Protect yourself against dodgy landlords and get your deposit back

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In the last month Action Desk has received multiple enquires about deposits in private tenancies – with many readers asking the best way to resolve a dispute.

We’re all heard stories of dodgy landlords unfairly withholding tenants’ deposits but legislation is now in place to stop this happening.

Most landlords will ask you to pay a deposit before you move into their property and they have a good reason for asking for this – a deposit is insurance against something going wrong in the property.

However, it’s important to remember that this money still belongs to you, and the landlord should only keep it if you have caused damage in the property, you owe rent, or you have failed to keep to the tenancy agreement meaning that the landlord has lost money. There are ways to protect yourself against any dispute. Here are some top tips:

n Remember that your landlord or letting agent must provide you with information on the deposit scheme he or she is using within 28 days of you handing the money over.

Any deposit paid on or after April 1 2013 must be protected in one of the three authorised tenancy deposit schemes approved by the Department for Communities.

n At the start of your tenancy take photographs of the property room by room including any damage that is already there. Make sure the time and date they were taken is recorded. This way you have evidence of how the property looked when you moved in.

n You should also take a photo of your gas and water meter reading incase of a dispute over bills.

n Ask for a full, signed and dated itinerary of everything in the property. This way there will be no arguments at the end of the tenancy as to damage that was already ethere or what items of furniture etc were in the property.

n If anything gets damaged, report it immediately in writing to your landlord or agent. Keep a copy of the letter.

n Before you move out, the landlord or letting agent will inspect the property. You can ask to be present at the time and this is advisable. If there are any problems you can talk through them straight away.

n Read your tenancy agreement properly to understand your responsibilities about cleaning and upkeep and what you can be penalised for – you could even be charged for not cleaning the oven thoroughly, so check and check again.

n If money does need to come out of your deposit for repairs or cleaning ask them to provide an official quote from whoever is carrying out the work so you can see that you are not being overcharged.

n Any negotiating should be done in writing and you need to keep copies of any emails or letters you send. If you’re not able to agree with your landlord, you can go to Small Claims Court to see if a judge thinks you should get your money back.

n You can use the Small Claims Court to take legal action against someone if you are claiming less than £3,000. You don’t need a solicitor so the costs are much lower than the costs for other types of legal action.