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How to ensure the return of your deposit

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last updated: 02 Jul 2016 report a problem

the return of your deposit

If you live on rent in London, you most likely have an assured shorthold tenancy (AST). It requires the tenant to pay a tenancy deposit as part of their lease. This is to provide security to the landlord in case of rent arrears and damages.

The landlord has to protect your deposit in order to have a fair resolution

Since April the 6th 2007, tenancy deposits must be protected by a government authorized scheme. The landlord has 30 days to go through this process and provide a prescribed information. The tenancy deposit protection scheme they have chosen will provide the document for the tenant. Prescribed information might vary slightly for each tenancy deposit protection scheme.

However, prescribed information will always provide the following information:

  • the address of the rented property
  • how much deposit you have paid and the scheme used to protect it
  • the name and contact details of your landlord or letting agent
  • any reasons for deposit deductions
  • how to apply to get the deposit back
  • what to do if you can’t get hold of the landlord at the end of the tenancy
  • what to do if there is a dispute over the deposit

The consequences for failing this procedure, for any reason, are a penalty of up to 3 times the deposit. Additionally, the landlord can’t make use of some mechanics like Section 21 eviction notice.

Always remember to check if your deposit is protected before the 30 day period has expired. Remind your landlord if they have not complied with the law. Make sure they know how harsh the penalty is if they fail to meet their responsibility.

Even though the tenancy deposit is paid TO the landlord, it still remains property of the tenant. The landlord must return the money when the lease expires, provided neither of the conditions in the tenancy agreement are broken.

How can you receive your tenancy deposit back in full

  • The tenant has paid all their rent in full and on time
  • There are no outstanding utility bills left by the tenant
  • There is no damage caused by the tenant outside expected wear and tear
  • The property is returned in acceptable hygiene
  • There are no infractions to the AST tenancy agreement

If these common conditions are met, there would hardly be any reason for deposit deductions. You should receive your money in full.

What are tenant’s responsibilities to the property

Just as your landlord, the tenancy agreement also assigns you a few key responsibilities.

You have to pay all rent and bills on time

Rent arrears and outstanding bills are the first and most serious problem for tenants. All your rent should be paid in full and on time. Otherwise, you face not only deposit deductions, but also possible eviction. Same goes for your utility bills.

For a smooth tenancy, try to pay all of them on time each month. If you have troubles keeping up with the rent payments, talk to your landlord right away. You won’t be exempt from paying, but you maybe can negotiate a few days delay.

You’re in charge of basic maintenance

Heavy repairs and seasonal maintenance is a duty of the landlord. You are not in charge for fixing the roof, walls, plumbing and other structural features of the property.  This is guaranteed by the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985. Even if it’s written in the tenancy agreement, it cannot be made effective.

Daily maintenance of the property is a responsibility of the renter. This includes unblocking drains and toilets, changing light bulbs and other consumables. The tenant must control the heating during cold months and ventilate the property. Condensation and subsequently mould, can be difficult and costly to remove.

Obviously, all tenants have to to repair any damage they have caused to the property. The most common one is holes on the walls from pictures and ornaments. Dings, scratches and dents are a grey area. Some of them fall into the normal wear and tear category. Some might be deductible from the deposit. You’re encouraged to try and sort them out to your best ability to prevent any potential problems.

In a furnished property, you will be provided with white goods and kitchen equipment. Electric appliances are up to the landlord to repair, but you also have to use them properly. A mechanic can determine if you have not used a piece of equipment properly and it resulted in damage. You might be forced to pay for its repairs, or suffer deposit deductions at the end of the tenancy.

Carpets and upholstery will look a little worn when compared to the inventory report. Depending on the length of the tenancy, this might be completely normal. Or, it might require some contribution from the tenant’s side for a refreshment.

Most landlords don’t allow smoking indoors or pets. However, even those that do will expect you to offset the damage that cigarettes and pets usually do.

You have to keep the property clean and tidy

A dirty flat is the most common reason for deposit deductions and disputes. More than half of disputes – 53% – include cleaning as one of the main reasons for deductions. Indeed, some landlords insist tenants to pay for a professional cleaning at the end of the tenancy. Others are satisfied with just good clean property upon returning the keys.

In the UK, there is a niche service for properties that change tenant – end of tenancy cleaning. You can think of it as a full and thorough spring cleaning. Everything from surfaces, to furniture, to tiles and carpets gets a good cleaning pass.

If you’re going to hire a company, talk to your landlord or letting agent first. Most of them will have a preferred services provider, which they can contact for you to do the service. A preferred provider will almost surely make the landlord happy and avoid further hassle. Unless the price is too big compared to other cleaning companies, there is no point in using a different one. This applies to every other service you might need -handymen, carpet cleaners, painters, etc.

Alternatively, you can explore The Tenant’s Voice Services Directory !

Always inspect the work, after the service has ended and the team has departed. If there are any problems, contact the company again so you can sort them out as soon as possible. Use our move out day checklist to make sure you haven’t forgotten anything silly, that would otherwise cost you money.

Make sure the inventory is absolutely perfect

This is more of responsibility to yourself. The tenancy inventory report is the most important piece of documentation. It’s the only paper that clearly records the state of the property, and, is signed by both parties.

If the second inventory report is more detailed than the first, it will show damages that look like caused by the tenant. You might end up paying for damage that was there when you first entered.

That’s why, you need to always validate the inventory reports personally. If you have a digital camera take lots of photos on your first day. Do macro shots of any little spot, scratch or surface detail, as well as photos of the general condition in each room, furniture and appliance. Have someone sign them as a witness, best if it’s the landlord or letting agent.

How to negotiate for your tenancy deposit

When the tenancy ends and the keys return to the landlord,the return procedure can begin. The tenant has to write to the landlord and request back their money. Provided there are no deductions, the deposit can be released back to the tenant in a 10 day period. The landlord will instruct the deposit protection scheme to release the money to the renter.

If there are deductions which the landlord wants to claim, they should reply to the letter and list all wanted deductions. The letter should clearly explain and reason each claim. If the tenant agrees, the deducted amount is released to the landlord and the rest returned.

Resolve the matter between the two of you

If you don’t agree to your landlord’s claims for deductions, you need to start an open discussion. Organise your paperwork for the entire tenancy and review the AST agreement first.

Get a hint if there is any logic and reason to your landlord’s deductions. Although not pleasant, you just might owe your landlord some money…

If there is nothing to support the deductions, or better something to disprove them, notify your landlord that you will dispute them.  Apply the materials that help your case. A lot of times, you can clear the dispute between the two of you, without other involvement.

If your landlord has misconducted their responsibilities to you or the law, remind them of it. Landlords who have not complied with the landlord and tenant law, usually face worse penalty than one deposit.

Just remember to keep your cool when disputing with your landlord. Fiery tempers can only worsen your judgement and push you towards mistakes that can be costly.

Use the alternative dispute resolution

A third option is when the two parties disagree and enter a dispute. It can be resolved using the alternative dispute resolution service. It will be provided by the tenancy deposit protection scheme for free.

Now, the scheme will provide with an impartial “judge”.  They will review the evidence both sides has and hear any testimonials or witnesses.

The inventory report is the strongest clue to influence the decision of the adjudicator. Make sure the inventory is always properly and accurately made.

Other important evidence will include:

  • proof or payment of rent
  • utility bills receipts
  • signed photos of objectionable parts
  • written letters and emails between the landlord and tenant

The adjudicator will conduct a thorough investigation. When finished, they will release a resolution that will split the deposit according to the most fair judgement. The resolution will be final and no further comments can be made. Thus, it’s important that you are thoroughly prepared before engaging in the dispute.

Use the county court

The final solution, for the most desperate of cases, is to file a case in court. You can use the small claims courts for sums up to £5000. Before doing so, however, you must go through all other options. Not only will it be expected of you before filing a case, but courts cost money and require very thorough and strict procedures. If there is any other way to get back your money, it’s in your best interested to try it.

If you still can’t get your landlord to comply, you need to send them a “letter before action”. This is to warn them of your intent to use the court to settle your dispute.

If they don’t reply or begin a discussion to resolve the problem, it’s time to file a claim form to your nearest court. For ease of use, you’re able to also make a claim online at the HM Courts Service.

Depending on the sum you request from your landlord, there is an initial fee for £30 up to £150. This can be claimed, if you win the case, but you might also be forced to pay for the defendant’s side if you lose.

To win back your deposit, you have to go back and gather all relevant documents from the entire tenancy period.

This includes:

  • Copy of the tenancy agreement
  • Receipts of rent payments
  • Receipts from utility bills
  • Receipts from any services that you have paid regarding the property
  • Copies of the move in and move out inventory reports
  • Dated and signed photos of the property
  • Witness statements
  • Emails with the landlord or letting agent as well as any written letters

You need to organise these in a timeline order for ease of use. Also, provide a copy of each to the defendant, as otherwise they might not be taken as a valid proof in the courtroom.

These cases are fast and need no solicitors. The judges are usually patient and will provide guidance as most landlords and tenants are not experienced in law. However, once the two sides have gone through their materials, there will be no more hearings. The judgement will be ready on the same day as the case and will be final.

Where to go for help

See our related articles including deposits, deposit protection schemes, and deposit disputes for more information. Also, visit our forums to receive help with your specific question.

This article is provided as a guide. The Tenants’ Voice is NOT a legal advice specialist site and our content authors are NOT housing law specialists.
The Tenants’ Voice advises tenants to act courteously and reasonably in all communications and dealings with regard to their tenancy. If you suspect an infringement of your rights then seek advice and support from a regulated professional. The Tenants’ Voice recommends Shelter 0808 800 4444

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