Most landlords or letting agents ask for one month’s rent as a deposit. Some landlords ask for more than this. Rents can vary enormously and there is no limit on the amount of money that landlords can charge. Your deposit gives your landlord security in case you cause damage to the property or don’t pay the rent.
Download our ‘Paying a deposit‘ fact sheet for a brief summary of the rules.
What happens to the deposit?
If you entered into an assured shorthold tenancy with a private landlord on or after the 6 April 2007 (including if you renewed your tenancy on or after that date), your landlord should put your deposit into an approved tenancy deposit protection scheme. This should be done within 30 days of your landlord receiving the deposit and he/she should provide you with certain information about the scheme.
For tenancies entered into before the 6 April 2007 your landlord (or agency) holds on to the money until you leave the property.
At the end of the tenancy the deposit should be returned to you, but reasonable deductions can be made if you cause any damage or owe any rent money.
How can I be sure I will get my deposit back?
The deposit belongs to you and should be returned when you move out unless your landlord can show s/he has suffered a financial loss, because, for example, you have not paid the rent or you have caused damage to the property.
To ensure that you get your deposit back at the end of the tenancy:
- check to see what your tenancy agreement says about what the deposit covers and when it will be returned
- check the paperwork given to you by your landlord about the tenancy deposit protection scheme your landlord has used
- make sure there is a detailed inventory of the property
- take pictures when you move in and when you move out
- keep records of all the rent you pay and get receipts from your landlord
- notify the landlord of any damage (preferably in writing), and repair it if you caused it
- notify the landlord (preferably in writing) of any repairs that are necessary immediately – you may be held responsible for deterioration caused by unreported problems e.g. leaks or damp.
How can an inventory help?
Where your deposit is covered by a tenancy deposit protection scheme, the scheme will recommend your landlord to issue an inventory. In all other tenancies it is still good practice to use one.
Print and use our sample inventory.
An inventory is a detailed list of the contents and condition of the property and any items provided with it, such as furniture or equipment. You should do an inventory of the property with the landlord or agent before you move in. Make sure you note if anything is damaged, marked, scratched, burnt or worn. The landlord or agent may prepare one and give it to you. Always check that it is accurate and that everything is in working order.
Both you and the landlord should sign the inventory and keep a copy. If the landlord or agent refuses to do an inventory, prepare one yourself and get an independent witness (such as a friend) to sign it and send a copy to your landlord or agent. You could also take photos or a video showing the condition of the property when you move in.
What records should I keep?
It is always a good idea to keep records, just in case. If you have problems getting your deposit back they could make a big difference.
Useful items might include:
- information given to you about the tenancy deposit scheme
- the inventory
- any photographs or video that you took when you moved in
- receipts for items you have replaced
- receipts or estimates for repairs done to the property
- receipts for rent payments
- letters / emails / texts to your landlord, and any replies you have received.
When can the landlord keep my deposit?
The deposit belongs to you and should be returned to you unless your landlord can show s/he has suffered a financial loss. Your landlord can make reasonable deductions from the deposit for:
- damage to the property
- unpaid rent
- missing items
Even if your landlord has a valid reason for keeping part of your deposit the rest of it should be returned. Your landlord may try to withhold some or all of your deposit for a different reason such as because you had a noisy party when your contract stated you could not. This is not legal. Landlords can only claim for any financial loss they have actually suffered. Your landlord cannot normally deduct costs relating to the property such as advertising or agency fees. This would only be possible if you left your tenancy without ending it properly.
Your landlord can only deduct as much as is needed to repair or replace what you have damaged on a ‘like for like’ basis. So, if you break an old armchair, you shouldn’t have to pay for a brand new one.
Your landlord cannot keep your deposit because of general ‘wear and tear’ to the condition of the property. For instance, if the carpet gets a bit worn out, it is probably wear and tear, but if you burn a hole in it, it is not. The amount of wear and tear it is normal to expect depends on the condition of the property when you moved in and the length of time you lived there. If you think you are likely to have problems it may be worth taking photos or getting a witness as early as possible in your tenancy.
Cleaning / Decorating
Tenancy agreements often state that carpets and curtains must be cleaned to a professional standard before the tenant moves out. This does not mean that they have to be as clean as or cleaner than when you moved in. You are only required to clean any items soiled above normal wear and tear. If possible keep records and receipts for any cleaning you do or pay for.
If your landlord expects professional cleaning of the property at the end of the tenancy it may be cheaper for you to arrange this than allow the landlord to pay for it. If carpets, etc have any marks at the start of the tenancy ensure that this is noted on your inventory. Decorating costs after you move out should not be deducted from your deposit, unless you have damaged the property beyond what is considered “normal wear and tear” e.g. if you have put up pictures or shelves which have left holes in the wall.
What if my deposit is not returned after I leave?
If your tenancy is protected in a tenancy deposit protection scheme and you disagree with your landlord about the return of the deposit, you should contact the deposit protection scheme that your landlord used.
They will offer you and your landlord a free service to help resolve the dispute. Contact details for the scheme and information on what you need to do will be contained in the information your landlord or agent will have given you at the start of your tenancy (see above). If you and your landlord both agree to use the dispute service, you will have to agree to accept its decision and will not be able to apply to the courts.
If you or your landlord do not agree to use the free dispute service then you will usually have to go to the county court to get your deposit back. Click here to read more about going to court.
If your tenancy started before 6 April 2007 and hasn’t been renewed or become statutory periodic after that date then your deposit will have fallen outside of the tenancy deposit protection scheme. You can still take action to get your tenancy deposit returned if it is withheld unfairly. Click here to read more about the return of unprotected deposits.