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Liability for damage by previous tenants

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577 views 1 replies latest reply: 07 March 2016

Can a landlord deduct sums from my deposit for damage caused by previous tenants?

I’ve recently wound up a flat of which I was one of the final tenants after 14 years of rolling tenancies.  By rolling, I mean that individual tenants have changed on the lease with the landlord and agents’ consent and the lease has been renewed each year with whoever was still living in the house.  The landlord and agent never prompted or required the itinerary to be updated or any sort of inspection over these years.  The lease documentation I signed 1.5 years ago never had an itinerary attached.

Upon giving notice that we would not be continuing the tenancy from 1 March 2016, the landlord finally provided us with an itinerary which was 14 years old.  When we provided him with detailed information showing that the itinerary did not accurately reflect what was left in the property, he acknowledged that it was not ideal and would only charge us for ‘fair wear and tear’.

During the inspection today (carried out by the landlord himself), the landlord is now seeking to charge us for all “damage” to the property that has occured over the past 14 years, e.g. a burn hole in a kitchen counter, a small hole in a cupboard door, possibly repairs to light fittings caused by the house’s (in our opinion) dodgy wiring.  This could be quite costly and chew up our deposit.  All of the current tenants confirm that this damage was caused by previous tenants – i.e. it was how we inherited the flat.  While we cannot  prove the damage was there when we moved in as we never took pictures or reported it to the landlord (as we thought the landlord would have been notified over the years),  the landlord similarly cannot prove it was us – just that a tenant over the past 14 years did it.

Can the landlord hold us, as the final tenants in the flat, liable for all damage to it over the past 14 years?  

In the landlord’s view, by taking on the lease as we did, that we took on all liability for the actions and therefore damage of previous tenants.  I think that the landlord should bear a lot of this risk of damage as he approved every single person who has lived in that house and he allowed the tenancy to continue in this way.

We’d be grateful for any guidance on whether we can contest the landlord’s claim.  In my view, I should only be liable for damage caused by me during my tenancy.


Hi Jessica

Where are the deposits being paid here? Are the tenants paying them to eachother? i.e. the outgoing tenant is paid the deposit by the incoming tenant and the landlord is never involved? The problem here is that, in theory, each incoming tenant should have done an inventory and deducted any damage from the deposit of the outgoing tenancy if that’s the case.

However, I am not sure about the legality of this now that there is a legal requirement to protect a deposit (as of 2007). Despite the fact that you’ve had a ‘rolling tenancy’ for 14 years, there must have been some documenting of the changing tenants – so each time a new tenant moved in there must have been some amendment to the original tenancy or a new tenancy, is that right? Every time this happened it would have triggered an obligation on the landlord to protect that deposit with a tenancy deposit scheme – that’s a legal requirement now and the accepted wisdom is that a renewal of a tenancy triggers the requirement to protect. So, every time that happened after 2007 the landlord would have been required to protect the deposit. If it wasn’t done then in theory the tenants could take the landlord to court for return of their entire deposit, plus compensation amounting to 1-3 times the deposit.

If the deposit is protected then you can raise a dispute with the deposit protection scheme over the proposed deductions. I’m not a lawyer but I would imagine the scheme would require the deductions to relate only to the period since your tenancy was last renewed (I.e. when your deposit protection should have started) and the landlord always has to prove the right to make the deduction, so the landlord would have to prove you caused the problems in that time. In terms of wear and tear, 14 years worth of wear and tear is a lot so the landlord would probably struggle to get anything back. Although it seems like they have you over a barrel, in actual fact the landlord has caused themselves an issue by not taking regular inventories as they have no way of proving you did the damage, which is what they need to do in order to make the deductions from your deposit.

I’m quite tempted to ask where you are as I had this same situation many years ago in a flatshare in Clapham…

Without knowing more about the situation – and as I’m not a lawyer – it’s difficult to give you a definintive answer so I’d suggest you speak to Citizens Advice or Shelter and make sure you do a full inventory when you leave. In the meantime, resist all the landlord’s attempts at unreasonable deductions until you can speak to a legal brain –  I’m pretty sure that the deposit should have been protected (if it hasn’t been and should have been then the threat of you taking court action should be enough for them to release the deposit as they will lose more money if you do take them to court) and if it has been you can raise a dispute with the protection scheme and fight the deductions.

Hope that helps.



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