Look, fair fucks. I get it. Landlords have financial issues too. Sometimes they slip up and overspend on Audi A4s and "live, laugh, love" signs. Sometimes they need a tenant to jog on so that they can move back into one of their many properties. Sometimes – even though you’ve been totally sound about the whole situation – sometimes, they still decide to keep your deposit for absolutely no reason.
This doesn’t mean all is lost. It took me four months, a very lengthy report and two days of what was supposed to be a relaxing city break to Copenhagen, but here’s how I got my £1,400 deposit back from a shitty landlord.
Raise a dispute
After trying every bartering technique short of offering a kidney, I phoned up the Tenancy Deposit Scheme like an unapologetic snitch. A kind lady picked up and walked me through the process: you supply contact details, your landlord supplies evidence, you supply your evidence and a third-party adjudicator decides who’s telling porkies. They assume the money is yours unless the landlord can prove otherwise, so they’re on your side. Check which one of the three government-backed schemes you’re with here.
Check your deposit amount
In my case, the deposit was six weeks rent, although Shelter policy manager John Bibby tells me over the phone that “there’s now a cap of no more than five week’s rent on your deposit if the annual rent is no more than £50,000. It’s six weeks for anything over that.”
We then shared an uncomfortably long laugh over the prospect of having more than £50,000 to spend on anything. Unfortunately, this only applies to tenancies beginning or being renewed after 1st July 2019.
Look at the facts
Most of your contract has been portioned up into tweet-sized clauses, and if a landlord can mug you off, they will mug you off. Our landlord put special clauses in our contract, so that at the end of our tenancy we had to pay for check-out fees, also known as "their trip to Palma De Mallorca".
John from Shelter recommends taking “time-stamped photos as near to the time of your inventory as you can” and “being present at the check-out to challenge anything that seems incorrect”. Basically, be fastidious.
Read the evidence
A few weeks after raising our dispute, our landlord had supplied evidence on why they reckoned they deserved a big fat slice of our deposit. It had a very strong whiff of “can I speak to your manager”, so I went over it with a fine-toothed comb. There were a few smaller inaccuracies in there, but also blatant lies – our landlord claimed for a brand new hob, despite the inventory stating it was “clean and in good working order”. Make sure you take note of all of these inconsistencies – you’ll need them to get the Tenancy Deposit Scheme on your side.
Your best case scenario here is that your landlord has submitted a 2000-word diary entry on how much of an annoying little turd you are. Why? Because landlords can’t claim for untidy tenants, they can’t claim for your 3 AM gabba raves, they can’t even claim for you personally telling them to “shit off”. “Landlords can only claim for damage – outside of fair, wear and tear – or unpaid rent,” says John from Shelter.
Claiming ‘new for old’
Let’s say, you accidentally messed up your landlord’s IKEA sofa. I’m just riffing here, but let’s just say, you were renting a furnished flat and you did a mess on the sofa. The sofa is ruined. It’s beyond repair. In this totally fictional scenario, where the sofa is a horrible, horrible mess, your landlord still cannot claim for a brand new sofa. If the sofa was five years old when you wrecked it and the Tenancy Deposit Scheme grants that an IKEA sofa should last ten years (generous tbh), the landlord is only entitled to half the money.
Don’t just write a scathing review of your landlord
Now, I’m sure the people who work at the Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme are lovely, patient, wholesome people. I’m sure they go to work every morning and read dozens of angry reports from pissed off landlords and aren’t jaded at all. But, let’s be honest, me complaining our landlord WhatsApped us too much wasn’t vital to their decision on whether one of the walls needed to be repainted. Neither was attaching the entire conversation in a jpeg as part of our evidence.
Keep it relevant, concise and evidential. If your landlord says you broke the toilet seat but your inventory says otherwise, literally all you have to do is point that out in your report.
Most importantly, if you do find yourself in a situation where your landlord or letting agent is withholding your deposit and you feel overwhelmed, contact Shelter’s free helpline before making any further decisions. Good luck! And in future, try not to do a mess on the sofa.