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Renting in Spain: What’s the law on wear and tear?

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Renting in Spain: What’s the law on wear and tear?
There is no technical definition of what exactly constitutes wear and tear or what is considered a 'minor' repair in Spanish law.(Photo by PAU BARRENA / AFP)

Every property suffers wear and tear over time. But who's liable to pay for the repairs in Spain, the tenant or landlord?

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It's a constant source of conflict between tenants and landlords: who is responsible for wear and tear in a rental property, and who should pay for it?

We're not talking about major damage caused by an accident, or a major structural problem in the property, but rather the steady deterioration that can happen due to living in a place for a while. In Spanish, this is known as 'deterioro por uso' or 'desgaste por uso', which translates to wear and tear or, more literally, deterioration or damage due to use.

To put it in a sentence, like in many countries, in Spain the tenant is obliged to keep the property in the condition in which he or she received it, but the landlord is responsible for the bigger structural repairs. 

So what does Spanish law say about wear and tear?

READ ALSO: Lawmakers pass Spain's key housing law ahead of elections


The law

Article 21.4 of Spain's Urban Leasing Law is pretty clear on this:

"Minor repairs required by wear and tear due to the ordinary use of the dwelling will be borne by the tenant."

However, it's not quite as simple as the law states, mainly because there is no technical definition of what exactly constitutes wear and tear or what is considered a 'minor' repair. General wear and tear in a rented property is an issue that goes to court fairly frequently in Spain, often producing different interpretations of the law.

There are also several conditions under which the landlord is likely more liable than the tenant, and the specifics of each living arrangement ultimately depend on your contract.

Spanish law website Mundo Jurídico states that the position taken by the majority of judges is that if there is wear and tear at the end of the contract, if they are the product of the ordinary use of the house, these should not be charged to the tenant whether directly or by deducting it from the deposit.

It's hardly clear, though there are some generally accepted standards in Spain that are worth knowing.

Landlord responsibilities 

According to property lawyer José Manuel Sierra Álvarez of Sierra Abogados, generally speaking, standard maintenance repairs (that is, if something breaks down due to reasonable wear and tear as opposed to being broken) are the responsibility of the landlord.

This includes any repairs to keep the property in a habitable condition, including maintenance of the floor, walls and ceilings (with a few exceptions, which you can find below).

Household electrical appliances in the property (that were there when the tenants arrived) should also be repaired or replaced by the owner, with the exception of damage due to misuse. If there is a boiler, it is also up to the owner to repair it in the event it stops working.


Tenant responsibilities 

It is the tenant's responsibility, however, to maintain and replace electricity and water installations when necessary (think plugs, taps, and so on). Likewise, though it is the landlord's responsibility to maintain the structural integrity of the walls, ceilings and floors, tenants are responsible for the more superficial wear and tear such such as small halls.

This essentially means: if a wall falls down, it's the landlord's responsibility; if the tenant stains the wall of cracks the plaster trying to decorate, it's their responsibility. Amidst the ambiguity of Spanish legalese, this might be a good rule of thumb to try and get a sense of who is responsible for what.

Likewise, if you have painted the property's walls without the owner's express authorisation (and they don't like it) the tenant must repaint it before moving out.



What constitutes 'wear and tear'?

The Urban Leases Law does mention that the "minor repairs" borne from wear and tear are the responsibility of the tenant, and Spanish courts generally seem to rule in favour of tenants in cases of ordinary wear and tear at the end of a contract.  But what constitutes wear and tear, and what is considered a 'minor repair'?

The courts seem to consider the following criteria:

  • Occupancy time: If the damage occurs shortly after the tenant moves in, the owner will be responsible for fixing it. 
  • Costs: Frustratingly, confusingly, the Urban Leases Law does not establish a specific cost of a small repair. However, €150 is usually used as a reference.
  • Area of the house affected: In general, the repairs that affect the property itself are borne by the owner. Damage to 'movable property' (ie furniture and appliances) is usually the responsibility of the tenant.

What about repair work?

Having the builders in to do repairs is less than ideal, and if the landlord needs to carry out works (las bras) on the house in order to guarantee habitability (their legal obligation, remember) the tenant must accept them, however annoying they may be.

However, if the works go on for more than 20 days, the owner will have to reduce the rent. By how much? In proportion to the part of the house that, due to being in repairs, could not be used by the tenant - a concept as wonderfully ambiguous as the idea of what a 'small repair' in the first place.



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