What Reasons Can a Landlord Keep My Deposit?

Estimated reading time 10 minutes

Moving into a rental property is often the first foray into living by yourself and, at times, it can be full of confusion and uncertainty. Your first time paying real bills, your first time paying rent, and your first time dealing with landlords. Whether you are a seasoned pro or new to renting though, one thing always stands out as a bone of contention. The deposit.

Prior to moving in, you will have handed over a substantial sum of money to the landlord to act as security against their property. In most cases, if you are a good tenant, you will receive it back at the end of your tenancy agreement. If though, you missed rent payments, left outstanding bills, or caused damage to the property, you could see your landlord keep it to cover those costs.

Let’s find out more about the reasons a landlord can keep your deposit and what your rights are.

How much deposit should I pay my landlord?

In most cases the deposit is set out in the contract that you will sign to take on the tenancy of the property. It will also be documented in paperwork in advance of you signing your agreement, so you are able to judge if the property is affordable.

It is normally calculated at a rate of 5-6 weeks’ worth of rent. Once paid, it secures the property ahead of moving in. For the landlord, they benefit from the security of having funds to cover repairs and outstanding costs. For the tenant, it acts as a solid interest to the landlord that they are keen to rent the property.

In some instances, where pets are allowed to stay in the property, you may find that the deposit is slightly higher to cover the increased risk of damage to the property. You will be pleased to know that a cap has now been put in place on deposits stopping greedy landlords from exploiting tenants. Thanks to the tenant fees act 2019 deposits are much more affordable than they were before.

What does the landlord do with my deposit?

The landlord is obliged to keep your deposit safely stored in an approved protection scheme. A short time ago, we covered the workings of these in depth. Feel free to see our landlords guide to tenancy deposit protection schemes to give you more of an understanding.

To give a brief outline of what happens, your landlord must put the funds from your deposit into once of three deposit protection schemes within 30 days of receiving it. They have obligations to you as a tenant to show you how they have protected your deposit and at the end of the tenancy, they must return the deposit to you within 10 days of both parties reaching an agreement on what level of deposit should be returned.

Can my landlord keep my deposit?

In a word. Yes. If you owe money for unpaid rent, bills, or have caused damage to the home, the landlord has every right to claim back some, or all the costs this incurs. There are 4 common reasons that a landlord may decide to withhold the return of your deposit, and some will see larger deductions than others.

Unpaid rent or bills

Any unpaid rent will come directly out of your deposit, and this can make putting down a deposit for the next place even harder with reduced funds now at hand. However, for some people it is a practical way to pay rent.

It has been a common occurrence for some tenants to withhold from paying their last month’s rent and instead allow the landlord to take it from the deposit. This can be deemed as acceptable by some landlords and not by others, so it is always wise to check the full terms of your tenancy agreement to see if this is an option. Where it is not, look for sections on the agreement that refer to late payments. If you are hoping to pay your final rent from your deposit, it will not hit the landlords bank account until after the regular due date. This could incur late payment fees that make your final rent much higher than it should be. Keep in mind though that, these charges can only be applied if the agreement states they can, and your rent is at least 2 weeks late.

You should also remain aware that rent is fully payable up until the end of the tenancy agreement.  Check the small print as sometimes it isn’t quite as clear as you would hope. It could be that your tenancy is a rolling one or that you are responsible for rent payments until new tenants move in!

With regards to outstanding bills. It is you that used the utilities, so you are responsible for the payments. However, the landlord can only withhold the deposit if the utility bills have cost them money directly.

Your debt lies with the energy provider not the landlord. This means you must inform your providers of the moving date, otherwise you could be chased for months to come with lots of additional charges being stacked on top of the original bill.

Cleaning, decorating and the garden

These are perhaps the most common areas that cause landlords to withhold some, or all the deposit.  Your tenancy agreement will state that you must leave the property in a condition that matches the one you found it in when the tenancy began.

Some tenancy agreements will state that it must be professionally cleaned but this is sometimes a loosely used term for saying that it must be cleaned to a very high standard. If you feel you are unable to do that or feel your efforts may not match the expectations of the landlord, hire a professional cleaning company. If there is a demand in the agreement that it must be cleaned by a professional company upon the end of your tenancy, you have every right to ask for proof that the same was done at the start of your agreement.

Kerb appeal is a huge asset to landlords and if the property looks messy from the outside, prospective tenants may think the same about the inside. As a result, if you let it the garden get overgrown, kill the lawn, or leave it in poor condition, the landlord may take back some or all of the deposit to restore it too how it was. You are under no obligation to improve the garden but like with the rest of the property, you should leave it in the same condition you found it.

When it comes to decorating, your landlord cannot keep the deposit if they fancy a bit of decorating. They can keep it though if you make any significant changes without consent from them. They could also keep the deposit if you have caused damage that requires an area to be redecorated.

It is always wise to check with the landlord in advance of any work you may wish to do as some may categorise significant changes differently to others. Painting a door in one property may have vastly different implications to what it would in another!

Damage to property and missing items

All landlords understand that fair wear and tear is likely during the time of a tenancy and cannot make deductions from your deposit for this. It is only when the damage comes at significant cost to them that they may claim some of the deposit to cover them.

Things such as holes in walls, broken furniture or stained carpets may all see deductions.

You should try your best to keep the property in its best possible condition but also understand that fair wear and tear is to be expected.  Things like scuffs on walls, cannot be held against you.

In some instances, damage is caused by the landlord, and this cannot be held against you either. If for example, the landlord booked in a repair job, and it was done poorly. You are not liable for any charge bought about because of poor workmanship on the initial repair. Should you report a problem to the landlord in relation to damage and it was not caused by you, such as a burglary, you cannot have any of your deposit deducted for the work needed to rectify the damage. However, should you have not reported it, you could find deductions being made.

When signing your tenancy agreement, there will be an inventory in place cataloguing the items that belong to the property. Should any of these items be missing or broken at the end of the tenancy, the landlord could hold some of your deposit to cover the cost to replace them. Inventory check in reports can be very detailed so it is wise to make sure you don’t miss anything and replace anything that may be missing from the original report. This extends to lightbulbs and utensils.

Breaking your tenancy agreement

If you were in breach of your agreement, your landlord will use your deposit to recover any costs. Breaches could include, leaving the property before the fixed term has ended. The landlord will keep the deposit to cover lost rent and if the deposit does not cover outstanding rent amounts, you could find yourself in court.

Should you have bought a pet into the property despite the agreement forbidding it, you will not have your deposit withheld but they could deduct from the final returned amount a sum that covers any damage caused by your pet.

Should you leave the property before the tenancy ends, whether it be on a rolling contract or a fixed term, the landlord has the right to use the deposit to cover any rent they have lost.

How much can landlords charge for damage?

Whilst a stain on a carpet may lead a landlord to see an opportunity to refurb the living room, they cannot charge you for the full cost of a new carpet if it could be cleaned or repaired at a cheaper cost than the new one.

Where items cannot be restored to as close to new as possible, the landlord cannot charge you the full price for a new item unless they were new when you moved in, or you have not been a tenant for very long. If though, the items are quite old and you have caused damage to them, you could be billed for a proportion of the cost to replace the item. If this happens, investigate the costs of a replacement item to see whether the landlord is charging you a realistic amount. If the curtains cost £150 brand new and they are asking you for that amount or more. You can challenge them and potentially get more of your deposit back.

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