Advice: I’m in dispute with my landlord about my deposit. What are my rights?

Pat Hutchinson MBE.
Pat Hutchinson MBE.

By Pat Hutchinson MBE, District Manager, Newtownabbey CAB

Q: I have been a private tenant for two years. I paid £500 deposit and the landlord won’t give me my deposit back. He said the property needs to be painted and cleaned up for the new tenant. There is no damage to the property. What are my rights?

A: When a tenancy ends, a security deposit should be returned to the tenant. A short period will probably elapse before repayment to enable the landlord or agency to inspect the property.

It is reasonable for the landlord to take money off the deposit to cover, for example, damage to the property or furniture, missing items that were listed on the inventory. However, the landlord should not deduct money from the deposit to cover damage that could be regarded as fair wear and tear.

Over a period of time, most household furniture and contents deteriorate as a result of normal use, for example, floor coverings will become worn. This is often known as ‘wear and tear’, and the tenant would not be responsible for replacing such affected items. As a general rule, ‘wear and tear’ takes place over a long period of time through normal usage, whereas damage is the consequence of specific accidental or unreasonable actions.

Disputes over the deposit - If the deposit was paid on or after 1 April 2013, the landlord should have used a tenancy deposit protection scheme to safeguard the deposit. They should also have given the tenant information about the deposit and the scheme protecting their deposit. If there is a dispute about how much of the deposit the tenant should be repaid at the end of the tenancy, the scheme will hold the disputed amount until the dispute is resolved.

The landlord and tenant can use an alternative dispute resolution service, which is provided by the scheme. Alternatively, the tenant can take court action.

If a tenant is having problems getting the deposit back and discovers that the landlord did not use a scheme to protect it, they may have to take court action to get the deposit back.

If the tenant believes that they could be in dispute with the landlord about the return of the deposit, they might decide to withhold the disputed amount from the last rent payment. Although they would then be able to negotiate from a position of strength over what is a reasonable amount to pay for any damage, they would, technically, be in breach of contract. In response, the landlord may sue for the rent owing or attempt to keep some of the tenant’s possessions.

• Get free, confidential and independent advice from your nearest Citizens Advice Bureau, log on to www.adviceguide.org.uk or call at Newtownabbey Citizens Advice Bureau, Dunanney Centre, Rathcoole. Telephone advice is available 9am - 4pm each day on 028 9085 2271 (lunch 1pm - 1:30pm). Email advice is available by contacting enewtownabbey@citizensadvice.co.uk