Deposit dispute: What happens when a tenant’s cat leaves its mark on furniture?

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

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25 Comments

  1. Will2

    As a landlord I would have taken the matter to court as the court is likely to consider the balance of probability if the damage to the door frames is consistent with the damage to the sofas.  This is why landlords have little faith in adjudicators who are perceived as being biased in favour of tenants.  Furthermore the landlord could have sought full compensation not limited to the deposit.

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  2. seenitall

    I see this as a bit of a kick in the teeth to the landlord. So yes the adjudicator can only award upto the maximum held in the deposit BUT they could a) awarded the full cost of the re-upholstering £600 rather then £450 and b) have said on the balance of their findings that it is more likely then not that the pet also damaged the door frame and had there been a higher deposit would have agreed to the landlords claim of £200 for the door frame   bearing in mind that the adjudicator had already found the tenant was in breach of the tenancy, that the cat had damaged the sofa. Why does this matter? because it would have then helped the landlord start a court claim against the tenant for the shortfall.   The landlords get the proper cost of repairing the damage.    They now how to do all this again in court for £100. The Landlords would have done better I wager to go straight to court and claim the full £800.  
    On top of this you also have the unrecoverable costs the Agent/Landlord has of going to arbitration.
    With a court hearing you then often will get awarded the cost of starting the court action as well.     There is no reason at present for a tenant NOT to dispute any deductions as there is no cost via arbitration to the tenant to do so if they lose.

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  3. Marion23

    I understood that, under the current Tenant Fee Act, neither the landlord nor the agents could request a professional clean of carpets. It constitutes asking the tenant to enter into a third party contract. Have I misunderstood?

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    1. Woodentop

      Nope, you have never been allowed to make cleaning carpets mandatory in a tenancy agreement, although many do.

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  4. Woodentop

    After a horrendous adjudication a couple of years or so ago, with qualifying evidence submitted in-line with TDS rules and failed when the tenant went off on one, over irrelevant and false claims to the adjudicator we ditched TDS and now only use DPS and have had no problems.

     

    How does one claim for smelly properties and that need fumigating caused by pets??????????

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    1. Will2

      Do not allow pets?

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      1. AmethystFire

        As it stands you can refuse pets but the government have already confirmed that they are going to make it so Landlords cannot refuse to accept pets on tenancies and they have already stopped higher pet deposits. Pet rent is the way most agents are considering going. £10 (or more for large dogs)per month per pet which the Landlord or agent should set aside to repair damage etc. just as hotels do.

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        1. AgencyInsider

          Can we also have ‘Small child rent’?

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      2. Woodentop

        They sneak them in and that is where the problem then starts.  
         
        We have seen a rise in “welfare pets” (notably dogs) being claimed as improving the mental wellbeing of the tenant. I think this will become an issue on the horizon.  
         
        “Pet Rents” is likely to be outlawed very soon, as the pet isn’t able to enter to an agreement and isn’t paying the charges. Some landlords are charging £50 a month. An attempt to circumnavigate the tenant fee ban.

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  5. GeorgeHammond78

    So, what are the key points here?’ Only one – the so called independent adjudicators are rarely independent and rarely adjudicate – they simply pontificate and then find against the landlord or agent. TPO is just the same!

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  6. AgencyInsider

    I take it that this would need a special claws in the contract?

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    1. The Hero

      Terrible, terrible pun. Still made me smile but still terrible 😉

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  7. btalbot

    Interesting article!

    I’m a (accidental and first time) landlord myself, currently trying to switch agents. One of the many reasons for the switch, is that I discovered the current agent (which I have a Fully Managed, Rent Guarantee service with) has never done property inspections/reports during the 3.5 years it’s had the property. Their tenant has let the property get in a disgusting state, to the point that the tiled areas in the bathrooms will need regrouting and resealing. I have photos of this, and the tiled areas are included in the check-in report, so I’m not worried about filing a claim for this, should the areas not be rectified before the check-out.

    However, in the check-in report, there was no mention of the skirting boards in any room, or the alcoves around the patio doors in the two bedrooms and living room. In the living room the tenant decided to change the layout of the room and put the TV somewhere else, so hammered cable grips all along the skirtings. The tenant has also not ventilated the property at all, and there is thick black mould creeping up the patio door alcoves (to about knee height), plus all along the top of alcoves. This will need to be professionally treated, and re-painted to make good.
     
    Based on the article, the landlord’s claim for damage to the internal door frames was unsuccessful as it wasn’t supported by evidence, as there was no mention of the condition of the door frames in the check-in report.

    Does this mean a claim for damage to the skirtings would not be awarded, should it be disputed? Or the mould around the alcoves? Would welcome any advice!

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    1. PeeBee

      “This will need to be professionally treated…”

      No it won’t – unless it is dampness rather than condensation.  If it is the latter, then it will need sprayed with mould killer – which you can buy on the High Street.

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      1. btalbot

        Thanks for your reply PeeBee.

        The property was my home before renting it out. When I lived there I had to have the alcoves in each room treated with a specialist anti mould paint, as mould killers were not strong enough to shift the black spots/stains. There isn’t any damp, it is 100% mould from lack of ventilation and lack of cleaning (there are no airbricks in the flat, unfortunately).

        After it was painted the decorater said that the patio doors would need to be open a fraction when cooking, which is something I did while living there, as well as invest in a dehumidifier. I stressed when handing over the property to the agent that it needed to be ventilated daily, especially when cooking.  But this wasn’t communicated to the tenant, and thus the mould has crept back over the 3.5yrs. I actually met with the tenant a few weeks back, as I wanted to ask their view on a few other issues that I’ve had with the current agent, and they confirmed that they were never told about ventilating the property when cooking/drying washing etc.

        I would be interested to know if anyone has managed to claim against either damage to woodwork etc or the mould, when no photos or mention of the original (“good, clean”) condition were included in the check-in report?

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        1. PeeBee

          “After it was painted the decorater said that the patio doors would need to be open a fraction when cooking…”
           
          Would have been far better adice if he’d told you to invest in an externally-vented cooker hood.
           
          The tenant is unlikely to tell you that they were advised to open doors and windows in order to carry out basic living functions such as cooking, washing and breathing – even if the Agent had hammered it home to them.  They are certainly unlikely to take kindly to heating a property and then letting that heat out – even if it means your walls turn black.
           
          Condensation is a funny thing.  It usually occurs at high level – the tops of window and door reveals (“alcoves” as you refer to them) are most common as heat variances are highest in these locations, and also the junctions of ceilings and outside walls – as it is a process of warm air (or steam) condensing on a cold surface.
           
          Low-level mould is more usually an indicator of dampness, and I would therefore suggest you get it looked at again, by a reputable specialist contractor, or a Building Surveyor.  It coiuld be that the vertical DPC on the doorframe is failing to do its’ job, or that there is deterioration of the external mastic seal.  It could be that the DPC has been breached outside and moisture is travelling upwards vis capilliary attraction – or even be a higher-level issue that is running off the lintel and down the cavity and penetrating at ground level.
           
          As to whether you could claim compensation for the mould – I would suggest that is more a moral issue than one of precedence.  You can claim for anything, in theory.  Getting an award is another.
           
          It is by your own admission an historic problem which has not been rectified – only glossed over (pun intended).  You have obviously conveyed this in part or all to your tenant in your discussions – so whether you decide to ignore that fact and trump up a claim that it is purely down to the tenant’s ill-treatment of the property that could potentially win you a small amount of compo… but also a bad reputation as a landlord… is down to you.
           
          Is it worth it?

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          1. btalbot

            Thanks for your reply PeeBee. Perhaps I should have clarified a couple of things in my original post (apologies, first post here!):

            1) I have a Fully Managed Rent Guarantee service with the current agency. The agency are my tenant, the people who are living in there are effectively a sub-tenant of the agent, and up until a privately arranged coffee and chat the other day, I have had zero contact with them during their tenancy (didn’t even know who or how many people were living in there, and the agent wouldn’t tell me when I enquired during the first year anyway). My agreement is with the agent, and it is the agent’s responsibility to liaise with their tenant and ensure their tenant is looking after the property. The agent is their landlord, not me – so I don’t think my reputation really comes into question.

            2) The agent has not liaised with their tenant, they have not gone round and done inspections etc. They didn’t even help their tenant when the bed (it’s a fully furnished flat) broke – in fact, they told their tenant they could not get hold of me as I lived in the US (even though I live 10 mins away from the property!), and their tenant had to replace the bed themselves.  I realise these are seperate issues (of which there are plenty more), which I will be addressing in a formal complaint to the agent once the property is back in my hands.

            3) As there were no inspections done during the 3.5yrs their tenant has been living there, the level of mould in the bathrooms and around the patio door “alcoves” (sorry, didn’t know the correct term, so thanks for confirming they are window and door reveals) has gotten so bad that re-painting, re-grouting and re-sealing will be the only way to fix. Had their tenant regularly ventilated and even wiped down the walls/tiles with a bit of soap and water, this wouldn’t be an issue – it’s just basic cleaning. Had the inspections been done (as stated they would), the agent could have pointed out problem areas to their tenant, to minimise the risk of issues when checking out etc. This is surely what a good property manager/landlord would do?

            4) Also, the flat is in a purpose built block (second floor of four, and surrounded by other flats on either side), it’s about 15yrs old, but unfortunately there is no way that the cooker hood could ever be externally vented, as the kitchen has no external walls or windows.

            I absolutely will be making a claim for the problems I’ve mentioned if they are not rectified by the time of the check-out, I have nothing to lose. They will have to be addressed before the flat can be re-let anyway (under the new agency). I just wondered what the likelihood of a successful claim would be, given that they are not referenced in the check-in report.

            Also, you’ve not mentioned anything about the damage to the skirtings with cable grips – have you any views or experience  on this?

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            1. Woodentop

              Any unfair damage can be claimed against the tenant (not fair wear and tear) if they don’t put it right before the end of the tenancy. You need to check your service agreement with the agent, if you want to go after them for breaches. You did get one! If not, best wishes but your in a predicament.
               
              A good letting agent would have at least 250 plus photographs of every part of the flat on record before the tenant moves in. A picture tells a thousands words and irrefutable evidence. Just make sure they are not distance shots that will obscure marks from view.

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              1. btalbot

                Thanks for the reply Woodentop, absolutely have an agreement, as well as marketing material from back in 2016 and current marketing material on their website which states “Regular property inspections and maintenance management” and “Internal condition guaranteed, subject to fair wear and tear, up to one and half months’ rent“. The tenant confirmed that no inspection reports were done, so no dispute there, it’s black and white (much like the grout and selant now in the bathrooms).

                The check-in report did include about 20 photos of existing “problem areas” before the tenant moved in, but none of these were of the issues I’ve mentioned above, understandably.

                Funnily enough, the current agent is now refusing access for the new agent to go in and take photos for re-marketing, despite being in notice. As a comprise, just now the current agent sent me over one photo of every room that they used for their marketing purposes back in August 2016 – oh boy, what a difference, I almost cried seeing how pristine the property used to look! And I almost cried again when their marketing photo of the living room shows no cables on the skirtings or mould in the window reveals! May have shot themselves in the foot with that – or may be planning to rectify everything without me even having to dispute and file a claim… Fingers crossed on the latter!

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                1. Woodentop

                  Agents cannot stop landlords or their representatives access, only the tenant can. Go direct to the tenant for access with minimum 24 hours notice, unless they say come around immediately.

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            2. PeeBee

              btalbot

              As your Agent is the Tenant, and they have sub-let your property, then surely they are responsible for their tenant’s failings to keep the property in good repair and decorative order.

              I suggest you seek clarification of this – either from your Agreement with them, or by contacting their Head Office and asking the questions you are asking here.

              Whether you wish to tell them you are a current client of theirs or simply wanting to know more about their service is up to you.

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              1. PeeBee

                “Also, the flat is in a purpose built block (second floor of four, and surrounded by other flats on either side)…”
                 
                Forget the rising damp or soaking, then – if that were the case your downstairs neighbours would be fish!
                 
                “…it’s about 15yrs old, but unfortunately there is no way that the cooker hood could ever be externally vented, as the kitchen has no external walls or windows.”
                 
                If the property is the age you suggest then there should have been a Building Regulations requirement for mechanical ventilation to be installed in the kitchen and bathroom areas – especially if there was no natural ventilation source.

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  8. Hampshireagent007

    Hi All

    Is anyone else a bit worried that Sandy Bastin, the author of this article, and head of TDS adjudication, is suggesting a course of action that breaches the Tenant Fee Ban…?

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    1. Woodentop

      Thats what I said.

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  9. PossessionFriendUK39

    This article needs to be sent to Mr Jenrick,   as he doesn’t have the first clue about Rental problems that Landlords and Tenants face.

    Might as well put me in charge of the space program !

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