Disagreements over cleaning and damage together caused half of all claims that entered our free-to-use dispute resolution process between 2015 and 2019 (26% and 24% respectively). Other disputes included redecoration (14%), rent arrears (10%) and replacing missing items (6%).
Our experiences show that when landlords take the time to spell out tenants’ responsibilities – and when students conduct their tenancy in a way that is respectful to the property, minimises damage and avoids other costs - claims on a proportion of the deposit by landlords are far less likely to happen.
Any tenant, including students, who protects their deposit with us have access to our free Dispute Resolution Service if they consider claims excessive or inaccurate.
As part of the service, an independent adjudicator will consider the evidence of all parties before coming to a decision. Naturally, this can also help landlords with an efficient and user-friendly way to reclaim permitted deductions from a tenant’s deposit.
Below are nine top tips to help landlords, letting agents and students work together to protect a property’s condition, minimise landlords’ costs, particularly during this difficult time, and increase the chances that student tenants will receive their often much-needed deposit back at the end of the academic year.
1. Protect the deposit with an authorised scheme
UK landlords must protect any deposit they take from renters with a government-approved tenancy deposit protection scheme. Protecting deposits with an authorised, independent, deposit protection scheme also provides landlords and tenants with the opportunity to enter into a free dispute resolution process if disagreements over costs arise at the end of the tenancy.
2. Agree the inventory when tenants move in
Both parties should agree an inventory as close to move-in as possible to reduce the chance of disagreements arising over the condition of items. The inventory should clearly describe the condition of the property, garden and any carpets, fixtures and fittings. This should be backed up with date-stamped images or videos.
3. The tenant must sign the inventory
Tenants must sign and return the inventory document to the landlord and both parties should keep a copy of this and any further periodic inspection documents. If tenants don’t amend a draft check-in report within seven days of receiving it in person, via post or by email, the landlord or agent can assume the tenants agree with it.
4. Understand the tenancy
Every tenancy agreement is different: landlords should encourage tenants to read and understand their rights and obligations, particularly at the end of tenancy in respect of cleaning, damage and upkeep of gardens. Tenants should file the document safely so they can retrieve it at the end of the academic year.
5. Record all communication
Both parties should record all communication, particularly any agreements made, in writing. They should follow‑up any phone calls with emails spelling out any decisions. This can provide a record and keep things clear if anyone needs to refer to conversations later. Screen shots of text message exchanges can also help, because this can help record dates and times, which can help if there is a dispute. Landlords and tenants should keep copies of any documents, receipts and email correspondence.
6. Tenants should report issues as soon as they arise
Tenants should report any defects with the property promptly by phone, follow up in writing and include the cause of the problem, if possible. This will reduce repair costs for the landlord and, if the damage occurs as a result of tenant behaviour, could result in a reduced claim from the landlord at the end of a tenancy. For example, a gushing water pipe is cheaper to fix than a flooded kitchen.
7. Tenants should understand the legal concept of ‘joint and several’
If a group of students share a property, their obligations are likely to be what are known legally as ‘joint and several’. For example, if one individual tenant does not accept personal responsibility when something goes wrong, such as a breakage, it becomes the joint responsibility of all the tenants. Students who fall out with their housemates and leave could still remain jointly responsible for damaged property because liability generally extends to the legal end of the tenancy.
8. Landlord/letting agent and student(s) should attend a check-out
Students should attend the check-out inspection at the end of the tenancy, sign and keep a copy of the check-out inspection report and take their own photographs if necessary. Date-stamped visual evidence of the property’s condition on moving out helps to verify the check-out report, could avoid a dispute and encourages the efficient return of deposit money. If students are undertaking a joint tenancy for the property, they are acting as a single party and so only one needs to attend.
9. Keep talking
Students should keep in touch with their letting agent or landlord and also let them know if they are experiencing any financial or any other difficulties that could result in them breaking the terms of their tenancy agreement, for example, not paying their rent. Tenants and landlords who communicate regularly have the best opportunity to resolve arising issues and ensure the return of as much as the deposit as possible at the end of the year.
*Matt Trevett is managing director of The DPS