How to get your full tenancy deposit back
So it's time to pack up your stuff and leave your student house? We have all the info you need to take your full tenancy 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.
Our National Student Accommodation Survey found that the average rental deposit stands at £311, with 15% of students struggling to get this money back at the end of their tenancies.
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!
Before you move in
Take pictures of everything in the house
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. Same applies for damp, cracks and all other student accommodation woes!
If you're lucky, your landlord or estate agent may choose to employ a third party inventory company to record the condition of the house and its contents before you move in and when you move out (more on this in a second...).
These guys are entirely impartial, and if you're lucky enough to have them conduct your check-in and check-out, you won't need to worry about taking any photos yourself.
Ask for an inventory
Your landlord should 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.
Not all landlords will offer tenants a copy of the inventory when they move in – and if they don't, ask for one. The inventory is arguably the single biggest factor in getting your deposit back, because as we explained earlier, it's an official record of the state and contents of the property before you lived there.
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!
Again, your landlord or estate agent may employ a third party inventory company to compile the inventory when you're moving in and out.
While these people are impartial (they won't take sides in an argument, they'll just call it how they see it), you are able to challenge the inventory if you think a mistake has been made (particularly with terms such as "fair wear and tear", which are subject to interpretation).
Check the tenancy agreement
It might sound like one of those annoying things you're always told to read but never actually do (like any terms and conditions section ever), 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 want 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 find out if your university or students' 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. Some landlords may allow you to decorate your room, but again, you must check the tenancy agreement before cracking on!
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 legally protected
Since April 2007, all private landlords are legally obliged to hand over your deposit to a government-licensed organisation. This ensures that the money you pay as a deposit remains a deposit, and that landlords are unable to unfairly withhold your deposit when you move out.
When you're signing the contracts for the house, it's important that you ask your landlord or estate agent 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.
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?
That said, all these things cost money – and they cost a lot more money if you leave it to the landlord to deduct it from your deposit. 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...
With that in mind, if you're responsible for the damage you should think about replacing these things yourself at a much more reasonable price. If you (and your housemates) aren't responsible for the damage, then don't pay to replace it yourself – that's the landlord's job!
Equally, if it's something you can't replace yourself (be it too expensive or too big 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
Paying off all your bills in full is important for two reasons.
First off, it should help you avoid being overcharged by any bill companies – and remember that when you move out, you should get in touch with them and let them know when your tenancy agreement expires (unfortunately you're responsible for paying the bills until then, even if you move out beforehand).
Secondly, paying off your bills in full is a big step towards getting your deposit back. As the owner of the property, the landlord will be the one footing the bill should you fail to pay – and if it comes to that, they'll take the money from your deposit.
So ask for proof of payment when you pay a bill, as this will act as pretty solid evidence should your landlord claim that there are still unpaid debts.
Plus, 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. This way you can put it right in advance and ensure that you get your deposit back in full.
Most landlords will actually appreciate you taking the initiative 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 your tenancy started – time to dig out the pictures that were taken when you moved in!
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 masse 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.
Clean the house thoroughly
Cleaning the house before you leave might sound like common sense, but it's often easy to overlook it because you've become accustomed to the way the house 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 – and this kind of thing that will inevitably stop you getting some of your deposit back!
A full year of student life can take its toll on a house, and while general wear and tear is understandable, you need to make sure the landlord doesn't come back to the world's worst student house.
As the end of the uni year approaches, it's best to start early with your cleaning to minimise the work required on moving day, and to make sure everything is just how it was when you moved in.
Lock up the house
This is something you should already be doing to keep your house safe from burglars, but when you do leave for the final time (sob), double, triple, quadruple check 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 that the property was damaged after you left because you didn't lock up properly.
Student houses 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 the state of the house again
When you feel that the house is clean and tidy, and that 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 is 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. It might take a bit of time, but we'd say it's definitely worth it if it means getting your deposit back.
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 all your frozen food! If you think your landlord might fancy the last of your fish fingers, you're wrong.
On top of this, if your flat has a prepaid electricity metre, the power will probably cut out once you've vacated the property and stopped topping it up, meaning any food left in the fridge or freezer will rot – pretty gross.
Also use your weekly rubbish and recycling collections as an opportunity to get rid of anything you're not taking with you. Landlords or estate agents are likely to charge you for anything they end up having to dispose of themselves, and that means you won't be getting your full deposit back.
Don't worry if you've missed the bin day for your street – local authorities always have a recycling and refuse centre where you can go to ditch your stuff.
Know your rights as a tenant
Most importantly of all, make sure you know your rights as a tenant so you can challenge anything which is against the law.
Once you move out, you should receive a letter (or an email) declaring any proposed deductions from your deposit (if any) and the reasons for each one.
Legally, landlords are not allowed to take any money off your deposit without discussing it with you first, and whichever organisation is holding your deposit will hold on to your money until this happens.
They'll also hold onto the deposit until all disputes have been settled – disputes which are usually handled through their own services.
A decision will be made based on the information and evidence submitted by both the tenant and the landlord. The decision of the tenancy deposit company is final, and they'll also be responsible for deciding how much money will be deducted from the deposit.
The landlord or estate agency then has 10 days to return your deposit 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 due some compensation.
It really is worth challenging any proposed deductions from your deposit, even if the check was carried out by an independent third party.
When I moved out of an old flat, the check-out report stated that there was no longer a bin in the bathroom, and that as there was one when we moved in, we'd have to pay to replace it.
I immediately contacted the agent and pointed out that the bin was still there, and was visible in the corner of one of the pictures included in the report.
The agent then corrected the report and we got our deposit back in full!
Tom Allingham, Editor at Save the Student
Check out this story of a student who moved in to possibly the most disgusting house ever – it's difficult to see how they could have made it any worse and lost their deposit!