A Guide To Not Letting Your Landlord Fuck You On Your Deposit
The Debrief: Your landlord's totally tried to screw you out of a deposit? Me too! Here's what happens next...
Everyone has a landlord horror story. Whether it’s the oligarch that seemingly owned your entire Uni town or the London landlord who rented you a haunted trunk to sleep in for £800 p/m.
I thought I’d got off scot-free renting a lovely Victorian terrace with five of my mates from a nice couple. Until we moved out and they attempted to swindle us out of our five grand deposit in order to bankroll some hefty renovation work. And I don’t mean pay to fix it up a bit, I mean turning their house into a block of flats.
During the four months it took to settle the dispute I spent an inordinate amount of time on the Deposit Protection Scheme Frequently Asked Questions page, trying to figure out just what the fuck was happening. I couldn’t find answers to some of the questions I had, so I’ve complied a list here to help people who might be going through a similar trauma.
Why are they doing this? We’re good people.
Anyone with enough money to rent out a large house in London is going to be a part of the illuminati. When our landlords stopped thinking of us as tenants and more as a crowd-funding opportunity they sent us a hilariously long list of everything they intended to charge us for out of the deposit. It was absurd – new carpets, new mattresses, a new mantle-piece, our first borns. We pointed out that these did not count as ‘damage to the property’ but ‘things they’d quite fancy’ but it was clear this was not going to be settled between us.
What’s stopping them from just taking all the money?
The tenancy deposit protection scheme. A third party holds your money to stop landlords running away with it or accidentally spending it in Pret. If you can’t sort it out amicably with your landlord they’ve got your back.
Why is everything worded so confusingly?
Everything to do with owning property needs to sound complicated so that people are put off and current homeowners can buy all the houses. Don’t be baffled by soporific phrases like 'The process is started once both parties have completed a Joint Deposit Repayment form, and may also be used where a Statutory Declaration for a Single Claim is disputed by the responding party.'
This just means you wait for your landlord to submit their claim, DPS say 'do you agree?', you say ‘NO!’ and then, like a kindly teacher, DPS say 'have you had a bit of a falling out? Do you want us to deal with it?'
What sort of bullshit bureaucracy can I expect to come up against in this process?
DPS are pretty helpful.. IF you are the one true tenant - the person you arbitrarily chose as responsible enough to be Lead Tenant when you signed the forms back in 1993. If you’re not the lead tenant then they will refuse to speak to you. As a woman, I found it hard to impersonate our lead tenant Gary over the phone. This was a problem because Gary had moved out years ago (receiving his deposit from the replacement housemate) so would not be interested in spending his lunch breaks on hold to DPS. Unless you want to reenact a sort of admin-heavy Mrs Doubtfire over the phone, make sure you update the deposit protection scheme when tenants change. It was too late for us so I used the website logins Gary forwarded, changed his listed email address to my (androgynous) email address, and took over via email – which is actually the plot of the aborted Doubtfire sequel Mrs D: Committing Minor Identity Fraud.
Why is cleaning so important?
Because, like casual sex, much of the inventory controller’s first impression will be based on how clean it looks. If you decide to treat yourself to an end of tenancy deep clean don’t scrimp on quality or take a risk with cowboy cleaners who think mopping means putting the mop away.
What is and how many times can I claim wear and tear?
Make sure your landlord isn’t charging you to replace/fix items that should have been sorted by them during the tenancy. We were young and didn’t mind living with the odd defect, such as hovering over the porcelain frame of the loo for six months after the toilet seat fell off (it may be ungraceful but it’s an excellent thigh work out). If things broke we did tell the landlords but we didn’t like to nag.
We thought by only occasionally requesting repairs we were cultivated an image of nice young professionals who weren’t constantly complaining. But actually we were cultivated an image of clueless rich kids that they could later bend over and spank with a money whip. We were Anastasia and our inner goddess was now spending a lot of time googling tenant’s rights.
Why won’t you just believe us?
Because, like most good judges, the deposit protection adjudicators look at hard cold evidence presented by each party. But here’s the problem. You probably kept very little evidence of you not damaging things. That’s why alibis are so important in cop shows. There’s an inventory to prove what a property was like when you move in, but you may not have access to the inventory when you move out.
My advice: on the day you move out make your own inventory for back up. Take date stamped photos of everything. Or if your camera doesn’t have the date you can get a housemate to stand in shot holding a copy of that day’s newspaper.
Also document everything during the tenancy. You may have a hunky-dory relationship with your landlord but still keep things oddly formal. If you don’t want to wear a morning suit when they visit or announce your complaints in the local newspaper you can use email. Even if you call them about a problem, follow up in writing. Because one day you may find yourself in a situation where you have to prove that you asked for permission before disposing of a grand piano.
How susceptible are the protection scheme adjudicators to blagging it?
Very, if our claim is anything to go by. If there’s one thing an English Literature grad is good at it’s squeezing 2000 words from very little substance. With just one eBay receipt of a curtain we’d replaced I managed to wield an essay of immense proportions. I used phrases like 'we strongly refute' and 'as evidenced in original inventory.' It’s better to respond to each item individually than generalise because that’s what I’ve learned from court room dramas. If in doubt dazzle them with long anecdotal evidence of why you are good people who don’t deserve for this to happen.
What about the reference I’ll definitely need to rent anywhere else?
Get a reference from your landlord in-between moving out and a deposit situation kicking off. There’s no way I could ask for a reference after deposit gate went down, unless I was specifically after one written in blood.
We made a lot of mistakes when protecting our deposit so you don’t have to. We naively thought since we had such a pleasant, long tenancy it would be fine, but when it comes to renting be a diligent cynic.
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