Here's the lowdown on two of the most important issues for anyone renting a room in a flat or houseshare.
When we polled our users recently, 65% told us they've had issues getting some (or all) of their deposit back from a landlord.
The Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) is now in place to cover exactly this issue, and applies to most flatsharers who don't live with their landlord.
Since 2007 all deposits taken by landlords in England and Wales renting property using an AST (Assured Shorthold Tenancy) must be protected by a tenancy deposit scheme. Scotland has its own scheme which came into force November 2012. Under TDS regulations you should get your deposit back promptly after you move out, unless you're behind on rent or have damaged anything.
If your landlord fails to protect your deposit as required, it's possible to claim a penalty payment. In a recent case at the Court of Appeal, a landlord had protected the deposit but not complied with all the details of the regulations. The Court ruled that the information he failed to supply the tenants with was of real importance and ordered the landlord to pay the full penalty to the tenants (three times the deposit as well as returning the deposit itself).
Your landlord must inform you of several details, including:
- How much you've paid
- Which scheme they used to protect your deposit and how you can contact them
- How to claim your deposit back
- What to do if there's a dispute
- Where you can find out (in the tenancy agreement) what the landlord is entitled to make a deduction for (see The Inventory, below)
Make sure you ask your landlord how your deposit is protected and that they've provided you with details of the scheme, as well as pointing out which clause in your tenancy agreement contains the info on what deductions can be made. With such well-informed tenants in their property your landlord will be keen to comply with every last letter of the law.
If you're a lodger, there's currently no requirement for your landlord to protect your deposit as you won't have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy. However, they can choose to place your deposit in a government scheme if they want to.
Where to find more information on your deposit rights
There's a handy tool on Shelter's website which helps you establish whether your deposit should be protected and what your rights are if not. It contains further information on what to do if your landlord has not protected a deposit. Click here to use the Shelter deposit rights checker
This goes hand in hand with your deposit. You'll normally be asked to sign an inventory, itemising every piece of furniture and the state of repair of every room you have access to, when you move in.
If something is missing or damaged at the end of your tenancy you could be liable, so it's worth checking the document thoroughly. Deductions are likely to be made from your deposit so make sure that, if you find any discrepancies, you mention them to the landlord or agent straight away. If you're in any doubt it's worth photographing any existing damage to avoid disagreements later (ideally you'll want that attached as part of the agreed inventory).
Some disorganised landlords might not bother with an inventory. With no record of the state of the property before you moved in it will be difficult for a landlord to prove you've caused any damage. Damage shouldn't extend to 'fair wear and tear' - this means that your landlord can't expect the property back in the same pristine condition they let it out in, if you've been living there for a while. You should try to ensure that you return it in a reasonable condition though, to avoid arguments over what fair wear and tear actually constitutes. It doesn't include spillages on the carpet, for example, but minor scratches on the wall will probably be ok.
It's reassuring to know that, in the eyes of the law, the deposit is yours, and it's up to the landlord to prove that the damage was done by you, which is why tenants are often successful in legal cases related to damage. One of the added complications with shared houses is what happens when a flatmate leaves and gets replaced by someone new. Before anyone leaves, you need to ensure that they've paid for any damage they caused, particularly if you're on a joint tenancy agreement where you're all equally liable. Most flat sharers usually agree between themselves to pay for any damage. If you're the new flatmate coming in, ask for a fresh inventory to be done before you sign a tenancy agreement, so you don't end up paying for any existing damage.
If you want to cover your own possessions or furniture you can get specialist shared contents insurance. Endsleigh is one of the few insurers who offer shared house contents insurance so it's worth getting a quote.
If you're baffled by tenancy agreements, check out our guide to tenancy agreements for more info.