Renting rules revealed: Malicious damage vs wear and tear

August 15, 2016Tags: buy-to-let | letting | lettings | Landlords

It’s an unavoidable fact that your Buy to Let property will suffer natural wear and tear over time. Paintwork gets marked and chipped, carpets need cleaning and will gradually wear out, and any furnishings and equipment in the property need replacing every so often, so you need to expect and budget for this.

But sometimes tenants deliberately damage your property and/or the things in it, so it’s important you can recognise vandalism and also prove it was carried out by your tenant or their friends/guests.  

What is ‘malicious damage’?

Basically, it’s when some part of your property or its contents is damaged in a way that can’t be put down to normal day-to-day living or an accident. For example:

 Wear and tear Accident Malicious damage 
Walls  Scuff mark Large scrape Punches hole
 Front door  Loose handle Cracked glazed pane Forced off hinges

Five protection and prevention steps

  1. Check your landlord insurance policy covers you for malicious damage. That way, as long as it can be proved, you won’t have to shell out for the cost of repairs. 
  2. Always take a security deposit and make sure it’s protected in line with current lettings laws.
  3. Have an inventory carried out at the start and end of every tenancy by an independent inventory clerk. They know exactly how to document the property’s condition and contents, plus they’re experienced in judging wear and tear versus accidental or deliberate damage. And because they’re independent, you can’t be accused of any bias.
  4. Carry out inspections every 3-6 months. If we manage your property, we’ll do this as part of our service. But if you manage yourself, it’s a chance for you to see how well the tenant is taking care of your property and you can address any issues as they come up. If you or we only discover damage when the tenant leaves, it might have already led to further issues. For example, if a broken window’s left for too long, it could result in internal weather damage. Or a smashed back door could leave the property vulnerable to burglaries and even more damage. 
  5. Make repairs in good time. One of the most common complaints by tenants is that problems aren’t fixed quickly enough, so keep on top of maintenance. Remember, if a tenant has complained to you and you haven’t carried out repairs as you should have, you won’t be able to serve them with a Section 21 notice.

Also make sure the tenant knows that if they don’t hand the property back in good condition, their deposit could be retained and they might be pursued for the additional cost of repairing any malicious damage. 

What should I do if a tenant vandalises my property?

If a tenant has deliberately caused damage, it’s probably because they have violent tendencies and/or are angry with you – or both! So you should always try to communicating well and remaining calm and sensitive to any problems they might be having.

Document the damage immediately - with photos and in writing - so it can be compared with the original inventory. If possible, have the same independent clerk who carried out the check-in inventory to come and formally record it. Then contact your insurance company.

Put everything in writing (use read receipts for email and registered post for mail) and follow up any face-to-face or phone conversations with an email, so you have a clear paper trail. 

If the tenant starts behaving in an anti-social and/or aggressive way and you feel threatened, don’t hesitate to call the police. And if you need to evict them, it’s worth using a professional company to carry it out, so you don’t have to get personally involved.

Luckily, we don’t have to deal with malicious damage very often but when we do, we take action very quickly to ensure our landlords and their properties are affected as little as possible. Come and speak to us at any time if you have any questions about your Buy to Let properties, our expert lettings advisers will guide you through the lettings maze. Find your local branch here

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