Investigation: Worried your landlord will keep your deposit?

Investigation: Worried your landlord will keep your deposit?

According to data from the Deposit Protection Service (DPS), students are nearly twice as likely to lose their tenancy deposits than any other group, if they rent private sector accommodation.

Once they move out of halls, UCL students can expect to pay upwards of £150pw for accommodation in the private sector, if they want to stay close to the university. The standard deposit of six weeks’ rent will therefore equal upwards of £900; money most students will need the following year to secure further accommodation.

Landlords should only take money from a tenant’s deposit to cover any financial losses they may have suffered for which the tenant is at fault, for example to replace broken items or to repair damages. They can also charge tenants for a professional clean if they feel the property has been left in an unacceptable state. Finally, they will withdraw from the deposit any outstanding rent payments or utility bills. Usually, this will be laid out in rental contracts signed by the tenants.

However, speaking to UCL students and graduates, it’s clear landlords often try to take advantage of students, taking money they’re not entitled to.

“When I moved out of my flat last year, they tried to charge me £50 for ‘watermarks’ in the shower… no joke.” Beatrix Willimont, second year History and Philosophy

“Our landlord tried and tried and tried to take £150 off each of us for cleaning in third year, even though it was so much cleaner when we moved out than in. They try their luck with everybody and just hope some people won’t put up a fight.” Richard Upton, Natural Sciences graduate

“In second year we had a landlord who wanted to take money out because we hadn’t regularly hired a professional cleaner. He came round our house regularly during exam period without permission to shout at us. One time we had to call the police to get him to leave.” Matt Bonner, fourth year MSci Physics

“We found out at the end of our tenancy that our deposit hadn’t been put into a deposit scheme by our estate agents, and was actually being held by our landlord. He refused to give us our deposit back unless we paid for a professional clean, and fresh paint and carpets throughout the house.” Bethany Hinton-Lever, Classical Archaeology and Classical Civilisations graduate

We spoke to UCLU External Accommodation Officer, Pascal LeTendre-Hanns, in the hope of shedding some light on how many UCL students experience this; however, he said UCLU was rarely contacted for help with the issue. “The withholding of the deposit often happens very late in the academic year, often as people are moving out, and so they do not feel they have the time to engage in a dispute; they are caught off guard essentially and so choose to let it go rather than pursue it.”

We also looked into what UCLU can do to help affected students. LeTendre-Hanns said UCLU would largely be limited to advising students on how to pursue complaints. On the whole, he emphasised prevention; students need to know their rights and make sure they are able to deal with any concerns their landlord may have before they move out.

So what information do tenants need, if they are to prepare themselves for every eventuality?

All assured shorthold tenancies require Tenancy Deposit Protection under the Housing Act 2004, and have done since 2007. Landlords are legally required to protect a tenant’s deposit within 30 days of receiving it, and tenants should receive information about how their deposit is being protected. This is the first step to resolving any deposit disputes, as letting agents or the DPS can act as intermediaries to ensure all parties’ concerns are heard. The DPS advises tenants to ensure their deposit is protected, and that they are able to take their landlord to court and receive compensation up to three times the value of their deposit in the event the landlord has not fulfilled their legal obligations.

LeTendre-Hanns also recommended organising a meeting with the landlord a few weeks before moving out, so that both parties will be able to foresee any issues. This would also give the tenant time to resolve issues and ensure the property was in the state the landlord expected. According to figures published by the DPS earlier this year, 48% of tenants do not attend ‘check out’ at the end of their tenancy, half of whom said they did not attend because they weren’t informed of the date or time of the meeting. Tenants can take the initiative to propose dates and times for check out and make sure they can attend, so disputes can be foreseen or prevented there.

However issues can arise even when tenants and landlords communicate, as final year English student Sarah King told us. “They tried to take £300, and our flatmate said no. We only got it down to £100, even though literally nothing was damaged. They essentially took money off for leaving it cleaner than before.” If disputes continue, tenants have the option of settling the dispute in a small claims court, though this is a more difficult and time-consuming process.

UCLU’s housing campaign is overwhelmingly focused on Halls of Residence. While the victories gained by former Campbell House and Hawkridge House residents are impressive and worthwhile, perhaps it’s time for the campaign to branch out and offer more support to students living in private rented accommodation.

For more information on deposit protection and your rights as a tenant, see the Deposit Protection Service website.

For support dealing with your landlord, or for any other issues with external accommodation, contact External Accommodation Officer, Pascal LeTendre-Hanns, or Welfare and International Officer, Tom Robinson.

Featured image: Wikimedia Commons

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