The accidental landlord: tenant's deposits

Victoria Whitlock doesn't want to be mean, but feels sometimes her tenants really do deserve to forfeit their deposits
Deducting money from a tenant's deposit is something I am reluctant to do. It seems petty to charge them for minor breakages and damage, and I never like to end a tenancy on a sour note. But occasionally they're so thoughtless — reckless even — that I do make them pay.

Take Claudia. That's not her real name, but it suits her so let's stick with it. When she moved out, one of the kitchen chairs was missing, there was a cigarette burn on a dressing table, a broken drawer in the kitchen, ink splashes on the bedroom carpet and a few small tears to the wallpaper.

Not a lot of damage, I admit, but all of these could have been avoided with a bit of care. Also, she never bothered to mention any of it. If she had, if she'd apologised, I probably wouldn't have charged her a penny but the fact that she waltzed off without saying anything sort of got up my nose.

I decided to deduct some of the cost of the damage from her deposit, but deciding how much was difficult. If you hire a third party to do a check-out report they should make a note of any damage and advise on whether it's yours or the tenant's responsibility, but this is only a guide and they don't advise how much you should charge the tenant.

You can't expect tenants to pay the full cost of replacing an item, you have to consider its age and existing wear and tear when working out how much to charge them, but what one person might consider a reasonable sum someone else might think excessive. If a tenant thinks you've deducted too much from their deposit, they have a right to complain to whichever scheme you've used to protect it.

Normally I can't be bothered to charge a few quid here and there, but on this occasion I asked her for half the cost of the chest of drawers, £20 for a new chair and presented her with half the bill for cleaning the ink from the carpet.

She paid for the chest of drawers and the carpet cleaning, but she said the chair had broken when she sat on it. I thought this unlikely but didn't want to argue, so I thought to hell with it and let her off. I wouldn't want to get into a dispute over a deposit for the sake of twenty quid.

The only other time I've deducted money from a deposit for damage was when a tenant allowed her son to kick holes in the garden fence with his football. One hole I would have been prepared to overlook, but given that all four panels had to be replaced I thought the tenant should at least contribute to the cost of a new fence, especially as she only lived in the property for six months. We agreed to go 50/50.

You have to consider the length of a tenancy before deciding whether any damage could reasonably be described as "fair wear and tear". One of my tenants recently left a flat looking considerably shabbier than when he moved in.

It wasn't properly cleaned, all the drawers in the freezer were cracked and there were small chunks of plaster missing where he'd hung pictures — he'd totally ignored the bit in the tenancy agreement which said he needed to "make good" any damage to the walls.

However, he'd lived in the property for four years, so I think that most of the damage could have been described as fair wear and tear: this tenant got all his deposit back.

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