As the eviction ban comes to an end next month, many landlords are preparing their properties for sale and are already inspecting them to assess the condition of the rented homes before placing them on the market.

Residential leases include the payment of at least one month’s rent in advance and typically a deposit against damages, to be refunded as and when the property is returned to the landlord in good condition. Normal ‘wear and tear’ is not considered damage as it is reasonable for a home that has been lived in for a length of time to show the odd mark or deterioration in carpets.

But do landlords have a right to forfeit deposits if the tenant does not repaint the house or replace household items that have simply broken down through no fault of the tenant? And do landlords have the right to inspect the property before the termination date?

That is the situation one Consumer Column reader is facing as she leaves the house she has been renting for the past five years.

‘My landlord recently asked to inspect the house before he puts it on the market. Our termination notice takes effect as soon as the eviction ban ends. I wasn’t sure if he could do this while I was still in the house but I agreed anyhow.

‘I have been living here for five years and have kept it in good order, but the walls and doors were painted white and there are marks here and there, just from normal use. Also, the dryer has broken down but it was old when we moved in and had been used by the previous tenant. I did accidentally break a lamp but other than that, there is no damage. But now the landlord is threatening to keep my deposit if I don’t repaint the house and replace the dryers and the lamp.

‘Can he legally do this? I need my deposit and month’s rent in advance returned in full as I will need it and more to put down on another house.’

To take the inspection issue first; landlords have a right to inspect their property before the end of the tenancy and the tenant is obliged to allow ‘reasonable access’ at a time suitable to both. The landlord has to give prior notice and not just turn up out of the blue and the tenant has the right to be present during any inspection.

If the walls have normal ‘wear and tear’ marks then it is unreasonable for the landlord to demand a repaint. It would only be where, for example, a child was let loose with markers that would constitute damage thereby entitling the landlord to withhold some of the deposit. Similarly, if the dryer has broken because it was old and not through misuse, you are not responsible. Machines break down after a certain amount of years.

The lamp however, is different. It is irrelevant that you accidentally broke it. It was broken due to carelessness and not wear and tear so the landlord is entitled to withhold part of the deposit to cover the cost of a new lamp.

Our reader needs to have a frank discussion well in advance of the expected termination date and say firmly, that he cannot lawfully retain her deposit to cover the cost of repainting the house and replacing the dryers but she acknowledges his right to withhold the cost of replacing the lamp.

If he refuses to return the full deposit and months advance rent then she should lodge a ‘dispute resolution’ process with the Residential Tenancies Board immediately. But do not expect this to be resolved quickly as there are long delays due to backlogs of landlord/tenant disputes and this will get much worse in March.

If you have a consumer problem or query contact [email protected]

This column provides general guidance on consumer legislation and is not intended to replace individual professional advice on consumer disputes

You Might Also Like

Consumer column: ‘My tenants are renting my apartment on Airbnb can I get them out?’

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *