Getting your tenancy deposit back

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Two people discussing a tenancy dispute

Getting a deposit back at the end of a tenancy is a frequent issue for renters. 

The rules are clear: landlords can only make deductions if they can prove a renter is guilty of property damage.

Despite this, arguments over deposits are common.

Landlords and tenants are both guilty of misunderstandings, and each party will believe they have the sound argument.

The best way to avoid deposit stress is to know the law. Below, we discuss the law on tenancy deposits, including a guide on how to get your tenancy deposit back.

The law on tenancy deposits

The Housing Act (2004) made tenancy deposits legally binding. 

It means all deposits collected by landlords or agents must be protected in a custodial or insurance-based scheme. 

In 2012, the law was revised, stating that landlords had 30 days to place the deposit in a scheme. 

Landlords are also legally required to inform tenants about: 

  • the scheme’s contact details 
  • how to apply for the release of the deposit 
  • information about the deposit 
  • how to return a deposit
  • the dispute process

Landlords can face penalties if they don’t protect deposits. Failure to protect always results in returning the deposit to the tenant; they’ll have to compensate the tenant between one and three times the deposit amount. 

Tenants can apply for compensation up to six years after the tenancy ends.

However, not all deposits are protected. For example, lodgers and those living in student halls won’t have one. These tenants can still go to small claims court to dispute issues. 

Deposit protection schemes

There are three major deposit protection providers: Deposit Protection Scheme, My Deposits and Tenancy Deposit Scheme. 

Each scheme protects the deposit. Then, at the end of the tenancy, they allow you three months to dispute any deductions using an “Alternative Dispute Resolution” (ADR).

If the landlord or agent refuses to use the ADR, you’ll have to take them to court.

How long does a landlord have to return a deposit

The landlord releases the post-deduction deposit within 10 days.

You can dispute all or part of a deduction. If you’ve disputed one, you’ll get the deposit back without the deduction within 10 days until the dispute is settled. 

For example, if you have a dispute with your landlord over mould that costs £150 to fix, but your deposit is £900, you’ll get £750 back within 10 days. You’d have to wait until the dispute is complete before getting the £150 back.

You won’t lose or delay access to all of your deposit due to a dispute over a partial deduction. 

What reasons can a landlord keep my deposit

A landlord can keep your deposit for three reasons:

  • property damage
  • lost or broken inventory 
  • unpaid rent 

A landlord cannot access your deposit for: 

Reasonable wear-and-tear

Legally, the landlord is responsible for wear-and-tear. For example, if some white paint is beginning to yellow from age, a landlord can’t charge the tenant for repainting fees. 

It falls under “reasonable wear-and-tear”. A landlord is essentially responsible for any repairs or renovations from age or regular use. 

Routine cleaning 

If a tenant has cleaned, a landlord can’t then make a deduction for professional cleaning. 

Any additional cleaning is the responsibility of the landlord. 

Maintenance and renovations beyond the listed damage 

If a landlord is making a deduction for a few marks on the wall, then they can’t claim to repaint or renovate the whole room. 

The deduction must be equal to the work they’ll pay for. 

How to get your deposit back

Before you move in

You can proactively deal with issues by filling out the inventory properly and taking pictures of potential problems. 

Make sure you make a personal copy of the inventory and send one off to the landlord and/or the estate agent. 

Having a paper trail of evidence prevents you from getting blamed for problems which aren’t your fault. It also helps if you ever need to go to small claims court. 

During your tenancy 

Generally, keep the property in good condition. You need to be clear on who is responsible for what in a rental property.

Not reporting issues can impact your deposit, even if the original problem isn’t your fault. You must report problems as soon as possible.

Having home insurance as a renter can help.

Before you move out

It’s straightforward: clean the property well and make sure you report any problems. 

Once again, take pictures of everything before you move out, and cross reference them with your inventory and original photos. 

What to do if you think you should get more of your deposit back

Here’s how to get a deposit back: 

1. Contact the landlord or agent

Send a letter or email to the landlord or agent if you disagree with any deductions.

State clearly what your issues are with evidence. Copies of the inventory, pictures and any written communication will work.

There are numerous boilerplate letters you can use. 

2. Use the deposit scheme’s ADR 

Once you have made your case, use the scheme’s ADR to start the dispute process. 

Each provider offers this service for free and will decide how much deposit you’ll get back.

If the agent or landlord accepts the deposit scheme’s decision, then you’ll get your money back.

3. Compile evidence

Compile all evidence you have. It’ll save you time down the line if it goes to small claims court. 

4. Go to small claims court

If your landlord still refuses to pay back the deductions, then you’ll have to go to small claims court. 

This carries a fee, but if you win the case, the landlord will pay for the legal fees.

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