Tenancy Deposit Disputes:
An analysis of deposit claims by agent’s professional body, ARLA Propertymark, shows that cleaning is by far the biggest cause of disputes between landlords and tenants, when tenants are leaving.
Tenancy deposits are taken from tenants to protect the landlord when damage is done, which goes beyond normal and acceptable wear and tear. It’s an important psychological lever that motivates tenants to return a property in good condition: will I get my deposit back when I leave?, is normally enough of a motivator to clean up and look after the property. Not it seems for some tenants!
Some tenants just don’t play the game, even to the point of cancelling the last month’s rent, leaving the landlord to claim against the deposit for the rent, and leaving them to whistle for their money, leaving nothing in reserve to cover for items like professional cleaning.
By far the majority of tenants get their full deposit back, but there are cases where a landlord needs to keep all or a part of the deposit for genuine damage or cleaning etc. The ARLA Propertymark study asked its agent members to give them the most common reasons why tenants don’t get their deposits back.
Cleaning Comes Top
The results of the study are interesting: almost nine out of ten letting agents said the main reason tenants don’t get their deposits back is because of cleaning issues. Basically they leave the property dirty. This leaves the landlord either to do a lot of hard and often distasteful work themselves (remember landlords cannot claim for work they do themselves) or employ a professional cleaner to do the work for them, in which case they have an invoice for charges they can use to claim against the deposit.
Most tenancies are professionally cleaned at the start, so while tenants can clean for themselves, landlords often expect a professional level of cleanliness, as was clearly documented in the inventory at the start of the agreement. What is clean to a tenant is not always so to the landlord, and this is where the disputes start.
To avoid dispute losses a good quality check-in and check-out inventory report is vital as evidence in any dispute, and these reports (ideally prepared by an independent inventory company) should include good photos at the start and end of the tenancy.
Lack of maintenance
General basic house maintenance is the second main reason for disputes, in particular garden maintenance which is usually specified in the agreement. Tenants are under a contractual obligation to do this work and if they fail to do it they will lose out, but only if the landlord has enough paper evidence to win a claim.
The onus is always on the landlord, or the agent on their behalf, to prove their case and this means having good solid paper based evidence – the adjudicator (if the landlord decides to go to arbitration as opposed to a County Court) decides who gets what on this evidence and there is no appeal.
|The most common reasons why tenants don’t get their (full) deposits back at the end of tenancy agreements||Percentage of agents who selected each option|
|Lack of sufficient cleanliness||88%|
|Lack of maintenance (i.e. overgrown gardens)||44%|
|Direct damage to the property and its contents||39%|
|Unpaid rent at the end of the tenancy||31%|
|Damage due to carelessness and lack of maintenance||29%|
|Unwanted personal belongings left behind||12%|
|Keys not returned at the end of tenancy||2%|
|Unpaid bills at the end of the tenancy||2%|
Damage to Contents
Hanging pictures on walls, although desirable to brighten up a plain room, often leaves holes and shaded areas on the walls which involves repairs and redecoration for landlords. Pictures should only be hung with agreement with a landlord, otherwise it’s an issues that causes disputes.
Deposits should be held until all rent is paid up to the day of leaving, and any overpaid rent should be returned to the tenant. To ensure that rent arrears can be claimed against the deposit the letting agreement should clearly state all the reasons why a deposit can be retained, usually for:
- Basic maintenance
- Rent arrears
- Keys and locks
- Storing tenants’ left belongings
Sally Lawson, President, ARLA Propertymark offers advice to tenants:
“When you’re leaving a property you’ve been renting, the general rule is to leave it as you found it. Make sure you haven’t left any personal belongings behind, and that the property is clean and tidy for the next tenants. You should flag any damaged items to your letting agent or landlord during the agreement, so that when you leave, it doesn’t come as a shock.
“This will also help you develop a good relationship with them, which will be useful for any reasonable negotiations about the deposit.
“Finally, you should always take photos of the property at the start and at the end of your contract, so that if you need to dispute any of the deposit deductions, you can evidence your points.”