11 ways to help you get your deposit back

Students are usually seen as fair game by dodgy landlords after a quick buck. This little guide might just help you thwart their nefarious plans.

If you have ever rented a property from anybody, you will know the pain of trying to get your deposit back – and if you’re still in first year then you still have it to look forward to…

Most contracts say the house must be returned in the same condition it was let, with a clause allowing for ‘fair wear and tear’. It is often a surprise how open to interpretation this phrase can be.

There are many good landlords who expect their property returned in a clean and undamaged state, but who understand that it has been lived in for a year. Others push the concept of ‘fair wear and tear’ to the limits of legality and beyond, seemingly expecting you to float around their properties in an air bubble without ever actually touching anything. Even worse, some appear to forget that their carpet was already a decade old and musty grey when you arrived, and try to spend your whole deposit on re-carpeting the hallway, perhaps with a bit on the side for their holiday.

So if you think you’re being unfairly charged, to regain your money, you will need to ensure that you return the house in the best state possible, and just in case, prepare some evidence.

Photograph everything

The camera is your strongest weapon. When you leave, photograph each room in detail to show the beautiful condition you have left the house in. If you do need to dispute charges, you will need photographic evidence. Some advice suggests that you should also take labelled and dated photos, including any faults, when you arrive and send copies to the landlord alongside the inventory.

Fill in the inventory

Pretty obvious, but easy to forget in the flurry of moving in and starting the new academic year.

It’s up to you to make sure that everything – including pre-existing wear and tear on the property, like stains and scuffs – is recorded and signed by the landlord as early as possible. That way, you won’t be charged for the result of wild parties that happened when you were still in sixth form.

Also, it’s tempting to think that whichever housemate you’ve decided to nominate as ‘most organised’ (which means they get to do all the boring jobs), will do it. Don’t leave it up to them.

Remember adhesive marks

It is the curse of tenants that a certain manufacturer has been making sticky stuff for forty years but has not yet invented a formula that doesn’t permanently stain the walls. Just a couple of these oily little marks can mean a bill for repainting a whole wall, or even a whole room. Invest in a matching tester pot of paint, pray it’s the right shade and paint over any marks. Even if you have to do a whole wall or room to match up the colour, this will still be much cheaper than if your landlord employs a decorator, or decides to pay themselves ‘wages’ for doing the job.

Invite the landlord round

Many universities suggest that you invite your landlord around the month before you move out, for a preliminary inspection. They can use this as an opportunity to point out anything that they are unhappy with, so that you have a chance to put it right. Use the inventory as a checklist and have somebody who does not live at the house present to act as a witness.

Clean during the year

Once again this may sound ridiculously obvious, but there always seem to be good reasons not to, whether deadlines, or the classic, ‘we need to wait until we’re all in together’ excuse. It definitely helps not to have to tackle a whole year’s worth of grime two days before you move out.

Double-check your contract

In one contract, we were required to ensure the windows were clean, inside and out. This had never occurred to us, particularly as no ladder was provided and it proved difficult to scrub whilst hanging out of an upstairs window without falling to your death. However, we had signed, so we got charged.

Battle damp or it will cost

Damp is maybe the world’s most boring topic of conversation, and a personal favourite of mine for getting rid of unwanted attention in bars. Yet it becomes strangely fascinating if you’ve ever experienced this slimy intruder spreading down the walls and over your possessions. This can be the landlord’s responsibility; you can contact your university if the problem is extremely bad. However, landlords will usually advise you leave the heating on for at least an hour a day, especially when you are absent from the property. Check if the landlord provides a dehumidifier, try not to dry clothing in unventilated rooms and open the windows every so often, even in winter. Clean damp patches using detergent and diluted bleach or a fungicidal wash.

Hard-to-remember areas

It’s easy to become accustomed to your surroundings and not notice where dirt has built up. Step into your house and try to imagine that it’s the first time you’ve been there, and maybe even ask a friend to help. Look where you usually don’t; for instance into the top corners of rooms, on top of the fridge, and unblock all plugholes. Remember to take rubbish out of every single bin.

Party somewhere else

While you may love the kudos of being the party house, you won’t love the clean-up. It’s also a well known fact that having the police as your guests doesn’t endear you to the neighbours or your landlord.

Be paranoid

Ok, maybe not. But if this is your first time renting, never assume that because your landlord seems nice – they’ve given you chocolates at Christmas, or complimented you on how well you’ve kept the house – that they will be lenient at the end of the year. I wish there was a ratio between the number of times that somebody says ‘thank you for being such good tenants,’ and how little money they try and get away with charging you, but there sadly isn’t.

Remember the tenancy dispute service

A certain Student editor remembers a landlord relationship that soured over broken promises, and ended with a hefty amount of outright fraudulent charges on the deposit at the end of his rental period. Even though we were definitely in the right, we had to take the landlord to the Tenancy Dispute Service. Both parties were invited to submit all their evidence in one go, before the adjudicator ruled. Luckily, the estate agent had forgotten to take an inventory in the first place and we won all our money back by default, but in more nuanced cases, you may still be able to claw at least some of your deposit back, provided you can back your claims up with evidence.

Helen Burch is a student at the University of Exeter, studying English Literature in lovely Cornwall, who has so far resisted the urge to write reams of bad poetry about the beauty of the landscape.

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