Before you leave your rental property
To protect yourself from unfair action, it’s essential that you gather some evidence regarding the condition in which you are leaving the property. This evidence will assist you in the case of any dispute being raised between you and your landlord once you have left.
Wherever possible, you should:
- Take plenty of photos of the property’s interior and exterior to accurately show its condition upon leaving
- Obtain a check-out inventory and request that your landlord signs it. Be sure that it includes all items such as the condition of the walls, carpet, etc.
How to get your deposit back
Providing there are no disputes regarding the return of your deposit, your landlord should return it to you within a reasonable timeframe of your tenancy ending: 10 days.
If, however, you have not received your deposit back within a reasonable timeframe, there are several things you can do to attempt to have it returned.
Establish where your deposit is held: Tenancy deposit protection schemes
By law, when a deposit for any home with an assured shorthold tenancy is paid, it must be placed into an approved tenancy deposit protection scheme (TDP).
In England and Wales, deposits can be registered in a tenancy deposit scheme with:
In England and Wales, 4.3 million deposits are protected and the average deposit is just over £1,000.
There are separate tenancy deposit schemes in place for Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Your landlord is required to register your deposit with a registered tenancy deposit scheme within 30 days of receiving it from you, and they must also provide you with the relevant information as to where it is being held.
If your landlord fails to place your deposit into an approved tenancy deposit scheme, you can take them to court. This may result in them being forced to pay up to three times the initial deposit amount, in addition to all court fees.
There are two types of deposit protection schemes: Custodial and Insurance.
- Custodial schemes: the scheme holds the money
- Insurance schemes: the landlord or agent holds the money, but it is still protected by a scheme
Your landlord should have advised you at the start of the tenancy where your deposit funds are held. If they didn’t do this, or you are otherwise not sure, you can request that information directly from your landlord, letting agent or property manager. Alternatively, you can search via the schemes’ individual websites by entering your postcode, surname, tenancy start date, and the deposit amount.
Request that your deposit is returned
If you have vacated the premises and are patiently waiting for your deposit back, but it hasn’t been forthcoming, the first step is to request its return. Ask your landlord or letting agent to return your deposit to you. Make this request in writing to initiate a paper trail of communication.
If your deposit is held within a custodial scheme, you or your landlord can request that the money be released. All schemes must refund deposits within ten working days, although most occur within around five days.
In the event of a deposit dispute, the payment will occur 28 days from the adjudicator’s decision.
If your deposit is held under an insurance scheme, you need to ask your landlord or agent to return it. They can return it to you via cash, cheque, or bank transfer.
At the end of your tenancy, your landlord should provide you with documentation that explains how much of your deposit will be returned, whether any is being retained, and what those funds are being used for.
How long does a landlord have to make deductions?
There is no fixed timeframe, but it is standard to expect a response within ten days, and to raise a dispute if no communication has been received within that time.
If you do not agree with any of the deductions, you have a right to dispute them. It’s important to note here that, should your landlord pay you a partial deposit refund, you can accept this payment without any admission or agreement regarding the withheld funds.
What if your local council paid your deposit?
If your local council paid your deposit for you, or guaranteed it in a bond scheme, it’s unlikely that you will receive any money back. Consequently, should your landlord retain funds from your deposit for rent arrears or damages, you will probably be expected to repay this amount to the council.
If you are in disagreement regarding the retained funds, you can dispute it, and the TDP scheme will freeze the funds until the dispute between you and your landlord is resolved.
In the case that a landlord and tenant cannot reach an agreement regarding the return of a deposit, the relevant tenancy deposit scheme will offer a free dispute resolution service.
It isn’t always necessary to use the resolution service, but if you can’t reach an agreement or are struggling to communicate with your landlord, it’s a helpful option to fall back on.
In order to access the TDP dispute resolution process, both you and your landlord will have to agree to it. You will both be asked to provide any evidence to support your claims, and the decision reached will be final.
Justifiable tenancy deposit deductions
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to justifiable tenancy deposit deductions, as the circumstances can vary so significantly between cases. That said, there are some common reasons that cause landlords to retain deposit funds.
Any reasons for deducting funds from a deposit must be stipulated in the signed tenancy agreement. For example, if professional carpet cleaning is a requirement upon vacation of the property, this must be outlined in the tenancy agreement in order for it to be an allowable deduction should a tenant fail to meet this agreed expectation.
Other allowable deposit deductions include:
There are many reasons why a tenant may not pay (or be able to pay) their rent.
While some circumstances are out of a tenant’s control regarding affording rent payments, unpaid or withheld rental payments are a justifiable reason for a landlord to retain some, or all, of the deposit funds.
Many landlords will agree to deduct any rent arrears from the deposit to avoid serving their tenant with a Section 21 eviction notice.
If you find yourself in the position of owing more rent than your deposit amount will cover, your landlord can take legal action against you to recover it. Wherever possible, work directly with your landlord to arrange manageable repayments to avoid this.
Significant property damage
Whether the damage has been caused to the property itself, such as broken windows, or to furniture inclusions, it constitutes a breach of the tenancy agreement. As such, your landlord is allowed to deduct an appropriate portion of funds to repair or replace items to rectify any damage you have caused.
Lost or broken items
Another common reason for retained deposit funds is to replace or repair items that are either broken or missing at the end of a tenancy.
This is why it is essential to ensure that a comprehensive inventory report is created at the beginning and end of your tenancy. An inventory report details all items included with the property and their condition at the start of the tenancy. It should be noted here that a landlord cannot charge you for the repair or replacement of any items that weren’t functioning correctly at the start of your lease.
The cleanliness of a property is a common cause of dispute between landlords and tenants, often because we all have varying definitions of what constitutes a clean property.
Nevertheless, cleaning is often allowed as a deposit deduction. In many cases, this is due to tenants failing to have the carpets professionally cleaned despite it forming part of the agreement. This is even more of a bone of contention when pets have been kept at the property.
Damage caused by pets
Landlords are renowned for not favouring animals being kept in their property, but with so many people owning pets, it's something that they have had to come to some compromise on.
It’s common for pet-owning tenants to agree to pay a higher deposit amount prior to moving in, or agree in advance to carry out professional cleaning upon vacating the property. This, however, does not cover for any damage being caused by pets.
When a tenant redecorates a property without their landlord’s consent, the landlord has the right to retain deposit funds in order to rectify such changes. Equally, even if your landlord gives you permission to redecorate, if they deem it to be a poor job and want to have the room/property restored to its former condition, they are entitled to retain funds to cover these costs.
Deposit deductions that tenants can dispute
While landlords have some grounds for retaining deposit funds, there are some common reasons that tenants can justifiably dispute.
Landlords cannot refuse to return your deposit for:
General wear and tear
While significant damage is a justifiable reason to retain deposit funds, general wear and tear is not considered damage.
It can be difficult to accurately define general wear and tear, so aspects such as the number of tenants and the length of occupation are taken into consideration. Wear and tear is another good reason for taking clear before and after pictures at the beginning and end of your tenancy. Landlords cannot reasonably expect a property to be in exactly the same fresh condition at the end of a long tenancy, but in the same vein, tenants must take care to minimise the extent of wear and tear left behind.
Your landlord cannot retain deposit funds to pay for redecoration simply because they wish to freshen up their property after you have vacated.
Tenants have a right to be provided with a structurally safe property and any repairs to the structural integrity of the building are the responsibility of the landlord.
Property re-letting costs
Landlords cannot claim for any costs involved in re-letting the property after you vacate. The only time that such expenses could come into question is in the event that your landlord takes you to court for breaching the terms of your lease by breaking it early.
Dispute preparation costs
Landlords are not permitted to retain deposit funds for the purpose of covering dispute-related costs. Even if a dispute goes to court and the decision favours your landlord, they cannot claim any legal costs via deposit retainment.
If your landlord doesn’t respond
If your landlord simply doesn’t respond to your requests or communications, you may need to follow a different process to achieve your deposit refund.
Lodging a claim to get your deposit back
If your deposit is held with a custodial scheme, you will need to start the process called a ‘single claim.’ You can start this only once two weeks have passed since you first requested that your deposit be returned via the scheme.
Complete and submit a statutory declaration form
You will need to complete and submit a statutory declaration form that has been witnessed by a solicitor.
Once your scheme receives your application, they will give your landlord a further two weeks to respond. If there is still no response, the scheme will usually repay your deposit to you within ten days.
If, however, your landlord gets in touch with the scheme during this period, the claim will be referred to the dispute resolution team. If your landlord refuses to engage in the dispute resolution process, you will need to start court action.
If your landlord won’t return your deposit and it is held with an insurance scheme, you will need to obtain a court order confirming that the funds should be returned to you and forward this on to the scheme to action the refund.
Taking court action to get your deposit back
In the unfortunate circumstance that you need to take alternative dispute resolution and go to court action to recover your deposit funds, you will need the name and address of your landlord.
This process can take several months, but if you feel you have a solid case with irrefutable evidence to support your claims, you should stand your ground and hold your landlord accountable.
Before initiating court action, sending your landlord a letter to inform them of your intention to proceed with court action could be enough to get them to come to the party and start communicating more reasonably.
As previously mentioned, your landlord or letting agent is obligated by law to register your deposit within an approved scheme. You may be able to claim for compensation in the event that your landlord has broken any tenancy deposit protection laws, including:
- Failing to protect your deposit within a scheme
- Protecting/registering your deposit late (i.e. outside of the 30-day window)
- Failing to provide you with the relevant information regarding the scheme chosen to protect your deposit
Under such circumstances, you are within your rights to claim for compensation even if your landlord has returned some or all of your deposit.
Need further advice on deposit protection or getting your deposit back?
In England and Wales, 75% of disputes are raised by the tenant, not the landlord.
If you are still unsure how best to proceed, you can contact your deposit scheme directly, or visit citizensadvice.org.uk for more assistance.
A special thank you to Miles Richardson, Housing Solicitor, at Citizens Advice Southend, for reviewing this article for accuracy. You can contact Miles and his team if you have any tenant-related housing issues.
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