition at the start of the tenancy, or to replace items on a ‘new for old’ basis, as this would be betterment.

Agents should make it clear to their tenants that it is their reasonability to take extra care in the property and that they must report any damage that occurs during the tenancy straight away (as they are duty-bound to do).

At TDS, we encourage you to read through the latest adjudication case studies, as they can highlight issues or processes you may have not considered. Knowing ahead of time which disputes are likely to occur can make sure you’ve covered yourself, made your tenant aware and collated the right evidence, should you need to make a claim.

Visit the TDS information lounge online for a wealth of free resources, case studies, guides and webinars designed to help you avoid disputes and manage tenancy deposits more easily.

As a customer of TDS, you’ll be able to access additional tools, templates and benefits. Learn more about why agents are protecting their deposits with TDS: Why Switch?