Most landlords will ask you to pay a deposit and they have a good reason for asking for this. A deposit is like insurance against something going wrong in the property. However, it's important to remember that this money is your money and the landlord should only keep it if you have caused damage in the property, you owe rent to the landlord or you have failed to keep to the tenancy agreement and this means that the landlord has lost money.
Reasons for keeping the deposit
Your landlord can make reasonable deductions from the deposit if:
- the property has been damaged
- the rent hasn't been paid
- items are missing
- the property needs to be cleaned
- you left before the end of your tenancy.
Even if your landlord has a valid reason for keeping some of your deposit, you should get the rest back. Your landlord cannot usually deduct money from your deposit for advertising or agency fees to re let the property. Your landlord can only do this if you left your tenancy early.
Your landlord may try to withhold some or all of your deposit for a different reason, such as having a noisy party in the property. Your landlord cannot do this. Landlords can only take money for any financial loss they have suffered.
Amounts that can be deducted
Your landlord can only keep the value of repairing or replacing any damaged item on a 'like for like basis. You should not be charged for a brand new item, unless the item you damaged was brand new. Tenancy agreements often state that carpets and curtains must be cleaned to a certain standard before the tenant moves out. This does not mean that they have to be as clean, or cleaner than when you moved in. You should never be expected to return the property in a better condition that that it had when you moved in. However, you need to have an inventory or photographs to prove what standard the property was in when you took over occupancy.
You are only required to put right any damage or clean any items soiled above normal wear and tear. Keep records and receipts for any work you do, or pay for, before you leave.
Wear and tear
Your landlord cannot keep your deposit for general wear and tear to the condition of the property. For example, if the carpet becomes worn, it's probably wear and tear, but putting a cigarette burn in the carpet would be regarded as damage. A useful guide to wear and tear is available in the Guide to Deposits, Disputes and Damages from TDS.
The amount of wear and tear that should be allowed depends on:
- the condition of the property when you moved in
- the length of time you lived there.
If you think you may have problems getting your deposit back from your landlord take photographs of the damage and insist that your landlord gives you an inventory. An inventory will protect you and the landlord from any disputes at the end of the tenancy. Keep records of any communication with your landlord in regard to damage or disrepair in the property.
Using deposit for last month's rent
Tenants have a responsibility to pay rent according to the terms of the tenancy agreement. Deciding not to pay your rent for the last month and insisting that your landlord use the deposit instead is a breach of your agreement and is not advised. You should only do this if your landlord has agreed, in writing, that this is okay and has no other reason to keep your deposit money. If your landlord agrees to use your deposit to cover the last month's rent you should make sure that any damage or disrepair you've caused in the property has been sorted out.
Getting the money back
If your deposit was paid after 1 April 2013 and protected with one of the 3 approved tenancy deposit companies in Northern Ireland, you'll need to follow that company's dispute procedure.
If your deposit was paid after 1 April 2013, but your landlord didn't protect the money with an approved scheme, you should report this to your local council.
If your deposit was paid before 1 April 2013 you'll need to write to your landlord asking for your money back. If you aren't able to settle the dispute, you'll have to go to Small Claims Court to get your money back.