What is classified as “fair wear and tear”?

What is classified as “fair wear and tear”?

Private Property South Africa
Carmel Woodman

It is in both the landlord’s and tenant’s best interests to know their rights, and be aware of the conditions under which a tenant’s deposit can be used.

A tenant’s deposit can be used for various reasons, one of which is damages to the rental property. This is somewhat of a grey area for tenants sometimes, so it is in both the landlord and tenant’s best interest to have this laid out clearly in the lease agreement. Failing this, or should any further disputes arise, the Rental Housing Tribunal has specific definitions and parameters for what the tenant’s deposit can be used for.

Fair wear and tear  

When the term “fair wear and tear” is used in lease agreements, it refers to the damage that happens through ordinary day-to-day use of the property, for example: the carpet being worn from people walking on it. The term also refers to wear and tear due to exposure to natural forces, such as sunlight and rain. According to the Rental Housing Act, a landlord is free to claim compensation for damage to the property caused by the tenant, save for fair wear and tear.

A general rule of thumb is that, if a tenant has damaged something that does not normally wear out, or the tenant has substantially shortened the life of something that does wear out, the tenant may be charged the prorated cost of the item. The landlord should take into account how old the item was and how long it may have lasted otherwise, as well as the cost of replacement.

For example: Ordinary wear and tear to carpets should not count against the tenant, however large rips or stains would be considered damage. Any deduction for the tenant’s deposit should take into account the age of the carpets, compared with the expected total time of usage.

Cleaning costs

A landlord may also deduct cleaning costs, but only enough to cover the cost of getting the property cleaned to a satisfactory standard, if it is not already clean enough. In other words, a landlord cannot deduct cleaning costs if the tenant has left the property in a satisfactory state of cleanliness.

Tenant rights

If a tenant feels that their landlord has deducted too much from their deposit, or the whole deposit has been withheld for damages but the tenant feels that these are” fair wear and tear” to the property, the tenant should contact the Rental Housing Tribunal.

Rental Housing Tribunal

The Rental Housing Tribunal is a useful resource for both landlords and tenants who are dealing with rental property disputes in different forms. Cases that the Rental Housing Tribunal deals with include:

  • Tenants defaulting on their rent

  • Failure to repay a deposit

  • Invasion of a tenant's privacy
  • Overcrowding of a rental property
  • Determining a fair rental amount
  • Illegal seizing of a tenant’s property
  • Discrimination against a prospective tenant
  • A receipt for rent not being issued
  • Unacceptable behaviour by a tenant
  • Lack of maintenance and repairs to the property
  • Illegally refuse a tenant access to the property or interrupt services
  • Unacceptable living conditions


     However, to avoid having to use the Rental Housing Tribunal, it’s advisable for landlords to clearly state in the lease agreement exactly what “fair wear and tear” and damages entails.

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