The accidental landlord: why you should play fair with tenants’ deposits

Landlords who deduct cash unfairly from tenants’ deposits risk a hefty penalty...
Stories of landlords unfairly pocketing a tenant’s deposit sadden me because they give us all a bad name. A tenant got in touch in a bit of a state because her previous landlord had told her by email, shortly after she had moved out, that he was intending to deduct an unspecified amount from her deposit for cleaning the living-room carpet.
The tenant admitted that she hadn’t cleaned the carpet when she left, but said that it was so badly worn that the landlord had told her not to bother as he was going to replace it anyway.
There was nothing in her contract to say that she was obliged to clean the carpet, she said, and she doubts it was cleaned after she left because a new tenant moved in the same day.
As the landlord didn’t bother to provide an inventory and check-in report, or a check-out report when the tenant left, he has no proof that she left the carpet any dirtier. Neither has he produced a receipt for the alleged clean.
By the sounds of it, the landlord is trying to get his tenants to cover the cost of replacing the carpet over a number of years by deducting a little bit here and there from their deposits. He’s using the fact that they have no evidence of the state of the property when they leave to scare them into paying.
Obviously, this isn’t on. Landlords have to accept a certain amount of wear and tear and if a carpet or any other item is well used, they shouldn’t expect a tenant to pay for a little extra deterioration.
Every so often, carpets and other items will need replacing. That’s one of the costs of letting a property and it should come out of the landlord’s pocket, not the tenant’s. Landlords can deduct the cost of replacing furnishings from their tax bill.
An alternative explanation is that this particular landlord changed his mind about replacing the carpet when he inspected the property after the tenant left, so he had to arrange for it to be cleaned himself before the next tenant moved in.
However, it’s not fair to charge a tenant for a professional clean unless you’ve already given them the option of sorting it out themselves. This landlord ought to have inspected the carpet before telling the tenant not to bother cleaning it.
I once made a similar mistake and agreed with a couple that there was no need to clean the carpets in my house since they had only lived there for six months. When they left I discovered a large stain on the nursery carpet.
I was kicking myself because I couldn’t very well change my mind at that point and ask them to pay for the clean — it wouldn’t have been fair.

This landlord is also refusing to give the tenant details of the deposit protection scheme he used to register her deposit, no doubt to try to prevent her from complaining to the scheme’s arbitrators, but he is playing a very dangerous game.
By failing to give the tenant information about the tenancy deposit scheme within 30 days of receiving the money, the landlord hasn’t correctly protected the deposit, which means the tenant is entitled to claim compensation of up to three times its value.
I think he is relying on the tenant’s naïvety to get away with helping himself to some of her deposit, but by trying to pocket a few quid, he could end up paying her more than the cost of a new carpet in compensation.
  • Victoria Whitlock lets three properties in south London. To contact Victoria with your ideas and views, tweet @vicwhitlock

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