How to get your deposit back

10 mins read

Is there anything more exasperating than moving house?

You know the drill — setting up notifications on Rightmove and Zoopla so you are the first to pounce when a new property hits the market, and taking the time off work to inspect the place only to have your hopes crushed when, at the last minute, the landlord hands it to their distant nephew.

In fact, asset management company Legal & General found that “moving house is the most stressful thing you can do”, trumping even having a child or going through a divorce. While their research featured only people buying a new home, the student population can relate to the pressure of moving all too well.

Moving house induced financial worries, anxiety, and arguments in the surveyed buyers, a third of whom even lost sleep over the ordeal. They cited waiting to exchange contracts and finding a new property as the most nerve-wrecking aspects of the process.

The anxiety between viewing a flat and hearing from the letting agency offering them a contract is all too familiar to students in cities like Stirling, where it often feels like the rental market has vanished into thin air.

If you do manage to secure a flat for next year, you then need to put down a deposit. Theoretically, you could use the same sum of money for the deposits on all your tenancies.

However, the reality is that you often get only a fraction of your deposit back, or in some cases, nothing at all if your landlord claims it all for themselves.

Luckily, Scotland has a relatively solid deposit protection system and you can dispute the landlord’s claim. Let me show you how I disputed my landlord’s claim to keep £300 of my deposit, and ended up winning £270 back.

How do deposit schemes work?

Scotland has strict rules on deposit protection. First, your deposit cannot be larger than two months’ rent.

Second, it needs to be lodged in one of the three registered tenancy deposit schemes: Letting Protection Service Scotland, SafeDeposits Scotland, and mydeposits Scotland. You should get an email from your scheme confirming that your deposit is stored there.

Once your tenancy ends, your landlord or letting agency will contact the scheme and ask for the deposit to be returned to you and state how much they are deducting for themselves.

They might argue you have caused damage to the property, left unpaid bills or rent, or the place was not cleaned properly.

Once you get an email from the deposit scheme informing you how much of the deposit will be returned to you and how much will be given to the landlord, you have 30 days to either agree with the landlord’s decision or to dispute it.

I would argue you should always dispute it — it’s free and you have no money to lose.

Disputing a deposit claim

Me and my flatmate moved out of our two-bed flat last June. We had paid £875 in deposit the year before, when we moved in, and mydeposits Scotland informed us that the landlord was deducting £300 off it for the vague reason of damaged furniture and missing items.

Knowing we had left the flat in a good condition and had not taken any of the items on the inventory, we disputed the claim.

Entering into a dispute resolution is completely free and lasts for about a month. However, the sum of money that is not disputed, in our case £575, is released to the tenant immediately, so you do not have to strategise whether it is financially safer to just get the money back immediately or wait for more than a month to see it.

Offices of letting agencies in Stirling. Credit: Simi Borovska.

Submitting evidence

As the first step of the dispute resolution process, the scheme provider will ask the landlord to upload their evidence for the money deducted and elaborate on the reasons.

Our landlord claimed £220 for a damaged mattress, £60 for a damaged bedside cabinet, £20 for missing crockery, and £15 for the removal of a bathroom mat and brush.

Then it was our turn to submit the evidence and argue that the landlord’s claim was unreasonable. The crux of this step is taking pictures or a video of the state of the flat on the day you hand in the keys. You can then upload them to show you left the flat in a good condition.

The second thing you can use in your favour is the check out report your letting agency carries out after you leave. They go over the inventory and the state of the flat and report any damaged items or rooms that have not been cleaned properly.

That is what we used to argue that the mattress was not damaged. I submitted the photos showing it was in good condition on the moving out day and referenced the check out report that did not mention it at all. If the letting agency did not notice any damage, how can the landlord claim they need to buy a new one?

Fair wear and tear

The bedside cabinet was a different story. Although still perfectly usable, it was clearly stained. Here we used the argument of fair wear and tear.

Mydeposits explains this: “If a carpet was brand new at the start of the tenancy, and the tenancy lasted for 2 years, it would be a 2 year old carpet at the end of the tenancy. If it was damaged beyond repair and the landlord was claiming the full cost of replacing the carpet, this would lead to betterment.” Betterment means that you would pay for an improved item, not just a fair replacement.

On top of that, we argued that a nearly identical cabinet cost £30 on Amazon with free shipping, so charging £60 for it was completely unreasonable.

Using the inventory to your advantage

When arguing about the bathroom mat and the missing crockery, we referred to the inventory we got at the beginning of our tenancy. We explained that the bathroom mat and brush are clearly in the photos there, and so we did not remove them, otherwise, they might have charged us over them missing.

On the other hand, we pointed out that the crockery had not been on the inventory and so we would require a proof that it was indeed missing as we had not taken it.

Final resolution

After we submitted the evidence, the landlord was given a chance to comment on it, and then the case was passed onto an independent adjudicator, who reached a verdict 26 days after we initiated the dispute.

The adjudicator ruled that we were to get £270 of the disputed amount, and the landlord would be awarded only £30 for the damaged bedside cabinet. All of our arguments about the mattress, crockery, and bathroom items were accepted.

Disputing a deposit decision can look daunting and overly bureaucratic, but it is often worth it. The most important thing to remember is to always take photos so you have solid evidence to support your argument.

If you’d like to know more about tenancy rights and disputing deposit claims, you can refer to the website of Citizens Advice and Shelter.

Featured image credit: Simi Borovska

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Fourth year journalism student at the University of Stirling and Brig's politics editor.

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