If you’ve ever rented a property, you probably know all too well the struggle and stress of trying to keep that precious deposit money. Ultimately, if you fail to meet the terms of your tenancy agreement you may have to fight to get your security deposit back, or worse, lose a large chunk of it altogether. So how should you go about winning back your deposit? Just FYI, moaning about evil landlords won’t get you anywhere, cathartic though it may be – most of the time, keeping that deposit is dependent on how well you treat the property.
The truth is that many tenants just don’t know what is required to keep their deposits. Indeed, last year student tenants lost a total of £32 million in rental deposits. Luckily, deposit deductions can be avoided with a good deal of preparation and foresight, a little bit of common sense, and just a dash of elbow grease. So in this post, we detail exactly what you should do to ensure that your rental deposit makes its way back into your pocket at the end of your tenancy.
Pay your rent and bills
This is perhaps the most obvious one, and a fairly easy one to understand. Put simply, if you haven’t paid any of your rent or utility bills by the time you leave the property, some or all of the required payments will be immediately deducted from your deposit. Some tenancy agreements do not require that utilities are paid for by the tenant (e.g. ‘bills included’ contracts), while some only require payment of certain utilities. Whichever utilities are stipulated in your contract, make sure those bills are paid off by the time you move out.
If you’re struggling with rental payments during the tenancy, keeping your deposit is most likely quite low on your list of priorities. The solution might be as simple as budgeting and cutting back your spending, but it might also be worth seeking advice from those who can help.
Document existing damages
With any letting, the landlord will create an inventory of the property before the tenant moves in and after they move out. Both inventories detail the contents and conditions of the property at the time at which it was conducted, allowing the landlord to determine any discrepancies between the two documents when deciding what to do with your deposit. (Warning: this point might be one of the most boring parts of keeping your deposit, but it’s a very important one!)
When it comes to damages, however, it’s always better to be safe than sorry. If possible, try to attend the first inventory check so that you actively take part in the process, pointing out any missed damages and taking pictures as you go. (If you couldn’t attend the inventory, as soon as you’re given a copy of the document to sign make sure to cross-reference it with the property and suggest any necessary edits to your landlord.) Pay attention to the small details like scuffs and cracks on floors and walls, as well as the more obvious, like ripped upholstery, broken cupboards, damp ceilings and cracked tiles.
Without any concrete proof of which damages existed throughout your property upon moving in, it’s possible for your landlord to charge you for damages that you didn’t actually cause. And nobody wants to be blamed for damage that they didn’t create! If you’re able to secure two in-depth photo inventories between you and your landlord, both of which you either supervised or partly conducted yourself, there’s no chance of you losing that deposit money.
Try not to create any damages
By the landlord’s definition, ‘damage’ usually includes repair or renovation work of your own that has been done on the property without their permission, such as painting walls, filling cracks and fixing pipes. Depending on your contract, it might also be considered damage if you nail pictures or stick posters to the walls, much to the annoyance of those who love plastering their bedroom with photo collages and film posters. You may be allowed to make such changes without the risk of losing deposit money, as long as your landlord approves the changes (make sure to get this approval in writing).
It’s important to note that the landlord is responsible for maintaining structural elements of the property (brickwork, gutters, roofing, etc) as well as utility systems (sinks, boilers, plumbing, etc) and built in appliances. So if there are any malfunctions or damages with these aspects of the property, it’s your responsibility to notify your landlord so that the necessary repairs can be done. Likewise, despite being an annoyingly vague term, ‘reasonable wear and tear’ is permitted in most contracts, as some damages simply cannot be helped. It’s probably worth having a chat with your landlord about how they define this phrase so that you know where you stand.
Clean, clean and clean again
Properties being left in unclean conditions is perhaps the most common reasons for landlords keeping their tenants’ deposits, especially for students! According to most tenancy agreements, the property should be left in the state that it was in when the tenant moved into the property – this gives you a good idea of just how much cleaning you should be doing. And what happens if the property is found to be unclean after you move out? You guessed it… the cost of cleaning it will be deducted from your deposit.
Of course, for you to keep your deposit on this point, the cleaning shouldn’t just be a last-day job; you need to be keeping your house clean throughout the year! Not only will this make your mad rush at the end of your tenancy a bit more manageable, but it also gives your guests a better impression and prevents short-term mess turning into long-term damage (e.g. damp, mould, mildew). Sometimes your tenancy agreement will require you to hire a professional cleaner of the landlord’s choice, which is a guaranteed way to avoid any deductions for cleaning costs, as well as save you some precious time spent scrubbing your oven.
Keep tabs on your possessions
Make sure to remove all the stuff that belongs to you from the property when you move out, and be careful not to take any of the landlord’s stuff with you either. If the contents of your property at the end of your tenancy differs from the contents stated in the initial inventory, your landlord could deduct the cost of replacing missing items from your deposit, as well as the cost of removing leftover items. So consult your inventory as you move out in order to determine which items are yours and which belong to the property. This is especially important when it comes to those items that are hard to distinguish, such as crockery and cutlery.
Ultimately, keeping your rental deposit without any disputes comes down to being a sensible person: someone who reads legal agreements carefully, someone who understands their rights and someone who looks after property that isn’t theirs.
If you’re looking to rent a beautiful property in South West London, take a look at the lettings we have available here at James Anderson.