Getting your tenancy deposit back: a guide for university students

by Dan Roberts

For many students, renting accommodation away from home is an important part of the university experience. This means paying a deposit and entering a contractual agreement with your landlord, so you need to understand your rights and responsibilities.

Getting your deposit back at the end of your tenancy requires you to have looked after the property – including its furnishings and contents – and paid the rent. If you don’t, your landlord can make reasonable deductions. As your deposit should be held in a Tenancy Deposit Plan, if you think your landlord is being unfair with returning your deposit you can challenge them through the company operating the plan.

Sadly, research by Nationwide Building Society in 2018 found that the majority of students (55%) lost all of their deposit at the end of their tenancy, despite more than two thirds of them disputing the amount. A worrying 80% of the 1000 students surveyed felt their landlord had kept their money unfairly.

What is a tenancy deposit?

A tenancy deposit (or ‘bond’) is a returnable sum of money paid to the landlord or letting agent, which is held as security against any rent arrears, property damage or required cleaning when you move out. The amount varies but is usually equivalent to one or two months’ rent.

What happens to your deposit?

If you are renting under an assured shorthold tenancy (and almost all tenancies are ASTs), then your deposit must be protected in a government-approved tenancy deposit protection (TDP) scheme. There is a choice of three in England and Wales (separate ones operate in Scotland and Northern Ireland):

  • Deposit Protection Service
  • MyDeposits
  • Tenancy Deposit Scheme

These TDP companies keep your deposit safe and ensure your landlord returns what you are owed at the end of the tenancy. The landlord or letting agent must place the deposit in the scheme within 30 days and inform you where it is held. There is no legal requirement for your deposit to be protected if you’re in halls of residence or you’re a lodger.

What is my landlord allowed to deduct from my deposit?

…However, landlords are not allowed to take unreasonable amounts or to keep any of your deposit to cover ‘wear and tear’

You may not get the full amount of your deposit back at the end of your tenancy if you owe rent or there is damage to the property or its contents – for example, a red wine stain on the carpet, marks on the wall from sticking up posters, missing cutlery, water damage because you didn’t report a leak soon enough or a bathroom so neglected that it requires a deep clean. However, landlords are not allowed to take unreasonable amounts or to keep any of your deposit to cover ‘wear and tear’ (as this should be covered by your rent). They can, though, charge for the cost of any work required to get the property back to a lettable condition.

When will I get my deposit back?

Your landlord should return your deposit within 10 days of the tenancy ending, providing they are satisfied with the property’s condition. If the landlord intends to make deductions from your tenancy deposit, they must discuss it with you and give you their reasons. You can either accept the deductions – if they seem fair – or challenge them, which you can do through the TDP operator.

What happens if there’s a dispute?

If you’re in dispute with your landlord over the deposit, the TDP company can act as a mediator and the money will remain protected until issues are sorted out. All the TDP schemes offer a free dispute-resolution service. If you use it, you and your landlord will be asked to provide evidence and the decision of the TDP operator will be final. Your landlord then has 10 days in which to return your money.

…All the TDP schemes offer a free dispute-resolution service.

If your landlord hasn’t used a TDP scheme when they should have, you may be due compensation and you can take your case to your local county court. If you are renting from your university, it will have its own complaints procedure, or you can refer to the Government Approved Code of Practice for Educational Establishments.

How do I get my full tenancy deposit back?

There is action you can take at each stage of your tenancy to help ensure you get your deposit back in full:

Before you move in

  1. Check if your landlord is approved by your university – they usually keep a list of approved landlords and letting agents
  2. Read your tenancy agreement so that you understand your obligations as a tenant. It will be as dull as ditchwater but it’s only an hour of your life and could help you get your deposit back. Some universities and student unions offer free contract-checking services; if not, ask a parent or friend for their advice.
  3. Ensure your deposit is protected with one of the authorised deposit protection schemes.
  4. Check the property’s inventory when you move in. This is a comprehensive list of the contents of the house or flat, down to the last teaspoon. Make your landlord aware of any discrepancies between the written inventory and what’s actually in the property.
  5. Take photos of the condition of key items in the property such as walls, carpets, the oven and the lawn – especially any areas that are already damaged. Look for stains, cracks, scuff marks and mould. Record the date of the photos in some way.

During your stay

  1. Remain on friendly terms with your landlord. This way, they are more likely to be lenient if you run into an issue.
  2. Keep the place reasonably clean and tidy. The best way to do this is to devise a fair rota for cleaning and other chores that all housemates agree on as soon as you move in. Bear in mind that your landlord has the right to enter the property to view its condition, although you must get at least 24 hours’ written notice and inspections must be done at a reasonable time of day.
  3. Replace anything you lose or break, if it’s not too expensive. Buying another one is likely to be cheaper than the landlord replacing it when you move out. Hang on to receipts and other documents.
  4. Report problems with the property promptly. If an issue develops – such as a water leak or mould – let your landlord know as soon as possible, take photos and keep evidence of your communication.
  5. Keep up with your rent and other bills. Have a budget and review your finances regularly – it might sound tedious but it’s a great life skill that will definitely pay dividends.

When you move out

  1. Agree on dates with your housemates for moving out, so that you can all do your fair share of tidying and cleaning. Ideally, everyone should be at the final inspection of the property.
  2. Invite your landlord around about a week before the final inspection so you can find out if there’s anything that they are unhappy about and you have time to discuss it.
  3. Clean, clean, clean – until everything is in the condition that it was when you moved in. If you’re having a moving-out party, do this a week before so that there’s time to clean up afterwards. Don’t forget the skirting boards, under beds, windows, oven and fridge (plus defrost the freezer).
  4. Get rid of rubbish. If it wasn’t in the property when you arrived, you need to get rid of it – leftovers in the fridge, socks in the back of drawers and even the contents of the vacuum cleaner!
  5. Take photos of the property once everything is clean and tidy. You can also take a snap of final meter readings for utilities.
  6. Agree the final inventory with your landlord and keep a copy.
  7. Lock up and return all keys to avoid the cost of changing locks. Someone is bound to forget, so remind everyone (nag if necessary – it’s your deposit that’s at stake).

Will I have to pay for damage done by my housemates?

This depends on whether the tenancy agreement you’ve signed is for the whole property for each room separately. With a joint tenancy agreement, all housemates contribute to a single deposit, with everyone being equally liable if there are rent arrears or damage. This applies even if only one tenant has unpaid rent or if the damage is limited to just one person’s room. If your landlord makes a deduction from the deposit, you’ll have to agree among yourselves how to share out what’s left.

…If your landlord makes a deduction from the deposit, you’ll have to agree among yourselves how to share out what’s left.

The TDP schemes normally only deal with the lead tenant named on the agreement, so he or she will have to represent the others. If, on the other hand, you and your housemates have signed individual tenancy agreements, you will only be liable for your room and the communal rooms.

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Written by Dan Roberts
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