Top tips for tenants, or I fought the landlord and the law won

As you might have worked out from my previous post asking for solicitors, I had a spot of bother getting my deposit back from my former landlord. This is now sorted out to my satisfaction, but it was pretty stressful while it was going on.

With the benefit of hindsight, I would offer these lessons for tenants. This is what helped me, but isn’t legal advice.

  • If you have agreed to move out early and get the cleaning done ASAP because the landlords have new tenants they’re desperate to get moved in to the place (presumably because the new tenants might go elsewhere otherwise), you have leverage. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have agreed to surrender the keys and the tenancy until I got as much deposit back as I thought was reasonable. We took the landlord’s word for it that we could give have the agency do an inspection (where I gave them back the keys) and then get our cleaner back in the same day to resolve any issues the inspection found (which the cleaner’s guarantee provided for), allowing the new tenants to move in the following day. What actually happened was that the agency didn’t issue their report until the next day, and then the landlord said our cleaner could not go back in after the tenancy ended because of spurious reasons, and proposed to charge us for getting their own cleaner in instead.
  • Thanks to Sylv, I found out about Shelter’s helpline, which was useful.
  • If you’re told you have to dry clean curtains, check the tenancy agreement to see whether it’s an explicit requirement. In our case, it wasn’t. Shelter advised me that unless we’d specifically damaged the curtains (say by spilling something on them), we couldn’t be required to dry clean them. ¬†We were also advised that the same applied to carpets, but had those cleaned before getting that advice.
  • I found that the agency’s final “checkout” report was much more detailed than the initial inventory. If I ever rent again, I will scrutinise the property much more thoroughly, looking for dust in hidden places (like behind the radiators and on lampshades), as well as any marks. The person who does the checkout will spend at least 2 hours over it for a 4 bed place. Do likewise when checking the inventory when moving in. If possible, get hold of the checkout report from the previous tenancy and see whether any of the items raised there still apply.
  • When you negotiate with the landlord in writing, remember to mark emails as “without prejudice” if you don’t want it to be admissible in court or in an alternative legal means of dispute resolution (note that “without prejudice” isn’t magic: check the conditions on it in the linked article).
  • If landlords take a deposit, they must use one of the tenancy deposit protection schemes, and tell you which one they used. These schemes have a dispute resolution process which you can make use of if as an alternative to court action (it’s both quicker and cheaper than using the Small Claims Court). In my case, the threat of this process was sufficient to get the landlord to considerably reduce the deduction. Actually using it looks reasonably simple, and you can do it online. The starting assumption of the dispute resolution process is that the tenant is innocent until proven guilty, so it’s up to the landlord to supply evidence that the deduction is reasonable.

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