How to get your full tenancy deposit back
So it's time to pack up your student digs and get on yer bike? We have all the info you need to make sure you take your full housing deposit with you!
As any student who's rented a property before will know – starting the academic year paying a hefty housing deposit is never fun. But what's even worse is if you don't get it all back when you move out at the end of term.
This wad of cash you pay before you move in is essentially your way of assuring your landlord that you won't trash the place or do a runner without paying rent, but unfortunately many people end up having a harder time getting their dollar back than they should do.
In 2016, four in ten students lost all or part of their deposit when they moved out of their house, amounting to £32 million according to Student Tenant.
With this in mind, we've put together our top tips to help make sure you do get your full deposit back. Sadly, it will involve you having to put in a bit of leg work - but it's definitely worth it for that extra boost to your summer spending money!
How to ensure you get your full deposit back...
Before you move in
Get snap happy
Taking photos when you leave will make sure you've got a visual record of how you left your house, but what's even smarter is to take pictures when you move in too so these can be compared with the leaving pics if necessary.
This way, if the landlord claims that a big stain on the living room carpet was caused by you and your flatmates, but you know it was already there when you moved in, you'll have the photographic evidence to prove it.
Take photos on the day you move in and send them to the landlord to confirm they're happy with them.
Check the tenancy agreement
It might sound like one of those annoying things you're always told to read but never actually do (like the terms and conditions you always blindly tick off without reading), but your tenancy agreement is something you actually do need to read – no matter how dull it is.
The terms of a contract differ vastly from one landlord or estate agency to the next, and the last thing you need is to get stung on something that can be avoided just by reading what you sign!
Make sure you read this list of important things you should be checking in your tenancy agreement, and check if your university or student's union offer a free contract checking service to help you out.
Some contracts might state, for example, that you need to give two months notice before you move out, or might even ask you to hire a professional cleaner before they do an inspection. It's worth knowing these terms before you sign, in case you need to negotiate any of the terms before moving in.
Make sure your deposit is with the TDP
Since April 2007, all private landlords are legally obliged to hand over your deposit to a government-run scheme called the Tenancy Deposit Protection scheme, which is there to prevent landlords from withholding money from their tenants on unfair grounds.
Therefore, it's important that you ask your landlord for proof that your deposit is safely with one of the government's deposit schemes (check here for more details).
If you want to be extra sure, you can even send them a letter requesting official proof.
You can also check up on whether your landlord has submitted your deposit or not by contacting the deposit scheme sites directly, armed with your postcode, tenancy start date and deposit amount. In England these are Deposit Protection Service, MyDeposits and Tenancy Deposit Scheme.
They should be able to tell you if your deposit is on their records or not.
Ask for an inventory
Your landlord will almost hold a checklist of everything that's already in the property when you move in. This is called an 'inventory', and is used to make sure that no tenant bunks off with items or furniture that doesn't belong to them.
However, not all landlords will offer tenants an inventory to have a look at before they move in, and if they don't – ask for one. Otherwise, you could get charged for loss or damage to items that you didn't even realise weren't yours!
The key is to have a close look at the inventory when you move in, make sure all tenants are aware of what belongs to the landlord, and take extra care of those items so there's nothing to complain about on moving day!
While you're living there
Consider replacing things you break
Accidents happen, and let's face it – who can really get through an entire academic year without dropping a plate or destroying a shower curtain?
Sadly though, all these things cost money, and the costs are normally substantially higher if you leave them to the landlord or halls to shell out for. Suddenly shower curtains cost £15 to replace, and you're having to pay for a full set of water glasses when you only broke two. Chancers!
In reality, you could probably replace these things yourself at a much more reasonable price. If you've broken something, check if it's on the inventory and if it is – replace it!
Equally, if it's something you can't replace yourself (it's too expensive or too big of a job, for example) flag it with your landlord as soon as possible - don't leave it until the day you move out!
Make sure you pay off all of your bills
This is not only important for ensuring you get your full deposit back, but also to help you avoid being overcharged by any bill companies. You'll need to call all of them up and make them aware that you're moving out on the date when your contract expires.
Make sure you pay off any outstanding bills, and ask for proof of payment that you can then show to your landlord when asking for your deposit back.
Keeping on top of your bills will also ensure your credit rating isn't negatively affected – read more about that here!
Invite your landlord over
If you're due to have an inspection on the day you leave, invite the landlord over a week or so beforehand to check if there's anything they're not happy with so you can put it right in advance.
Most landlords will actually appreciate the initiative you're taking to make sure you're leaving their property in good nick, and would rather this than resorting to charging you.
If they agree that the house looks good on the day, then you have a great case to get all of your deposit back.
Having them over in advance will also allow you to argue your case in person if they pick out any issues that you believe were already there when you moved in – time to get out those handy pics you took before moving in! Your inventory will come in handy at this point too.
When you're moving out
Co-ordinate moving dates
If you're living in a shared house, it's always a good idea to try and co-ordinate your moving out dates with your flatmates. There's likely to be only one check-out inspection and you'll all face fines if something isn't up to scratch.
Leaving en mass means you'll be able to split the workload fairly between you, as well as make sure you're all happy with the standard you're leaving the property in. There's nothing more annoying than one tenant bunking off early and leaving all the cleaning to whoever's left behind!
You can also then attend any checkout inspections together too, meaning you'll all get the chance to air your views on any problems that may arise.
Get your marigolds on and scrub!
This might sound like common sense, but it's often easy to fail miserably on this one because you've become accustomed to the house just the way it is – warts and all.
You might've gotten used to the small ecosystem growing in your fridge, but your landlord won't take too kindly to it!
A full year of student life can take its toll on a house, and while general wear and tear is understandable, you need to minimise anything that the landlord may see as particularly costly or caused by plain negligence.
As the end of the uni year approaches, you need to start early with your cleaning to make sure everything is just how it was when you moved in.
Lock up the house
This is something you should be doing every day anyway, but double, triple, quadruple check that when you do leave for the final time (sob) you've made sure that everything is locked up and secure.
There's a chance that the property might sit vacant over the summer months if it's normally a student house, and it would be a nightmare to find damage happened to the property after you left because you didn't lock up properly.
Student houses do also tend to come with a lot of key sets, so make sure everyone is responsible for returning their own (some agencies charge hefty fees for failure to return them)!
Check and check again!
When you feel that the house is cleaned and tidied and the furniture is all in one piece, get together with your flatmates and have a good old nosey around together.
The more of you there are to have a look around, the higher the chances are you'll spot something your landlord might pick up on. It's better to make sure everything's as it should be, than have to fork out a wad of cash because you've torn off the plaster with blu tac.
If you have a checklist or inventory from the start of the year, go through it together step by step to make sure you haven't missed anything.
Throw out any rubbish
It's easy to accumulate a lot of junk over the year, but whatever you do, make sure you clear out everything from the house before you leave!
This includes throwing out leftover food from the fridge, and clearing out the freezer! If you think your landlord might want to use up the last of your fish fingers, you're wrong.
On top of this, if your flat has a prepaid electricity metre, the power will cut out when you all vacate the property and any food left in the fridge or freezer will rot - pretty gross.
Be sure to get rid of anything you're not taking with you in your weekly rubbish or recycling collections, as landlords or estate agents are likely to charge you for anything they end up having to dispose of themselves.
If you've missed the day of the week for your street collection don't panic - local authorities always have a recycling and refuse centre you can go and ditch your stuff.
Know your rights
Most importantly of all, you should make sure you know your rights as a tenant, so you can question anything which is against the rules.
Once you move out, you should receive a letter declaring any proposed costs to come off your deposit (if any) and the reasons for these. Legally, landlords are not allowed to take any money off your deposit without discussing it with you first, and the TDP will hold on to your money until this happens.
If they do propose deductions and you want to dispute this, the Tenancy Deposit Scheme will hold on to your deposit until the dispute has been settled - you can use their Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) service to do this.
They'll look at information and evidence submitted by both the tenant and the landlord before making a decision on the amount of deposit that is to be returned - and this decision is final.
The landlord or estate agency then has 10 days to return the money to you, otherwise they'll face charges.
Storing your deposit in a protection scheme is the law, so if they've failed to do so, report them – chances are, they'll be forced to pay your deposit back in full, and you could even be in for some compensation.
Been stung with hefty charges when moving out of a student house? Let us know in the comments!