The accidental landlord: can a young renter trust a landlord with her money?

Victoria Whitlock encounters a nervous young first-timer who thinks she might run off with her precious deposit. As if
So there I was, showing this young first-time renter around my flat and it was all going well — she seemed to like the place, which is a good start — but at the end, just after I’d explained that the rent must be paid a month in advance and I’d require a deposit for the equivalent of six weeks’ money — she looked me right in the eye and asked how she could be sure she could trust me.

That’s right. She wanted to know if she could trust me. She was expecting me to hand over keys to my property and she was reluctant to hand me less than one per cent of its value in security.

She explained that she’d be more comfortable entrusting the money to an agent but that’s just plain crazy — an agent could run off with her cash, whereas I’m unlikely to do that as I own the property she was standing in. Besides, I asked her, do I look like a crook? She didn’t answer.

She seemed to be most worried about the deposit and, although she didn’t say so directly, I knew she was thinking I might find some sneaky excuse to keep it.

To be fair, I can understand her reluctance to hand over a large sum of money to a stranger.

I’ll be able to run credit checks on her and get to see her bank statements, references from previous landlords and a letter from her employer confirming her income. What does she know about me?

However, there is a legal requirement for landlords to register tenants’ deposits with one of three government-approved schemes within 14 days of receipt, and tenants must be given written proof of how their deposit has been protected at the start of their tenancy.

I register with because it’s the only scheme that allows landlords to look after the deposit, which I prefer because having the money in my account means I won’t go overdrawn if tenants are late paying their rent. Plus, I don’t have to apply to a third party to release the funds at the end of the tenancy, so tenants get their cash back quicker. But no matter which of the three schemes is used, tenants have a right to appeal to independent arbitrators if they believe their landlord has deducted money unfairly. I’m told they often rule in tenants’ favour.

I think I reassured this woman that her money would be safe with me but I’d urge all tenants — especially those of you who are renting for the first time — to read through your lease so you know from the outset what your obligations are and you don’t accidentally forfeit your deposit by breaking the terms and conditions.

If the landlord or agent provides an inventory and check-in report, don’t just assume it’s accurate and chuck it in a drawer; read it thoroughly and tell the landlord of any inaccuracies.

Then make sure they provide you with an amended copy, which they have signed.

When YOU want to leave, make sure you give the proper amount of written notice, as specified in your lease. It’s good practice for landlords to send tenants letters spelling out what’s required of them on check-out at least a month before they leave. If you don’t get a letter, ask for one.

You shouldn’t lose any of your deposit for normal wear and tear, but if you’ve damaged or broken anything, it is a good idea to mend or replace it. Most deposit disputes arise over cleanliness, so it’s best to make sure you leave a place spotless — and I mean spotless — when you move out.

* Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London.

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