Here are the answers to the most frequently asked questions we receive each year from vacating contract-holders, particularly with regards to inspections, deposit returns and potential end of tenancy costs. If you're thinking of getting in touch with a related query, please take a look at the information below as it may provide you with the answer to your question.
Have you been out and inspected my property yet?
We aim to inspect your property as soon as possible (and ensure a quick deposit return for those of you who have paid one) but it isn’t physically possible for us to inspect every property within the same day, or even the same week, so we ask for your patience as we work through an order of priority.
Every deposit return is a priority for us, but in order to effectively manage the number of checkout inspections we can do each day, our initial focus has to be on properties where new contract-holders have needed to move in immediately after the previous tenancy ended.
What happens during and after the check-out inspection?
When we go out and inspect, we’ll produce a digital report of the condition of the property, which will include photographic evidence.
This report is passed onto a member of our team – your “Case Handler” – who will look at the findings and compare it to the condition of the property when you first moved in. They will do this by referring to your original, signed inventory. As an added failsafe, they will also assess what we found during the check-out inspection before yours.
Once we’ve discussed our thoughts with your landlord, we will send your lead contract-holder a copy of this report, which will include our considered comments. It will detail what we believe to be wear and tear and therefore the responsibility of your landlord, as well as anything we believe to the responsibility of the contract-holder(s). You are invited to make comments and/or provide evidence in response to ours. The purpose of the report is to document the condition of the property and for both sides to agree on liabilities. Any proposed costs will come later in the process.
Please remember that if you didn’t pay a deposit, we will still be producing this report as we still have a duty of care to the owner of the property. Your landlord is entitled to request that you pay the cost of anything over fair wear and tear and, if needed, pursue it via the small claims court.
If the report suggests I’m responsible for something and I disagree, what can I do?
There will be times when we get it wrong and we mistakenly attribute responsibility to the contract-holder when we shouldn’t. We have a lot of deposits to return and properties to inspect, so we may overlook something in human error, in which case we apologise. It may also be the case that the condition of the property when you first moved in wasn’t recorded accurately enough (remembering we work from the inventory you sign), meaning we’re under the impression a carpet or item of furniture was pristine when it wasn’t. Please let us know if that’s the case by adding your comments to the report you’re sent and, if possible, back it up with a photo, video, prior e-mail, etc.
Your comments will be passed onto a final stage reviewer, who will consider them and discuss them with your landlord. Please remember that we’re the ‘middle man’ in the process and, if there are any blurred lines, it will often require us to negotiate between landlord and contract-holder to reach an outcome everyone is happy with.
Why do disputes happen?
Landlords and letting agents would much rather return deposits in full, as it’s far quicker and easier that way. However, when conducting a check-out inspection, we can only go by what's in front of us, so if there wasn’t a stain on the mattress noted within the inventory signed at the commencement of the tenancy and there is one at the end, it will result in a charge to the contract-holder unless they can prove – by way of a photo or a video – that it was present upon arrival. That’s why, in addition to annotating the inventory, we always ask our contract-holders to take dated photographic evidence. The same applies to zero-deposit tenancies, where you remain responsible for any financial loss or damage due to the landlord, as you would with a traditional tenancy deposit.
Most deposit disputes and any pursuit of costs from zero deposit tenancies arise because the condition of the property was not recorded accurately upon arrival. There is a duty upon the landlord/letting agent to issue the incoming contract-holder with a detailed inventory/schedule of condition when moving in, which should clearly include any marks, stains, chips or knocks. Equally, there is a duty on the contract-holder to annotate the document with anything that might have been missed. After all, two pairs of eyes are better than one.
We feel it's important to point out that it's not uncommon for there to be a deposit dispute at the end of a tenancy. Quite rightly, contract-holders are keen to receive as much of their deposit back as possible, whereas landlords would like to be compensated for any dilapidation they believe is not a result of wear and tear. So, by virtue of their own standpoints, deposit claims are a contentious matter, but thankfully most disputes are resolved very quickly and amicably. That is always our aim.
I agree I’m liable, but I disagree with the cost – what can I do?
Once we’ve reached agreement on liability, your Case Handler will liaise with your landlord on the most appropriate way to deal with the dilapidations noted and you will be sent the proposed cost(s). Costs are calculated in one of two ways:
The Deposit Protection Service states that "where an item has had its value reduced or its lifespan shortened, for example by damage, a landlord may claim compensation", rather than the cost of a brand-new replacement.
If we can agree a compensatory cost with a landlord rather than a repair or replacement, it will be of benefit to contract-holders for a couple of reasons. Firstly, compensation is frequently significantly less costly than a repair or replacement. Secondly, it speeds up the deposit return process because it can take several weeks to organise work (longer in the summer period), then receive and process a contractor’s invoices. Compensation, on the other hand, can be calculated relatively quickly and easily by your Case Handler.
The Contract-holder Deposit Scheme goes on to say that, where compensation has been claimed, "it is the landlord's choice as to whether they use any awarded money to fix/replace the item”. They continue: "a contract-holder may complain that they were charged for redecoration, or the replacement of something (carpet, or curtains for example) yet when they revisited the property with new contract-holders there, they realised the landlord had not replaced the item they were charged for! Despite contract-holders perhaps feeling this is unfair, it is the landlord's choice as to whether they use any awarded money to fix/replace the item."
We’ll always try and adopt compensation over repair/replacement because of the reasons stated above.
Work completed by contractors
Where compensation isn’t the appropriate remedy, a contractor will need to be instructed to carry out work at the property, or furniture may need to be ordered. Due to the high number of contract-holders vacating between June and September, and only so many contractors available, these jobs go into a queue of work, so don’t necessarily get completed immediately. That means we may not receive their charge for completing the work straight away, so there may be a delay in getting these costs to you. However, our aim is to get them as quickly as possible, and if this means obtaining an accurate pro-forma invoice from the contractor having first had a look at the scope of the work, then we will do so in order to aid the swift return of your deposit.
What if we can’t reach an agreement with our landlord?
The Deposit Protection Service (DPS), who hold and protect your deposit, offer an Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) process for disputes that cannot be resolved between contract-holder and landlord. Opting to use this process will see the DPS appoint an independent adjudicator to preside over the case. The adjudicator will collect evidence from both sides and make a decision on how the disputed element of the deposit should be distributed.
In the case of your landlord requesting costs at the end of a zero deposit tenancy, if an agreement can’t be reached then they will reserve the right to pursue the case via the small claims court. You’ll have a chance to contest the charges your landlord wants to make, evidence will be reviewed and your landlord will only be able to proceed if they can prove that you are responsible for paying these charges.
If there’s a dispute, do we have to wait until it’s resolved before we get anything back?
No, you will receive the undisputed amount back from the Deposit Protection Service (DPS), meaning they only continue to hold the disputed amount.