For lots of renters, one of the most difficult things about moving is coming up with a large deposit each time – and not knowing whether you’ll ever see that money again.
The good news is that there have recently been changes to the laws protecting tenants that have made things easier.
The changes include a deposit cap, meaning that most people will only need a deposit equivalent to a maximum of five weeks’ rent. If your rent is over £50,000 a year, the maximum deposit is six weeks’ rent.
On top of that, other fees like credit check fees, tenant referencing fees, and inventory fees have been banned – so the landlord will have to pay for those going forward.
Of course, five weeks’ rent is still a substantial amount of money, and you’ll probably want it back after you’ve moved out of the property. So how can you make sure your landlord returns it to you without a fuss?
Complete a thorough inventory
Many letting agents will do an inventory of all the furniture and items inside a flat, as well as the condition it’s in before a new tenant moves in. But not every landlord offers a copy to the tenants automatically 1.
If possible, it’s a good idea for you to go along when the agent or third party complete the inventory. Ask for a copy and take your own notes as well, so you can make sure you’re in agreement and there are no disputes later.
Take pictures before and after
It’s all well and good to say "That was always broken!" when you move out, but a picture’s worth a thousand words. When completing your inventory, upon moving in and moving out, take photos of every room. Mainly focus on anything that’s broken or damaged, so you can show that you’ve left everything as you found it.
Remember that as you’re living in the property, there will be some signs of fair wear and tear. So the landlord can’t deduct money from your deposit simply because the carpet is worn if it’s many years old.
If you do damage small things, consider replacing them yourself because it’s likely you’ll do it at a pretty reasonable price – for example, dishes or soft furnishings. But, if you break something large that you can’t replace yourself, and you're responsible, let your landlord know.
Read your tenancy agreement
This is a no-brainer, but not everyone does it. Does your tenancy agreement say it’s ok to paint a wall, as long as you restore it to Magnolia before you leave? Or are you not even allowed to use a small nail to hang a picture?
It can vary from draconian to permissive, so don’t make any assumptions before you start decorating.
If you ask and your landlord gives you permission to decorate or get a pet, make sure you get these changes to your agreement in writing. Otherwise, if there are any problems later, it’ll be difficult proving that you had permission, especially if your tenancy agreement specifically forbids it.
If you’re allowed to hang pictures, but must fill in any holes in the wall before you leave, for example, don’t neglect to do it. The landlord may charge you quite a bit if they have to do it themselves or hire someone to do it after you move out.
Remember, too, that your landlord can keep your deposit if you haven’t paid all your bills – not just your rent, but any utility bills connected to the property. As the property owner, the utility companies will hold the landlord responsible for these.
Do it all in writing
When you’re ready to move out, give notice to your landlord in writing, following the amount of time required by your tenancy agreement – often one or two months.
You should do this by certified letter and ask for a response in writing to make sure there’s no doubt about when you’ve given your notice 2.
Landlords are required to protect your deposit with an authorised scheme and show tenants written proof that they’ve done this within 30 days from when you’ve paid it.
Deposit protection schemes protect tenants against abusive charges. The written information will include:
- The deposit amount
- Address of your tenancy
- A scheme leaflet that says when your deposit will be returned
- When deductions will be made
- How the resolution service works if you don’t agree about the deductions
- What happens if you don’t hear from your landlord at the end of your tenancy 3
Remember, if you disagree with any deductions from your deposit at the end of your tenancy, it’s a good idea to have supporting evidence, like any photos and your inventory.
You can use template letters from organisations like Shelter to help you dispute deductions.
If there’s any dispute at this stage, the deposit protection scheme will offer a free resolution service to decide how much of your deposit you’ll get back 4. And you can, if necessary, escalate to court if the landlord refuses to pay into the scheme. But if you’ve followed our advice, hopefully none of that will be necessary.
Are you covered?
If you have contents insurance for renters, you might already be covered if you spill red wine on the landlord’s cream sofa.
Accidental damage cover is an add-on to most policies, but if you’ve got it, you won’t have to pay. So there's no point in letting the landlord know what you get up to on a Saturday night – just sort it yourself and get your deposit back.