Tenants - protect your deposit by following these basic tips

When a tenant moves into a private rented property they will be asked by a landlord or letting agent to lodge a deposit to safeguard against damage.

At the end of the tenancy a full inspection will be made and any remedial work attributable to the tenant occupier is then deducted to restore the property to its original condition.

It’s a straightforward and fair procedure – yet it remains one of the greatest causes of dispute and disagreement in the world of private residential property letting.

Whilst it is only right and proper that a landlord owner has the basic right to expect their property to be kept in good condition – it is also equally important that tenants have the confidence to have a deposit returned if they have shown care and respect during their stay.

People applying for the most common type of tenancy – an Assured Shorthold Tenancy Agreement (AST), which involves taking a deposit, are covered by the Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme. This was a measure introduced to protect consumers, resolve any disputes and help raise overall standards in the lettings industry.

It is a statutory, Government backed, scheme administered by different organisations in various parts of the UK and all tenants should make a point of finding out which one they are covered by before entering into any new tenancy agreement.

We feel it is important for all tenants to fully understand ways in which they can protect this independently safeguarded money.

A tenant who takes responsibility for keeping their rented home up to the proper standard and who communicates promptly any issues as they arise, with either their landlord or letting agent, should rarely end up in dispute when the time comes for them to move on.

Perhaps the most misunderstood area of property rental relates to what is referred to as ‘wear and tear’ which, at its most basic, is the normal and reasonable depreciation of the property’s assets over the period of the tenancy.

This can be a grey area, but by taking a commonsense approach and all reasonable steps to keep a property in decent condition, tenants will help to limit or negate any claims against their deposit at the point of ‘check out’.

Statistics from last year’s Tenancy Deposit Scheme annual survey reveal that cleaning related issues accounted for 56 per cent of all disputes. General damage to property, redecoration, rent arrears and garden issues followed on in that order.

In this brief guide Belvoir offers tips and advice to tenants on how to enjoy their rental experience and leave on a happy note when the time comes to move on:

Get off to the right start. If you have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreement check to see that it is protected in one of the Government schemes. A landlord or agent should lodge your deposit within 30 days of receiving it.(within 14 days if in Northern Ireland).Fully understand your contract. Make sure you are agreeing to everything it covers, from the levels of rent and when payments are due, through to any obligations on council tax and utility bills. Note any specific restrictions on pets, smoking etc.Ask to see the inventory before moving in and carefully check for any existing damage to the property or its contents. Make a note and photograph cracks in walls, scratches or chips to surfaces, defects in paintwork, tears, excessive wear or damage to floor coverings. Check outside the property too for damage to doors, paving, gates etc.Report any defects to your landlord or agent, in writing, as soon as you can.Fair wear and tear means making an allowance for the original age, quality and condition of any item at the start of the tenancy. It also takes into account its reasonable expected usage, average useful lifespan and also factors in how many occupants will be using items in the property and over what length of time (to determine depreciation).A landlord or agent cannot use a tenant’s deposit like an insurance policy to get full replacement value or ‘new for old’ at the end of a tenancy.If you are entering into a joint tenancy each tenant is responsible for the actions of all others. Check the joint liability clauses in shared tenancy contracts to know exactly which areas you are jointly responsible for.If you want to make any changes to the property – such as repainting, drilling into walls to fit cupboards, shelves or to hang artwork – get permission from your landlord or agent first. If such work is then ‘put right’, to an acceptable level, at the end of the tenancy any remedial costs should not be incurred.Similarly, keep carpets and walls clean and other furnishings free of stains and burns and take care not to damage internal fitments such as worktops, kitchen appliances, baths, toilets and sinks.Outside the property, take steps to prevent damage to lawns or pathways with such things as play equipment or by pet fouling.Whilst the landlord will, in general, have specialist buildings insurance for the property, you should check with your agent or landlord what else is covered – you may need to take out your own cover for contents.

Generally speaking, if a tenant takes a careful and diligent approach, communicates any concerns or problems with their landlord or agent as soon as they arise and if they accept that any changes to the property or any accidental damage they are responsible for needs to be put right to everyone’s satisfaction, there should never be a problem with returning a deposit.

Importantly, if a dispute does arise, tenants should take comfort from the fact that it will be referred to a dispute resolution service of the Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme to which they belong and a full and objective assessment will be made independently.

Belvoir has a duty of care to its landlord and tenant clients alike. We are accredited by the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) and the Safeagent Scheme (Safeagent) and each of our offices follows The Property Ombudsman Code of Practice for lettings agents.

We offer a full range of free, no obligation, advice to tenants looking for suitable rented accommodation and can provide much wider guidance over an informal discussion at our local office.