Here at The Tenant’s Voice we know from our work on our forums just how many problems are generated by landlords who either don’t know, or don’t bother to follow, the legal structure that is in place to protect tenants. While there’s no question that our process in the UK is severely lacking on many fronts, from enforceable laws on ensuring repairs are done, to guaranteeing basic living standards are met, there is one part of the lettings process that is very clear and that’s deposit protection. However, research by an expert finance company published at the start of the month indicates that even here, some landlords believe they are above the law.
£500 million unprotected
The Centre for Economics and Business Research carried out a survey for money.co.uk, the results of which indicated that 284,000 landlords in Britain are not protecting their tenants’ deposits in a government backed tenancy deposit protection scheme. That’s more than £500 million in deposits that are sitting unprotected.
Deposit protection is a legal requirement
The law requires that any landlord with an assured shorthold tenancy (the most common type of tenancy in the UK) must protect the tenant’s deposit within 30 days of receiving it. The landlord is also under an obligation to provide the tenant with a signed deposit protection certificate, as well as certain information (called ‘Prescribed Information’), including details of the tenancy deposit scheme used, the process for getting a deposit returned and how to manage a dispute over the amount that should be returned. There are penalties for landlords who don’t protect a tenant’s deposit within the required time limit. There are also penalties for landlords who don’t offer the Prescribed Information within the same time frame. A court can require a landlord to protect a deposit, to repay a deposit and can also order compensation for a tenant of between one and three times the amount of the deposit.
It’s up to tenants to take action
So, why are landlords flouting these rules when there are such heavy financial penalties? Perhaps the principal reason is that the policing of tenancy deposits, and their protection, is left up to the tenant. If a landlord does not provide information about the deposit protection scheme then it is a tenant who must chase for it. If it becomes obvious that a landlord has not protected the deposit, and doesn’t intend to, then it is the tenant who must begin court action and make a claim against the landlord under their own steam and using their own resources. Sadly, there are still landlords who rely on a lack of knowledge among tenants, or an unwillingness to get caught up in legal action – which is perceived to be expensive and time consuming – to get away with ignoring the law. Others may use the threat of eviction or play on the fact that tenants want to have a good relationship with their landlord and avoid having to move on at frequent intervals.
The reality is that it’s not that difficult to make a claim for compensation against a landlord who has not protected a deposit, and it can be lucrative for tenants and may stop a landlord from doing it again. And, in our view, the more tenants hold their landlords to account for serious failings like this, the better the lettings world will be.