When everyone has a home

Housing advice for Northern Ireland

Getting your deposit back

This page only contains basic information and is the English version of our translated content.  For more detailed advice and information on housing in Northern Ireland in the English language, use the menu options on the homepage. 

Most tenants pay a security deposit when they move into a property. When you move out, you are entitled to have this returned to you. The deposit should be returned in full unless you have caused damage to the property or the landlord has suffered a genuine financial loss as a result of something you, or your guests, have done or have failed to do.

If you gave a deposit to your landlord or agent on or after 1 April 2013 it should have been registered in a tenancy deposit protection scheme.  

When do I get my deposit back?

You should normally get your deposit back within 28 days of your tenancy ending. Your landlord should have given you an inventory when you moved into the property. The inventory lists any item of furniture or equipment the landlord provided with the accommodation. If you didn't get an inventory at the start of your tenancy it can be difficult to prove that the landlord is keeping your deposit unfairly.

Before you leave the accommodation arrange for the landlord to inspect the property. Your landlord can check the contents of the accommodation against the inventory. If there is no damage and your rent is up to date your landlord should give back your deposit. It can take a few days. Sometimes landlords refuse to refund your money until they get proof that you have paid all the bills.

If you rented through an agent they may hold your deposit. If they refuse to return your deposit, or the company stops trading and disappears with your money, you should contact your landlord. Your landlord is responsible for returning your deposit even if you originally paid it to an agency.

When can my landlord keep my 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. This is illegal. Landlords can only take money for any financial loss they have suffered.

How much money can my landlord take?

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.

What is normal 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.

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 complete an inventory as early as possible in your tenancy.  Keep records of any communication with your landlord in regard to damage or disrepair in the property.

Can my landlord keep my deposit for the last month's rent?

Your landlord is entitled to deduct any unpaid rent from your deposit. If you owe more than the value of your deposit your landlord may take court action to get the extra money back.

You may decide to withhold the last month's rent in case the landlord refuses to return the deposit.  This is not advisable. You are legally liable to pay rent and your landlord could take you to court to recover any unpaid rent which you owe.

If you intend to use your deposit to cover your last month's rent make sure your landlord is in agreement and would not have had any reason to keep your deposit. Before withholding rent:

  • repair any damage that occurred,
  • keep records to show the condition of the property when you leave,
  • keep receipts for anything you paid for, such as cleaning,
  • keep the money in a separate bank account in case your landlord claims it back.

I don't agree that my landlord should keep my deposit

If you are having problems getting your landlord to return your deposit at the end of your tenancy, negotiate with your landlord.

Keep paperwork

Keep all paperwork you have relating to your deposit and any evidence of the condition of the property when you moved in. This can be helpful if you have to negotiate with your landlord later. Useful items include:

  • the inventory,
  • photographs you took when you moved in,
  • receipts for items you replaced,
  • receipts for repairs you paid for,
  • receipts for rent payments,
  • letters to and from your landlord (for instance about repairs or replacement of items).

These will also be useful if you need to go to court to get your deposit back.

Write to your landlord

If your landlord refuses to give back your deposit, write and ask for it to be returned to you. Your letter should ask:

  • the reason the landlord is holding the deposit,
  • the costs deducted from your deposit.

Give your landlord a deadline to reply (such as within two weeks). Keep a copy of the letter in case you need to refer to it later.

Your landlord may reply with a list of the deductions from your deposit rather than returning it. Look at these and see whether you agree with them. If you don't agree with some or all of the costs you will need to write again. If your landlord doesn't respond to your letter at all, write again once the deadline has passed.

A second letter to the landlord

You will need to write to your landlord again if:

  • your landlord did not reply to your first letter,
  • you disagree with any of the costs your landlord is deducting from your deposit,
  • you agree with some, but not all of the costs your landlord is deducting from your deposit.

Your letter should state:

  • which costs (if any) you think are unreasonable,
  • the reasons why you think the costs are unreasonable,
  • the amount of money you think should be returned to you.

Give your landlord a deadline for a second reply. State that you will take your landlord to court if you don't get your deposit back by this date.

Taking your landlord to court

If you don't get a reply or your landlord still won't give you the money, you can try to get your money back by taking your landlord to court. The court can order your landlord to give you back your deposit. You may not even have to go to a court hearing if your landlord pays before the hearing takes place.

The small claims court deals with disputes about deposits. The court procedure is straightforward and you don't need a solicitor to take an action in the small claims court. You have to pay a certain amount of money to the court to start your claim. You can claim this back from your landlord if you win. If you don't win you will lose this money.

If you win, the court will order your landlord to pay your claim. If your landlord doesn't pay up, the court will advise you on any further action it may be possible to take. If you lose the case there may be nothing more you can do to get your deposit back. Your court fees will not be refunded.

Tenancy Deposit Scheme

If you paid your deposit on or after 1 April 2013 your landlord will have been legally required to register this deposit with an authorised tenancy deposit protection scheme. If there is a dispute over how much of your money you should get back the scheme may recommend that you use its Dispute Resolution Service. 

You do not have to use the dispute resolution service.  You can go to Small Claims Court instead if you'd prefer but the judge at court may want to know why you refused to engage with the dispute service.  Talk to an adviser before making a decision if you're unsure what to do. 

Need help solving a problem?

You should always get advice if you are having problems with a tenancy. You can contact Housing Rights for advice on your rights. Housing Rights can also provide a mediation service if you and your landlord are having problems and need an independent person to help resolve these.