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Living in your house or flat: Rights and obligations

Damage and repairs

Overview of who’s responsible for damage and repairs

  • you (the tenant) are not responsible for damage or wear that happens through normal use over time – called “fair wear and tear”.
  • you’re also not responsible for damage that’s outside your control, like storm damage.
  • you’re responsible for fixing any damage that you or a guest causes deliberately.
  • if you or one of your guests damages something carelessly, then you’ll have to pay the landlord’s insurance excess, up to the amount of four weeks’ rent.

Who’s responsible for “fair wear and tear” from normal use over time?

Residential Tenancies Act 1986, ss 40, 41, 45, 49ACase: Tenancy Tribunal 4081393

You the tenant are not responsible for damage that happens through normal use over time – called “fair wear and tear”. For example, if the carpet in the hallway starts to develop holes just through normal use, you don’t have to replace it. It’s the landlord’s responsibility to keep the place in a reasonable state of repair.

You’re also not responsible for damage that’s outside your control – storm damage, for example.

The landlord also has to comply with all building regulations and health and safety requirements.

The landlord’s responsibility for maintaining the building includes keeping the outside of the building clean, if it’s dirty because of normal factors like dust and dirt carried by the wind. You the tenant will only be responsible for cleaning the outside if you’ve somehow contributed to it being dirty.

Who’s responsible if I accidentally damage something?

Residential Tenancies Act 1986, ss 41, 49B

If you damage something carelessly, then you’ll have to pay the landlord’s insurance excess (see below), up to the amount of four weeks’ rent. An example would be if you left something cooking on the stove top and it causes a fire in the kitchen.

If a friend or other guest causes damage carelessly you’ll also be responsible for the landlord’s insurance excess up to the amount of four weeks’ rent.

If you or a guest at your place deliberately causes damage (called “intentional” damage) then you the tenant will have to pay for the damage.

If your landlord takes you to the Tenancy Tribunal to get you to pay for repairs, the landlord will have to show that the damage happened while you were the tenant and that it’s not just fair wear and tear (that is, it’s not just from normal use over time). If the landlord does show this, then you’ll have to satisfy the Tribunal that the damage wasn’t careless or deliberate.

Paying the insurance “excess”

Residential Tenancies Act 1986, ss 13A, 45

The “excess” on an insurance policy is the amount that the insurance company makes the policy holder pay before the insurance company starts to pay out anything for the insurance claim.

The landlord must give you a copy of their insurance policy (which will include the amount of the excess) if you ask for it. From August 2019 all new tenancy agreements also have to say what the insurance excess is.

Who’s responsible if one of my friends causes damage?

Residential Tenancies Act 1986, ss 41, 49B

If a visitor at your place causes damage carelessly then you the tenant will have to pay the landlord’s insurance excess, up to the amount of four weeks’ rent. An example of this is could be that a friend is staying at your place one evening while you’re out, and they leave your heater too close to the curtains and cause a fire.

If a visitor at your place deliberately causes damage (known as “intentional” damage) then you the tenant are responsible for fixing the damage.

You’re not responsible for careless or deliberate damage caused by someone who’s there without your permission (for example, if someone breaks into your place). But the law assumes that if someone is at your place they’re there with your permission, unless you prove that you did everything reasonable to stop them being there.

How do I get my landlord to do repairs and maintenance?

Residential Tenancies Act 1986, ss 40, 41, 45

You have to let the landlord know as soon as possible if you find any damage to the property or if repairs are needed.

If the repair is serious and urgent, or there’s a safety or health risk, and the damage isn’t your fault, you can get the repairs done and then claim the cost back from the landlord. But you have to make a reasonable attempt to contact the landlord first. You can’t deduct the cost of repairs from the rent unless you have the landlord’s permission or an order from the Tenancy Tribunal.

You can take any disagreements about repairs to the free mediation service provided by the government’s tenancy unit, Tenancy Services. If you can’t reach an agreement there, the Tenancy Tribunal can make an order for repair work to be done, or paid for, or both (see “Problems with your landlord: What you can do” in this chapter).

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