Now let’s consider what can happen when you move out of your rented home, and want to have your deposit returned to you.
Before you move out
At the end of your tenancy, go back to your copy of the rental contract and your copy of the housing inventory. You may also have receipts for other deposits, such as extra sets of keys.
Refresh your memory about the amount of money that’s returnable to you, and check the wording of the contract to make sure you know exactly what’s expected of you when you move out.
After this, you need to:
Clean the property well (this might include washing curtains etc, depending on the contract)
Remove all personal belongings and any rubbish
Read the utilities meters and request a final bill from the providers
Return keys to the agent or landlord, and show them proof of bills being paid etc
In addition to this, it’s a very good idea to go around afterwards taking photos of the state you’ve left the property in. Ask a friend to be your legal witness, and get the photos signed and dated by them. Get pictures of every room in the property, and the readings on any meters.
Here’s a useful list of the only things landlords are allowed to make reasonable deductions for. For example, you should not be expected to carry out maintenance or decorate the property, unless you’ve personally caused damage to anything that’s above the usual level of ‘wear and tear’.
If you have done all that’s expected of you in your contract, you should have your deposit returned to you in full shortly after the agency or landlord has checked the property. Ideally this should be within ten days.
What if they don’t pay up?
Sometimes, even if you’ve been the perfect tenant, it can be hard to get some or all of your money back. They might make false claims, or just keep silent and keep the money. What can you do?
Your three main legal options are:
Negotiate with the landlord or agency
Check whether your deposit is protected by a government-approved scheme
Take your landlord or agency to court
When negotiating with the landlord or agency, be as polite as possible but also firm, and put things in writing in case you need to use it as evidence later. Ask them exactly why your deposit has not been returned in full, and demand to see evidence that backs up their claims. Sometimes this can sort out a genuine misunderstanding, or make a dishonest person or company back down.
If you have no luck with negotiating, check to see whether your deposit is protected. This is likely if it was an ‘assured shorthold tenancy’ that started or was renewed after 6th April 2007. The three bodies to check with are The Deposit Protection Service, MyDeposit and The Dispute Service. If you’re protected by one of these schemes, follow the instructions on the relevant site to start a claim.
You may need to take your landlord to court in order to get your deposit back. If that’s the case, find out about your rights first and take advice from Shelter or your local Citizen Advice Bureau. You should also be aware that there may be a small fee payable if you take them to a small claims court, and that in certain cases you may be liable to pay the landlord’s legal expenses if you lose. On the plus side, you may get your deposit back, and perhaps some compensation.
Sometimes tenants who fear their deposits will be unfairly withheld simply avoid paying their last month’s rent. While this may seem like a simple, tempting solution, it is technically illegal and could lead to a number of actions being taken against you.