What is a clean and tidy house to some is and unacceptably dirty mess to others; people have different standards and this will never change. Alternatively, some tenants are just too lazy to leave the place clean and tidy: dirty carpets and furniture, filthy bathrooms and toilets, and kitchen worktops, cupboards and cookers so full of grease and grime you would need PPE to tackle it.
Analysis of the TDS data by property management software providers, Decorus for Sage, reveals that in recent years, there has been a steady increase in the proportion of disputes being raised by tenants. In the year to March 2020, this rose to 74%, compared to 67.4% in the previous year.
An older study by agent’s professional body, ARLA Propertymark, came to the same conclusions: 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, anything which goes beyond normal and acceptable wear and tear can be claimed for. A deposit is an important psychological lever that motivates tenants to return a property in good condition: will I get my deposit back when I leave? This is normally enough of a motivator to get people to clean up and look after the property, but unfortunately this doesn’t always work.
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, leaving them to whistle for their money, leaving nothing in reserve to cover for items like professional cleaning.
It has to be said that 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.
Advice for landlords
Paul Oxley, Managing Director of Decorus for Sage software says:
“According to the TDS, many tenants claim that the cleanliness of the property at the start of the tenancy was not clear, or that the tenancy agreement did not make clear what was expected of them.
“So it is vital that landlords have a proper inventory prepared and do a thorough check-in and check-out, so they have the right proof of condition at the start and end of a new tenancy agreement.
“When landlords take the time to spell out tenants’ responsibilities in terms of cleaning and caring for the property, tenants are more likely to conduct their tenancy in a way that is respectful to the property and this minimises any potential damage.
“At the check-out stage, the tenant should be made aware of the areas requiring cleaning and the potential cost involved. It is important to remember that the tenant is only obliged to return the property in the same state of cleanliness as at the start of the tenancy, after allowing for fair wear and tear.
“Landlords should conduct thorough check-in and check-outs at the start and end of the tenancy, supported by a professional inventory. Clear communication on the tenant’s responsibilities when they move into the property will improve the chances of a trouble-free check-out.
“The common mistakes in landlord inventories are essentially lack of detail. Landlords often write just a brief shopping list and often do not have the appropriate photographs and videos, along with accompanying written descriptions to show the condition of the property and its contents.
Get the Evidence
If the landlord finds the tenant fails to agree to the deposit deductions, landlords need to ensure they have good documentary evidence, such as a thorough and fully detailed inventory, copies of which are given to the tenant at check-in and check-out. It is imperative that tenants sign their acceptance of the contents of the check-in within seven days of the move in, and this signed copy should be retained by either the landlord.
When landlords are managing multiple properties it’s easy for documentation to go astray. Software developed specifically for the property industry uses advanced storage methods to combat this common issue says Mr Oxley. Decorus for Sage, he says, backs up system information on Microsoft Azure. If inventory information is lost or accidentally deleted, it can be easily restored. The software also runs on cloud servers so logged information can be accessed from any device with an internet connection.”
How to avoid disputes
Paul Oxley here outlines some common mistakes which increase the risk of a deposit dispute:
- Landlords often make the mistake of thinking that inventories can be heavily comprised of photography and video. Completely photographic or filmed inventories without a complete written accompanying report are almost useless.
- If photography or film has been used in the inventory, make sure it is detailed enough and dated. Include photographs of the garden; inside of the oven; interior of the shed or garage; and keys handed over to tenants – these are the main areas of problems that occur and are often down to misinterpretation at the end of a tenancy.
- There is no need to photograph every single corner of the property as this is simply a waste of time – stick to the important things. Films and photographs alone will be of little use in a dispute when an adjudicator is trying to find hard evidence of a particular area.
- Many landlords do not carry out a thorough and full check-in and check-out of the property at which the tenant was present. Landlords and agents who don’t have this available when they go to court have little chance of winning the case.
- Often there is no correspondence with the tenant that is documented and no receipts are kept for the deductions on the deposit e.g., cleaning and repairs.
Decorus, with nearly 40 years of combined experience in the property management industry, says that landlord portfolios are unique which requires a property management software package that includes true two-way integration with Sage accounting software, helping landlords grow their property portfolios further, while freeing up time to spend on tenants.
Hosting software on cloud servers is ideal for businesses working from home and with accounting professionals. It makes the business easily scalable, meaning that storage space can be increased quickly if a business expands. This type of server also comes with built-in security features to keep data safe.
The most common deposit claim issues
The results of the ARLA study also show that 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 that 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, similar to that which should be 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 troubles start.
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 alone, 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
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.”