How do I get my deposit back?
Trying to get your full deposit back at the end of your tenancy could lead to a dispute with your landlord. Despite legislation designed to better protect tenants and their deposits, deposit disputes are common.
The situation can be further complicated if tenants aren't aware of their rights as a renter. Do you know about the legislation that prevents landlords from unfairly withholding deposits? Since April 2007 all deposits for Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreements for properties with a rental value of less than £100,000 per annum (i.e the vast majority of rental properties) must be placed in a government scheme within 14-30 days of payment. These schemes act as a neutral space where the deposit is held during the tenancy, and also until any disputes are resolved. The money will not be released at the end of your tenancy until both parties come to an agreement. If your landlord does not protect your deposit, they can be fined up to three times the amount.
Deposits on rental properties normally amount to the equivalent of six weeks rent, so it's natural that tenants are very keen to get as much of this back as possible at the end of the tenancy. However, this can occasionally be a bit of an arduous process when faced with a difficult landlord and in many cases ends up in a stalemate 'he said, she said' scenario. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do when you move in, during your tenancy, and when requesting your deposit to make the process as straightforward as possible.
When you move in
Get a receipt for your deposit
Ensure that your deposit has been put in a government scheme by your landlord, and make sure that you have a receipt of this. Most schemes will send you a report and a receipt once the payment has been made, but if you don’t receive one contact your landlord as soon as possible once the mandatory 14-30 days have passed. You’ll need these details when you come to request your deposit at the end of the tenancy.
Thoroughly complete an inventory and check-in report
Most deposit disputes are due to both parties not being fully clear about what they consider to be the condition of the property when the tenant moves in. To protect yourself from being liable for any damage or missing items that pre-date your tenancy, you should fill out the inventory and check-in report comprehensively and accurately, accompanying it with photos when necessary.
This should show the state of the property when you moved in, as well as the presence and condition of any furniture or items. Make sure this is signed by both yourself and the landlord or agent, and that you each have a copy. If your landlord or agent doesn’t provide an inventory, it may be worth paying for a specialist company to draw one up for you, which normally costs around £150.
Keep the landlord informed
During your tenancy you should keep the landlord or agency up-to-date should any problems arise in the property, such as breakages or items needing replaced. Confirm this in writing so that should an issue arise later, you have evidence that you let them know, and keep copies of any correspondence. This is particularly important when it comes to things like damp and mould, which can worsen quickly and cause large amounts of damage.
Keep the property in good condition
Although landlords must take into account general wear and tear, two years worth of dirt is hard to remove even with a professional clean. Keep the property in good condition and pay your rent and bills on time, and you’ll significantly reduce your chances of having to dispute the deposit.
Before you move out
Clean the property and replace items
Give the property a thorough clean, and replace any broken or missing items that were in the original inventory. Go through your inventory and compare it to the current state of the property, to make sure you are aware of anything that the landlord or agent may later bring up. Replace any broken lightbulbs, tidy your outdoor space, and if there are any items which you cannot replace exactly (such as a sofa which is no longer sold) get in touch with the landlord to ask how you can remedy this.
Stick to the tenancy agreement
Some tenancy agreements have clauses about moving out, which stipulate that a professional deep clean must take place, all curtains must be dry cleaned, windows washed and a gardener brought in for properties with outdoor space. Check what your agreement says and stick to it - you signed it at the beginning of your tenancy, so you’ve agreed to the conditions. Make sure to get a receipt for any professional services too as further evidence that you've adhered to the conditions of the tenancy agreement.
Requesting your deposit after you move
Ask for a check-out statement
Once you move out, it’s time to request your deposit. You can request the full amount directly from the deposit scheme using the details given to you on your deposit receipt at the beginning go the tenancy, but it’s best to discuss things with your landlord first and ask them for check-out statement with a list of any potential deductions. Remember that while the landlord is entitled to take money from the deposit to cover damage, missing items and unpaid rent, normal wear and tear should be permitted. The landlord should not be making a financial gain from any deposit deductions, but equally should not lose any money from the process.
Compare any issues with your original inventory
Compare the check-out statement and the list of deductions closely with your original inventory, and let the landlord know if you agree or disagree with any of them. If you do disagree, put forward evidence to support your case, such as your initial inventory and any email correspondence relating to the query. For a particularly long list of contested deductions, it might be best to create an original comparison document for your claim using their list of deductions or comments compared to your original inventory. This will also be hugely helpful should you end up disputing the case with the Alternative Dispute Resolution Service.
Agree on an amount
Once any deductions have been discussed and an agreement reached, a deposit sum should be decided upon between tenant and landlord or agent. This should take place within the first 10 days following the tenant’s departure from the property, and once agreed the tenant can request the amount from the deposit scheme and supply bank account details for payment. The landlord will be sent a prompt to confirm the amount, and once confirmed this should be paid within a few days. It's possible to have this divided between multiple names and accounts for shared properties, as long as this was part of the original agreement.
Dealing with a deposit dispute
Unfortunately, it’s not always possible for both the landlord and tenant to come to an agreement, even if you do provide all the necessary evidence to back up your claims. If 10 days following the end of the tenancy have passed and you still can’t agree upon a sum, it may be time to contact the Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) Service. Each of the deposit protection schemes have their own impartial dispute service, who will examine the evidence put forward by both sides before deciding on the final sum to be paid.
Tenants have 90 days following the end of the tenancy to raise a dispute with the ADS, and after that it’s a matter for the Small Claims Court. But whatever you do, do not withhold rent as a way to counteract against deposit disputes, as this will reflect very negatively on you should it come to a case with the ADR.
Main image credit: Long Nguyen