This month’s case looks at a dispute over damage caused by a cat living in the property. The landlord claimed for damage caused to two living room sofas and to internal wooden door frames.
The deposit was £700. The landlord was claiming £800 for re-upholstering of two sofas and making good damage to door frames and wood work. The landlord’s claim was therefore in excess of the deposit.
The tenant had already agreed to forfeit £250, believing this was enough to compensate the landlord for the damage, leaving the balance of the deposit of £450 available for distribution.
The tenant did not dispute that he had, without permission, kept a cat in the property, and in doing so had broken the terms of his tenancy agreement. But while he accepted that his cat had caused the damage claimed, he argued that the amount claimed by the landlord to ‘make good’ was excessive.
The check-in report recorded that the two living room sofas were in ‘good condition’ at the start of the tenancy, but made no reference to any door frames in the property.
The check-out reported ‘damage to both sofas: scratch and puncture marks on both sofas caused by animal’ supported with dated photographs which showed considerable tears in the fabric of both sofas. The check-out report referred also to ‘animal scratches across all internal door frames’.
The landlord provided a quote for reupholstering the larger sofa at a cost of £600. The quote provided included a description of the work required. No quote or invoice was provided for the further £200 claimed.
The adjudicator found that a comparison of the check-in and check-out reports, together with the ‘end of tenancy’ photographs, justified an award for the two sofas.
The landlord’s claim for damage to the internal door frames was unsuccessful as it was not supported by evidence, as there had been no mention of the condition of the door frames in the check-in report.
Based on the evidence provided, the adjudicator felt it was not appropriate to award the landlord the full amount in dispute and awarded £450 – the full remainder of the deposit.
So, what are the key points here?
A landlord should include in the terms of the tenancy agreement if pets can be kept in the property or not. However a breach of this clause is not reason enough for the adjudicator to make an award to the landlord.
The adjudicator cannot assume that a pet has had a detrimental impact on a property without supporting evidence. It is essential that the landlord demonstrates how this breach in contract resulted in a financial loss.
In this case, the landlord provided comparative evidence from the beginning and end of the tenancy to show the adjudicator that a loss had occurred in relation to the two sofas as a direct result of the tenant keeping a pet in the property.
Although the adjudicator can only award a maximum of the deposit protected, it is useful to know if the total amount you are claiming exceeds the deposit. You do not have to tell us, but it may be in your interests to do so. If part of your claim is unsuccessful, the adjudicator can then go on to consider the balance of your claim.
The landlord in this dispute may have been unsuccessful in an award for the damage caused to the door frames, but as the damaged sofas were also part of the claim, the adjudicator was able to work through the claim until the disputed amount left in the deposit was ‘used up’.
If a landlord does decide to allow a tenant to keep a pet in the property, it may be helpful to include a specially negotiated clause, signed separately from the standard clauses by the tenant. For example, the clause may specify that the tenant must have the property professionally cleaned at the end of the tenancy.
* Sandy Bastin is head of adjudication services at the Tenancy Deposit Scheme