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What to do when your tenant checks out

Belvoir Lettings Lisburn advises on avoiding end of tenancy disputes.

Recent study has shown that 10% of tenancies end in disagreement with the main grievance relating to property owners holding back deposits to cover cleaning and repair costs. According to Belvoir Lettings, which has an office in Lisburn, issues surrounding deposits tend to arise due to a lack of communication between the two parties or because neither party is fully aware of its rights.

“A check out is required to allow the release of the deposit,” explains Pauline McGarrigle, one of the lettings specialists at the Belvoir office on Bow Street  in Lisburn, “But it’s important to remember that check out is very much reliant on the check in at start of the tenancy.

“If you do a good check in, with extremely thorough documentation, then the check out will be easier. It follows on that a competent check out of your current tenant will help ensure an uncomplicated check in of the next.

“Without a check out procedure, there is nothing to determine whether the tenant has caused any damage or whether the landlord needs to carry out any upgrade work.

“Following the correct procedure is essential. It serves several key purposes – and without it there may be delays in releasing the deposit and any property upgrades needed for the next tenant cannot be assessed.

”We find that most disputes over deposits can be avoided by taking simple measures. Here are our’s top tips for a stress-free end to a tenancy:

Understanding Agreements: Tenants must ensure they thoroughly understand the conditions and rules outlined in the tenancy agreement. If anything is unclear they should ask for a full explanation from the landlord or lettings agency.

Deposit Schemes: All landlords are required by law to protect all deposits with a Government-approved scheme within 30 days of receiving it. Only one scheme (the DPS) is custodial – holding the deposit in a dedicated account. All others are insurance based with lettings agents holding deposits securely in their own client accounts.

Inventory: The property has to be left in the same condition that it was when the tenant moved in. Both tenant and landlord should be mindful that the law, and many assured short hold tenancy agreements, allow for fair wear and tear. It is therefore good practice to agree on what constitutes ‘fair’ in this respect. To do that properly it is vitally important that there is an inventory – ideally a photographic one with plenty of detail.

Model and serial numbers of appliances should be recorded – particularly if these are newly installed. This avoids any potential risk of them being swopped for an inferior replacement. Without an inventory, (which should have been signed by the lettings agent and tenant) a landlord is unlikely to be able to deduct any money from a deposit as there will be no proof as to what condition the property was in at the beginning of the tenancy.

Inspection: Before the property is vacated the managing lettings agent will inspect the property to decide on how much of the deposit is to be returned. An agent will be able to identify issues that the landlord may pick up on, thus giving the tenant time to put right any problems before the final inspection.

Evidence: Take and date photographs of any existing damage to the property as it is found on the moving in day. Tenants should then ask their landlord to sign the photos so there can be no dispute at the end of the tenancy.

Cleanliness: Tenants should respect the property, keeping it clean and tidy. Communicate any maintenance problems to the landlord immediately so they can be rectified. At the end of a tenancy fridges and freezers should be left empty, defrosted and thoroughly cleaned. Don’t unplug the fridge and close the door – mould forms immediately. Either switch off and leave the door open or leave it switched on with the door closed. Clean the cooker – the job everyone loves to hate! It can take hours and cash to pull a cooker back from a bad state and tenants will find their deposit disappearing fast if they don’t leave a cooker thoroughly clean.

Meter reading: During check out, accurate meter readings are crucial. If possible, take photographic meter readings that can be presented so that everybody knows the end of tenancy readings. This prevents any outstanding bills being attributed to the landlord and likewise any tenant claims of being over-charged for utility services.

Keys: It is essential to make sure that a tenant hands back all keys that were given to them at the beginning of the tenancy. If the full set of keys isn’t returned, the locks will have to be changed to ensure security for the next tenant is not compromised. When that happens, the leaving tenant may be charged for changing the locks and providing replacement keys. Take photocopies of all keys that are handed out and get the photocopies signed by the tenant. When returned, the keys can be checked back in against this photocopy.

Possessions: During the check out visit make sure that the property is empty and the exiting tenant has left behind no possessions. Tenants should take all their own belongings with them when they leave.

Permission: It is advisable for tenants to seek written permission before redecorating or removing any items provided by the landlord.

Waste: Landlords need to ensure they have thoroughly inspected the loft, the cellar and the garage. All these places, along with kitchen cupboards, are places where tenants have been known to leave unwanted items that they expect the landlord to remove. There could be costs involved if a landlord has to remove an excessive amount of rubbish left by a tenant.

Final accounts: Get formal confirmation that your tenant has settled all final accounts before moving on. Given the number of tenants who leave behind a mountain of debts, this is a sensible precaution for landlords to take. No new tenant wants to move into any property that has unpaid bills outstanding or bad payment records. Each new tenant is entitled to a ‘clean sheet’. Properties with records of County Court judgements can be a nightmare to move into, as no one will give the new tenants any credit without immense amounts of hassle.

Deposits and Deductions: The deposit should be released to the tenant once the property is vacant, a final inspection has been carried out and any cost for work to be completed has been agreed between the tenant and landlord, If there are no dilapidations and no deductions to the deposit needed then we return the deposit within ten days. However, if we’ve negotiated with the tenant to keep some of the deposit back due to damage, then it can take longer – especially if they’ve broken something like, for example, a light fitting. Research will have to be done to establish how much a replacement item and its installation will cost. In these instances the deposit can take up to 28 days to return. If a 6-week deposit was taken at check in, that is generally enough to correct any minor damage, stains, knocks and marks.

Regular inspections, however, are vital throughout the tenancy in order to ensure the property isn’t sustaining any heavier damage. If you find anything along the way, then sort it out there and then as this will ease the check out process at the end of the tenancy.

As a lettings agency we do sometimes have to play the role of mediator between tenant and property owner. Our experience in this area means we are well placed to help with avoiding deposit disputes.

Generally speaking, the key to avoiding disputes between landlords and tenants is communication and mutual respect. The team at Belvoir Lettings Lisburn is always happy to offer free impartial advice.

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