Are Tenants Responsible For Painting When They Move Out?

Are Tenants Responsible For Painting When They Move Out?

So, your tenant’s about to do-one (for whatever reason, but hopefully under amicable circumstances), and now you’re wondering whether or not your tenant is responsible for sprucing up the place before they vacate, specifically applying a lick of paint to the walls they’ve scuffed up to the high Heavens.

Oh boy, have I been that position a billion times! But I soon realised that there’s both a practical answer to the question, and also a lawful one. Fortunately, they’re more or less the same.

In short, the answer is it depends!

Check what your tenancy agreement says!

Your first priority should be to check what your tenancy agreement says on the matter.

Don’t have one? Okay, you’re a terrible landlord, and your tenant is certainly not responsible.

Most standard tenancy agreements will stipulate that the tenant is responsible for returning the property in the same condition that they received it in (minus wear and tear. More on this issue further down).

For example, the fabulous tenancy agreements available on this website contains the following clause:

3.1 The Tenant shall keep the Contents in good condition and shall return the Contents to the Landlord at the end of the Tenancy in the same state (except for fair wear and tear) as detailed on the Inventory.

But it’s important to understand what clauses like this do and do not mean. For example, it doesn’t mean your tenant is required to return the property in exactly the same condition they received it in. However, it can mean that if your tenant decorated the property without your consent (i.e. applied wallpaper over your luscious magnolia walls), then they’re responsible for returning it to its former glory at the end of the tenancy. It’s also perfectly feasible to have given consent to redecorate [to meet the standards of their God awful taste] on the basis that they return it to how they found it before they leave (I’ve done this in the past).

Most tenancy agreements will not have clauses which suggest that tenants must paint the walls before they leave. But if yours does, then feel free to try and enforce it. Bit weird and unusual though, in my opinion.

What the law says about the matter [of tenants painting before they vacate]

From what I’m aware, there is no statutory law which suggests tenants must return the property in the same condition that they received it, so it’s very much down to contract law enforcing the arrangement, which is why it’s extremely important to use a properly drafted tenancy agreement that will protect your position (and that’s why you should first and foremost check your contract to determine your position).

A word on wear and tear

Wear and tear is a highly misunderstood issue, especially by money-grabbing landlords that would happily stab their Nan for a fiver.

There is no legal definition of “wear and tear” in the context of rental properties (which isn’t particularly useful), however, the House of Lords defines fair wear and tear as “reasonable use of the premises by the tenant and the ordinary operation of natural forces.”

Examples of wear and tear:

  • Worn carpets
  • Scuffed walls and surfaces
  • Faded upholstery

Examples of what does NOT fall under wear and tear:

  • Holes in walls
  • Burn marks
  • Torn furnishings

So, here are key takeaways:

  • Tenants cannot legally be charged to repair or replace items that have suffered from fair wear and tear
  • Fair wear and tear refers only to the “condition” and not the “cleanliness” of a property or item!

Physical damage

Physical and/or intentional damage falls outside the scope of wear and tear, so for example, if your tenant’s have caused physical damage to a wall (i.e. if they lunged their drunken fist through one after a night out in town), they are responsible for repairing it (which is likely to include a paint job).

Do you REALLY want your soon-to-be ex tenant to be responsible for repainting?

I think this is the only question you really need to ask yourself.

If you put the situation into context – and also going by my past experience – it’s rarely ever a sensible idea to leave the responsibility of redecorating in the hands of a vacating tenant. I mean, really? Think about it.

They literally have no incentive to do a good job, and the reality is, unless your tenant is a professional handyman or painter and decorator, the end result is likely to be an epic slop-fest. Then arises the potential case of awkwardly having that conversion, where you have to tell your tenant that the job they have done is absolute bullshit. Where do you actually go from there, especially if they plead to have done their best? Do you want them to have another go?

Generally speaking, it’s easier and quicker for landlords to personally oversee the paint job after a tenant leaves, which is probably why most standard tenancy agreements don’t even try and attempt to pull such a stunt. I’m sure our ancestors tried it at one point in history, but then quickly realised the success rate is mortifying.

Hope you found this post at least mildly useful. If not, well, damn. Tough crowd. Drop a comment either way…

2 Join the Conversation...

Guest Avatar
Dace Dastardly 3rd July, 2022 @ 20:04

"It’s also perfectly feasible to have given consent to redecorate [to meet the standards of their God awful taste] on the basis that they return it to how they found it before they leave (I’ve done this on several occasions with tenants)"

So what exactly did you allow them to do, if having them re-paint is not an option?

The Landlord Avatar
The Landlord 3rd July, 2022 @ 22:03

Ah, sorry, maybe I wasn't very clear.

I meant I've done that in the past. Not so much anymore.

But actually, recently my tenant asked for my permission to put up wallpaper (over painted walls), and I said on the basis that they strip the wallpaper before they vacate (because that can take ages). So I still do use that condition in some scenarios.

I don't mind if tenants paint the walls as long as it's nothing overly aggressive and if it's done properly (which is more likely at the start or mid tenancy). I don't expect them to repaint before they vacant.

















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