6 Tips to Retain your Rental Accommodation Deposit
When renting a property in the UK, your landlord or letting agent will almost invariably take a deposit to protect themselves against any damage done to the property during your tenancy, or to cover any potential unpaid rent.
The deposit is usually 4 to 6 weeks’ worth of rent and must be protected in a government approved deposit protection scheme.
In the UK, there are three authorised deposit protection schemes your landlord can choose from: the Deposit Protection Service, MyDeposits and the Tenancy Deposit Scheme. For tenancies in Scotland or Northern Ireland, the same rules apply although different deposit protection schemes may be used.
Although a landlord can deduct from your deposit to cover damage or unpaid bills, they cannot charge for general wear and tear of the property and must clearly outline any deductions at the end of the tenancy.
To ensure that you retain as much of your deposit as possible, follow our top tips:
1. Check the tenancy agreement
Before moving into a property, you will be required to sign a tenancy agreement. Although these are usually fairly standard, it’s best practice to thoroughly check these agreements for any obscure clauses and to ensure that you will not be in breach of any of the terms.
If you will be cohabiting with others, check whether the contract is in one tenant’s sole name or whether you are all named in the agreement. In some cases, you might be happy to have one lead tenant take responsibility but remember that if this isn’t you then you may not be protected by the agreement, or if it is you, you will be responsible for ensuring that everyone else adheres to the terms.
You must also ensure that the landlord has signed the agreement so it is legally binding and they cannot breach any terms. Remember, tenancy agreements are designed to protect tenants as much as they’re there for landlord protection.
If you’re not happy with any of the terms in your contract, speak with your landlord or letting agent immediately to see whether there’s an option for you to negotiate. This is also important if you don’t understand anything within the contract, as you will be obligated to abide by the terms once the contract is signed.
2. Make an inventory
When you move into a new property, your landlord or letting agent should have taken a full inventory, including any furnishings which come with the property or any pre-existing damage. It’s good practice to ensure that you’ve checked this inventory yourself and sign off on the agreed condition of the property at the start of the tenancy, as a landlord cannot deduct from your deposit if the property is in the same condition as at the start of the contract.
If you haven’t agreed on an inventory with your landlord, good practice is to always take one yourself. This could include taking date stamped photographs of any damage when you move in, in addition to the general condition of the property. This means that should there be a dispute when you move out, you can prove any damage was not caused by you.
3. Find out where your deposit will be held
As mentioned above, landlords in the UK must protect your deposit in one of the three authorised deposit protection schemes available. Although your landlord can choose between these, they must provide you with written confirmation as to where your deposit is being held within 30 days of the money being paid.
If for any reason your landlord does not use an authorised deposit protection scheme or doesn’t give you the required information regarding where your deposit is being held within the mandatory time frame, you could take them to court and they may be restricted in their powers to evict you with a Section 21 notice.
That said, you should write to your landlord before pursuing legal action to give them the chance to protect your deposit and to provide you with the requisite information.
4. Confirm what changes you’re permitted to make to the property
Whilst many landlords will be strict about what changes you are permitted to make to the property (if any) some may be more flexible. Changes can include hanging pictures with nails, installing cat flaps, painting walls and so forth. If your tenancy agreement doesn’t clearly state that you can make amendments, this usually means you can’t.
If you are desperate to hang posters or put nails in the wall, make sure that you’ve checked this is okay with your landlord first, as doing so without permission will usually count as ‘damage’ and your landlord will be able to deduct from your deposit accordingly.
Remember, when it comes to rental properties, the landlord will probably want to let the property out again once you’ve moved out, so changes such as the colour of the walls or carpets are usually not permitted.
If you intend to have a pet in the property it is important that you discuss it with your landlord first. Although landlords cannot deduct from your deposit simply because you have a pet – regardless as to whether pets are permitted in the tenancy agreement or not – they could deduct for issues such as getting the smell or hair out of the carpet. If you want to install a cat flap, this will also need to be agreed with the landlord in advance. Otherwise, it would constitute damage and costs of putting this right would be deductible.
5. Report damage and record communications
Unfortunately, sometimes accidents happen and no matter how thoroughly you try to care for your rental property, there may be some damage caused. Ensuring that you report any damage immediately to your landlord can minimise the amount they deduct from your deposit or, if you’re able to fix the damage yourself, you may be able to avoid being charged at all.
It’s great if you can build a good relationship with your landlord as this will hopefully make them more forgiving of small accidents such as nail polish spills, broken mirrors or chipped crockery.
Regardless of your relationship with your landlord, it’s a good idea to record all communication you have with them so that you have evidence of what’s been said should any disputes arise later on, particularly if a figure has been agreed as to how much of your deposit will be taken following an accident which caused damage.
6. Thoroughly check and clean before moving out
Leaving the property clean and tidy at the end of your tenancy should ensure no deductions can be made. Although landlords can charge for cleaning costs, an exception can be made for general wear and tear and you should not be expected to make the property any cleaner than it was when you moved in.
This is one of the reasons a full inventory is so important; it allows you to evidence the state of the property on your move-in date to compare with the condition of the property when you leave.
Checking your tenancy agreement at the start will also help you here: if your agreement states the property must be professionally cleaned, it’s a good idea to abide by this to ensure deductions cannot be made. Always keep receipts for any cleaning you pay for.