The accidental landlord

Victoria Whitlock stands firm when her landlord keeps the deposit
This week I made a temporary switch from being an owner/occupier-cum-landlord to being a tenant and I found that having the shoe firmly wedged on the other foot was more than a little discomforting.

Although my partner and I own three properties that we let, we have, for reasons I won’t bore you with, been renting a small, slightly shabby flat for the past few months. A week after we moved out the managing agency told us it was deducting almost £450 from our deposit for damage.

The agency charged us £20 for every chip to the woodwork, £15 for every scuff on the walls and £35 for every stain on the carpet. But if the agency had bothered to compare the check-out report with the original inventory, it would have discovered that every chip, scuff and stain was there before we moved in.

Not only that, but the agent was charging us for a grill pan that was never supplied, strip lights in the kitchen that had never worked, a wobbly loo seat that had always wobbled, missing tap disks that were missing from the outset……the list went on and on.

The charge that most annoyed me was £75 for ‘additional cleaning’ even though we had paid professionals to scrub, polish and shampoo the place before we left. The letting agency claimed the clean wasn’t up to scratch but refused to tell us exactly what our cleaners had missed. The fact that the agency was unable to show us a receipt for their clean, in spite of repeatedly being asked to do so, left me deeply suspicious.

Unfortunately I received the email with the list of charges on my BlackBerry while waiting to pick up my children from school so several poor parents in the playground had to duck for cover while I ranted down the phone at the agent.

Two days later the agent emailed over a revised list of deductions, which still totted up to almost £200 for ‘wear and tear’ to a property which, I would argue, was worn and torn to begin with. Only when I threatened to complain to the Tenancy Dispute Service did the agency back down and return my deposit. “The landlord doesn’t want to get the Dispute Service involved,” the agent told me. I bet he didn’t.

Managing agents and landlords like this give all landlords a bad name. When my tenants move out they always leave behind more stains on carpets, more chipped paint and more scuffs than they move in and I often have to pay for a few extra hours of cleaning to get the places ready to re-let, but if they have been good tenants - and most of them are - I don’t deduct a penny from their deposit.

A managing agent tried to charge a friend of mine £150 for a garden gate that was stolen during her tenancy, even though the gate was never fixed to the garden wall and had merely been left propped up in the drive; another friend was charged £100 for weeds on the garden path. When they both threatened to complain to the Tenancy Dispute Service their landlords backed down.

My advice to tenants is to go through an inventory with a fine toothcomb and highlight any faults, make sure you leave a place as you found it and if the lease says it must be professionally cleaned polish the place until it sparkles, but don’t be bullied by landlords or letting agents who seem to treat the deposit as extra rent. Deposits must be registered too, so find out where yours is logged and threaten to complain.

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