Maintaining your rental home
When you sign a tenancy agreement and move into a rented home, you automatically become accountable for a certain level of maintenance within the property.
However, the rules and regulations are sometimes unclear, making it difficult to decipher who’s in charge of what when things go wrong.
Read on to find out the standard practice most landlords follow and the general rules for repairs, deposits, bills and decoration. Remember, it's always important to read your individual tenancy agreement, as this should detail the division of responsibilities for your particular circumstances.
Who is responsible for upkeep and repairs on a rental property?
The landlord of every property has a legal duty of care to ensure the house they are renting out is kept to a certain standard. They are responsible for repairs to:
- the structure and exterior of the property, including walls, windows, external doors and stairs
- drains, gutters and external pipes
- basins, sinks, baths and toilets
- gas appliances
- electric wiring
- heating and hot water.
If repair work causes any damage to the house, the landlord is liable. If your home has mould or damp, more often than not the landlord will be responsible for fixing it, but this may depend on what has caused the damp to occur.
General household upkeep, such as cleaning the house, changing lightbulbs or smoke alarm batteries is down to the tenant. You are also responsible for fixing any damage that you or your visitors do to the property, and for repairing items that you've brought into the home yourself.
When it comes to furniture, gardening and internal decoration, the rules will be laid out in your individual tenancy agreement. For example, a landlord may agree to fix repairs to the fridge, but not manage the garden.
The agreement between a landlord and tenant will differ with each property, so it's vital that you carefully read your contract before signing it, so you’re fully aware of what both parties are responsible for.
When should you call your landlord?
If anything goes wrong in a property that the landlord is responsible for repairing, it’s the tenant’s obligation to tell them. If the landlord isn’t informed they are not liable to fix anything.
It’s always wise to speak to your landlord as soon as an issue arises – especially if it's a health and safety concern. If you speak to them on the phone, rather than by email, make sure you follow up with a formal notice in writing (usually by email) summarising your phone call. Always keep hold of any communication you send and receive – this will help if there are any future disputes about repairs not being completed.
Even if you’re not particularly concerned about a fault or problem that arises, you should still report it. If you don’t, you could find that money is deducted from your deposit at the end of the tenancy.
What is wear and tear?
Your contract may refer to 'wear and tear'. Tenants are not usually culpable for 'general wear and tear' in a domestic rental and should not be charged for these sorts of repairs. However, many landlord/tenant disputes during and at the end of tenancies arise from differing opinions as to what constitutes 'general wear and tear’. Landlords can withhold all or part of your deposit to repair damages that fall outside this category.
The law states that acceptable wear and tear is a ‘reasonable use of the premises by the tenant and the ordinary operation of natural forces.’ But unfortunately there are no standard rules or a list of damages to follow.
A few things a landlord will consider when assessing damages include:
- the number of tenants: a family of four will naturally create more wear and tear than a single occupant
- the length of tenancy: if you have lived in the property for three years without any repairs then the general state of the home will be worse
- property condition: if the carpet was scuffed and the paint faded prior to moving in then it can only have got worse. Take pictures and record existing damage at the start of your tenancy.
- age and quality of individual items: a low-quality table that has been used for many years is more likely to have damage.
Wear and tear vs. damage
Small marks on the carpet and faded paint after a year of renting a home to a family of four should count as reasonable wear. But a large stain on a rug, a hole in the wall or a broken door handle would be classed as chargeable damages.
Weeds in the garden, a worn countertop and faded curtains after two years of renting a home to a single tenant would be fair wear and tear. But a broken lock, iron burn on the carpet or cracked windowpane would be classed as damages.
Take photos and notes of any specific stains, marks or cracks as soon as you move in and send copies to your landlord or agent to ensure you are not wrongly blamed at the end of the tenancy.
Your agreement will highlight whether you’re expected to clean the property or tidy the garden before vacating your home – many agents will charge you for a professional clean if the house is left in a mess.
If you’ve got a problem with your deposit, visit our consumer rights guide to dealing with a deposit dispute.
Can I remove items that are on the inventory?
You should try to avoid breaking, replacing or removing any items that are on the inventory. This could result in charges at the end of your tenancy.
If an item does break, report it as soon as possible. Keep records of repairs or replacements that have been agreed, along with any communications with your landlord.
If you don’t want a piece of furniture in the property, it's best to ask for it to be removed before moving in. If you change your mind after moving in, you'll need to discuss it with your landlord. Don’t just throw it out.
What utility bills do you pay as a tenant?
Most rental agreements state that the tenant is liable to pay all the utility bills including:
- council tax
- TV licence
In some cases, rental costs will include certain bills, but this is becoming increasingly less common. Always check your contract so you know what you’re expected to cover.
Notify all your utility suppliers and the council as soon as you move in to get the accounts put in your name. Make sure you tell the suppliers the date you moved in and read and submit meter readings as soon as you arrive – this should ensure you don’t pay for any energy or water that you haven’t used.
Always compare deals before signing into any contracts. If you’ve just begun a new tenancy it’s likely your energy is on a firm’s standard tariff, which is often the priciest.
You can use Which? Switch to find the cheapest option. It takes into account the length left on your tenancy to calculate the best deal. It’ll also factor in exit fees to reveal whether you’d be better off leaving a fixed deal early, or choosing a standard tariff with no end date.
Some rental contracts will state that you have to use a specified supplier, so check this before switching.
Other bills, including broadband, are often on a fixed-term contract. If you know your tenancy will be short, check any exit or transfer fees before you sign up – if your utility contract lasts longer than your rental you could be charged to cancel the deal when you move out.
Can I decorate my rental property?
Making a rental property feel like home is important, especially if you plan on living there for a long period of time. However, there are certain things that you won’t be able to do without the permission of your landlord – or at all.
Many landlords don’t allow permanent changes to the house, but some might be happy for you to paint or make slight alterations that can be returned to how it was when you moved in. It’s always worth asking.
With shorter lets it might not be worthwhile, but for a longer tenancy agreement it could be beneficial for both parties. Keeping the property fresh and updated will mean that the landlord won’t have to do it themselves, while you can personalise your space too.
Always ask your landlord before doing any decorating. As you're likely to need to paint it back to white or cream at the end of your tenancy, it's wise to stick to light paint colours that will be easier to cover over. You don’t want to be left trying to cover up red paint when you decide to move out.