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Can a Landlord Tell a Tenant to Pay for Repairs?

man pointing to staircase wooden staircase that has foot track marks

Whether you are the landlord or tenant in this situation, it is crucial to understand whether both parties are within their rights when it comes to repairs and payment of the same. Without this knowledge, things can get rather messy or out of hand, and, before you know it, the Civil and Administrative Tribunal has to be involved. 

Under most circumstances, disputes can easily be avoided or settled without intervention from the Tribunal; however, it is unfortunate that not all tenants and landlords are aware of what constitutes ‘damage’ and ‘wear and tear’ of property, or under what circumstance either party should be held responsible for payment of due repairs. 

Therefore, to understand your rights as a tenant or landlord, you first need to understand the difference between accidental damage and naturally occurring wear and tear to the structure or contents of the property. 

Understanding ‘Accidental Damage’ & ‘Deliberate Damage’

old worn timber floorboards with white marks that have been damaged by the elements

A standard home insurance policy typically covers accidental damage which, by definition, is any type of damage that is caused unintentionally or through no deliberate fault of any persons occupying the property. On most occasions, they are lone, unforeseen incidents that result in damage to a part of the structure, or one or more items in the home. Additionally, if a functioning appliance or item stops working suddenly, this is also considered as accidental damage, and is generally covered by home insurance. 

NOTE: Any type of damage caused by pets is not classified as accidental, nor is it covered by insurance. Under these circumstances, the tenant may be asked to pay for the cost of repairs.

When is a Tenant Liable for Damage?

a green covered book titled tenants rights sitting on a wooden desk

Tenants are responsible for their own actions and those of their guests or anyone that visits them at the property. If any of these individuals act in a negligent or irresponsible manner that leads to some form of damage caused to the property, the tenant will be held liable and must pay for the subsequent repairs. Such terms and conditions are generally mentioned in the lease agreement, however, it may not clearly distinguish between accidental damage and deliberate damage.

Let’s take a closer look at the two different categories of damage that a tenant is liable for:

Vandalism/Malicious Damage

Any act of vandalism or intentional damage to the property (done out of spite or malicious intent).

Deliberate Act

Actions that are likely to result in damage to the property, albeit without malicious intent, are considered deliberate acts. This includes doing something without the landlord’s permission or knowledge that ultimately leads to damaging the premises.

For a better understanding of the two, here are some examples of damage wherein the tenant will be held liable:

  • Cuts/scratches and burn marks on kitchen counters
  • Broken window panes caused by irresponsible actions (Eg: throwing a ball in the house)
  • Rips or damage to window treatments caused by pets
  • Pet urine or faeces that leave stains or lingering odours in the house
  • Holes in the walls left by installation of hooks, shelves, nails, etc (done by the tenant)
  • Stains or tears in rugs/carpeting
  • Easily visible scratches on hardwood floors caused by pets or dragging of furniture and other such acts
  • Water damage caused by negligence
  • Damage to the paint from using some form of adhesive on the wall
  • Poorly finished paint jobs (unless approved by the landlord)

What is Considered ‘Wear and Tear’ of Property?

rental lease agreement form on a desk next to a chrome coloured keyboard

Quite often, tenants feel responsible for wear and tear of a property that comes with age and everyday use. This type of deterioration is inevitable when the property is in use and therefore, any repairs related to naturally occurring wear and tear must be undertaken and paid for by the landlord. Bear in mind that these types of damages are generally not covered by insurance. 

Here are some examples of fair wear and tear that tenants and landlords alike can expect when the property is occupied:

  • Scuff marks on a wooden floor
  • Chipped/cracked/faded wall paint
  • Fraying and natural discolouration of curtains and tie-up cords
  • Worn upholstery
  • Wear and tear of kitchen countertops
  • Loose hinges on doors, cabinet doors, and handles
  • Cracks in the wall (unless caused by deliberate impact such as installing wall fixtures)
  • Broken or leaking plumbing fixtures and any subsequent water damage
  • Roof leaks and any subsequent water damage
  • Discolouration of paint around switchboards and baseboards
  • Worn sliding tracks of doors and windows
  • Irreparable damage to carpeting caused by furniture indentations and high foot traffic
  • Appliances breaking down

There are many such occurrences of wear and tear when it comes to living in a house (rented or owned) and hence, tenants and landlords must share a mutual understanding of the same. 

Getting Repairs Done; Who Pays for Them?

young black haired handyman with tool belt fixing a door mechanism with an orange drill

Under no circumstance should a tenant carry out repairs without the consent of the landlord or, at the very least, they must inform the concerned party (this is often the last resort in the case of urgent repairs). There must be a written agreement stating that the tenant will be reimbursed (generally up to a stipulated amount) for payment of repairs carried out if the landlord cannot attend to them in a timely manner. The tenant must also include a detailed description of the damage and subsequent repairs to be done. 

NOTE: The landlord is not required to pay or reimburse the tenant for repairs if the damage was caused by the tenant.

If the repair work required is not urgent, or the landlord is able to step in and take control of the situation, they will arrange for a licensed tradesperson to come in and do the needful. Payment for the same will be incurred by the landlord provided that the damage was accidental or occurred naturally due to wear and tear. 

Renting or leasing a property can be tricky business which sometimes leads to unnecessary disputes between tenants and landlords. To avoid such hassles and to make sure you get your full bond back, know your rights, and keep the information above in your back pocket for when you need it!

Adriana Aziz is the operations manager at MaidForYou. With over 6 years of experience managing cleaning operations, she knows all the best hacks when it comes to cleaning residential and commercial buildings. With expert experience in managing house cleaning operations, interior design and logistics. She spends her free time with her family and as a freelance food critic.

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