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A tenant asks: Can Agents Deduct for Damage Without a Proper Inventory ?

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last updated: 13 Jun 2016 report a problem

dirty mattress on the street

This blog post is an answer to a query from Laurie, who asked:

Q: Hi, I had a tenancy agreement with a letting agency for a flat in London. When I moved in, I received the check in report and for the bedroom it just showed a list of contents ( bed, mattress, wardrobe etc…) with no particulars regarding their conditions.

I now have an issue with the check out report. There is a stain on the underside of the mattress as per the check out report. When I moved in I did not turn the mattress to inspect both sides. There is no mention on the check in report that the person carrying the inspection did check both sides of the mattress as there is no specific comments as to the state of the mattress.

Now, the agency is charging me £50 for the stain. Their first reply was that if no comment was made that is because the mattress was in good condition. Can I challenge them and the amount? Thank you for your help. (edited for grammar and clarity)

It’s always important to sort out the inventory reports, because you only have a few days, before the opportunity is lost. Unfortunately, neglecting it at the time frequently causes problems ahead, like the one Laurie has.

The tenancy deposit is a legal property of the tenant

Fortunately for Laurie, she is innocent until proven otherwise. Legally, the tenancy deposit is a property of the tenant. If no deductions are made, it is expected for it to be returned in it’s full amount when the tenancy end.

If the landlord, or in Laurie’s case, the agency wants to make deductions, they need to provide sufficient indicators that the tenant has caused damage to occur on the property. On other words, the landlord or agency has to prove that Laurie did damage to the property, before deducting a penny.

In Laurie’s case, the stain is registered in the check out report, but not in the check in. It’s easy for a landlord to think they are entitled to some compensation out of the deposit.

However, just because there are no comments towards the condition, doesn’t automatically mean the condition was good. It simply means there are no comments. Therefore, there is no way for the agency to prove that the mattress was in good condition when Laurie moved in. Even if Laurie made the stain, there is no practical way to prove it, and thus, the landlord cannot deduct from her deposit.

If the agency still tries to deduct £50 for the stain, Laurie can request an Alternative Dispute Resolution from the company that holds her deposit.

The adjudicator will require three things from the landlord before ruling in their favour:

  • The damage is caused during the tenancy period
  • The damage is caused by the tenant or their guests, pets, etc.
  • The damage exceeds fair wear and tear

Since the agency has no detailed record prior to the tenant moving in, they will find it extremely hard to prove all of the above. Thus, the adjudicatory is unlikely to rule in their favour.

If you need more information on your tenancy deposit and how to handle deposit disputes, check out our detailed guides:

Deposit deductions and disputes
Tenancy deposit protection schemes (TDP)
Paying a deposit to your landlord
Overview of tenancy deposits

Landlords have to allow for fair wear and tear

Some landlords expect to receive the property in pristine condition when the tenancy ends.

When the move out inventory doesn’t match the move in report completely, and often, it doesn’t, landlords easily trick themselves into believing they are owed something for the refreshment.

Often the check out report will list a number of small imperfections – scratches, dents, spotting, etc. These little surface damages appear naturally as part of the normal exploitation of the given item, furniture, appliance or even the structural parts of the property.

This natural deterioration is called “fair wear and tear”. Landlord have to accept wear and tear into the property, without deducting money from the tenant’s deposit. It is not set how much damage can be attributed to fair wear and tear, and where is the border, when it becomes damage due to lack of maintenance, or other type of tenant inflicted damage. That’s why wear and tear is usually a very conflicting term and often can end with a dispute.

Remember that disputes about the tenancy deposits should be decided by a specially assigned adjudicator from the tenancy deposit company.

The importance of the tenancy inventory

It’s really cases like Laurie’s that highlight how important the initial inventory check is. It’s advisable that tenants thoroughly check the inventory and contact the landlord if they find damaged equipment that is not reflected in the inventory.

As a tenant, it’s in your best interest to attend all formal inventory checks and make sure the property’s condition is well documented.

If your agency or landlord did not thoroughly complete the check in inventory, it’s advisable that tenants do their own version. You can find a free template at Shelter. You want to be thorough and even use a camera to record those damages that are already there.

A good idea is to supply this better inventory report to your landlord and try to get their approval and signature. The tenancy inventory is equally important for all related parties, so it shouldn’t be hard to get your landlord to cooperate.

As a general rule, you want to do a detailed maintenance and cleanup of your property before leaving. Here are some things that are easily fixed, but may also cause you to lose small amounts of the deposits, if left unattended:

  • Cover up scratches to wooden furniture by scrubbing with an almond; repolish if necessary
  • Fill nail holes in the walls and repaint the section
  • Clear the garden, cut the grass
  • Unblock the drains
  • Take care of any mould found in the property
  • Perform a complete end of tenancy cleaning

If you need more information on your move in and move out tenancy inventories, check out our detailed guide – The Tenancy Inventory Check

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