When you rent a property in the private sector you pay a deposit.
This is held by an independent third party in a state approved scheme. It stays there until the end of the lease and you move out.
Paying a deposit when you move into a private rented property is a way of making sure that the landlord can be properly compensated should there be damage incurred during your tenancy. This isn’t a reflection on your character, it’s standard practice in the private rented sector.
The scheme was introduced in Scotland in response to protests that millions of pounds in deposits had not been returned to Tenants. In some cases the deposits were wrongly withheld either on a thin excuse or for no reason at all. Often Tenants felt unable to fight through the legal processes to get the money back or gave up trying due to the expense time and hassle.
The schemes were introduced to address the imbalance of power and help tenants and landlords operate through a fair and independent cost free scheme offering redress to both sides on equal terms.
So, how can you make sure you get your full deposit back?
The deposit scheme and most leases will allow for fair wear and tear but that doesn’t mean you can leave a dirty flat and get away scot free!
The most common reason that tenants don’t get their full deposit amount back is that the landlord needs to hire professional cleaners to clean the property after you move out. When you’re doing your final clean make sure you’re thorough and meticulous! Pull the furniture out and clean underneath, dust the skirting boards, clean the oven, wash your windows – anything that doesn’t move, clean it! Anything that does move, consider cleaning it and underneath it as well. Pay particular attention to cleaning if you had permission to keep pets (and be be even more meticulous if you didn’t!) as the landlord will often notice this, particularly the less pet friendly ones. Pet smells and hair as well as scratches to doors and woodwork and marked walls should get attention as well as the more obvious pet mess in the garden and outside areas!
Another common reason for money being deducted from your deposit is having outstanding rent due.
Before you end your lease make sure that you’ve paid all your rent in full. Remember that your last payment might be a different amount than usual if you are paying for a partial month. Do not stop paying in the last month on the basis the landlord can take the rent from the deposit. This will be covered in your lease but it puts the landlords back up and you are less likely to get any of the balance back as they go over the property with a fine tooth comb!
When you move into a flat it’s important to make sure you have a full inventory from your landlord as this will prevent any disputes when you move out. You don’t want to enter a dispute over missing contents that the landlord is claiming.
The condition of the property at the start of the tenancy should also be recorded in the inventory and record of condition. Any photographs should be dated and of sufficient quality and quantity to provide a comprehensive record. But don’t rely on photographs alone. A properly written professional inventory can save disputes and delays that will inevitably be part of a thorough arbitration process.
A frequent and avoidable reason for not getting your full deposit back is damage to the property.
It’s best to always alert your letting agent to any damage as soon as it happens rather than waiting until you move out. You are often required to do that in terms of the lease. The cupboard door that fell off during your first week in the flat may have become part of the furniture to you, but it’ll be fairly noticeable to the people inspecting the property.
Problems with leaky gutters, slipped slates causing roof leaks or unsatisfactory appliances can happen to any property and the landlord should be grateful that a tenant takes care to report and allow the opportunity to put it right before the property deteriorates. There is a positive duty on a tenant to report such issues. While the law of reasonableness, proportionality and common sense applies, landlords and their managing agents need to be given a reasonable amount of time to put things right. It will do neither side any good to ignore issues and expect the other side to pick up the mess at the end through the deposit.
As a tenant, if you keep your rented property clean, intact, and pay your rent you shouldn’t have any problems getting your deposit back.
As a landlord, you should make sure the property is in good tenant-able condition at the start of the tenancy, that you keep a proper inventory and record of condition, and you carry out occasional inspections and deal with issues as they arise.
Deposit disputes are avoidable and it’s always best to resolve any dispute by agreement by talking. Talk to the letting agent as soon as a problem arises and arrange a visit to discuss an exit plan. This means any issues can be resolved before you go and you are more likely to be provided with a favourable reference and have the deposit be released for your move.