About 2.34 million tenants in the UK – about 16% of all renters – have had part or all of their rental deposits unfairly withheld by letting agents and landlords, it is claimed. The problem seems to be particularly prevalent among younger tenants, who may not know their rights or feel less inclined to take action. Research by student lettings website SPCE is making the claim following its study of 2,000 tenants.

Its findings reveal that 30% of students and one in four younger tenants have not had their full deposit returned. They claim the deductions were unfairly made, while only 18% have been successful when they challenged any attempts by landlords or agents to hold on to part of the deposit. Interestingly, many tenants have also lost some of their deposit because of damage caused by their fellow housemates or through problems which existed before they moved in. It is presumed these did not come to light when they moved in and the inventory was completed. Again, this shows the need for thorough check-in and check-out reports, as well as inventories. Landlords could go through these with their tenants to make sure that both parties are satisfied before the keys to the property are handed over. This research by SPCE follows the revelation that landlords and agents kept £1 billion in deposits, according to Hillarys, a rental property interiors company.

SPCE co-founder and CEO, Leon Ifayemi, said the financial demands that tenants face when looking for rental properties have never been greater, particularly with rents at such high levels. He said that more should be done to make tenants aware of the processes in place to challenge attempts to keep part of a deposit unfairly. Tenants have a legal right to have their deposit returned if there are no discrepancies. It seems as though younger tenants, including students, need to be more aware of their rights as tenants, and need greater support.

A landlord or agent can only deduct part of the deposit if the tenant agrees to it, if a dispute has been resolved, or there is a court order. Common reasons for deductions are unpaid rent or bills, stolen or missing property, damage to property or its contents, indirect damage because of negligence or lack of maintenance, or poor upkeep and cleaning. The inventory and check-in reports are crucial documents to help with any deposit disputes. It records the state of a property when the tenant moved in and, again, when the tenant moves out. A thorough report will show how the condition of a property has changed and will show any damage or missing items. The reports can include photographs so that the facts cannot be disputed.

If there is still a dispute, then you can use the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) provided by the tenancy deposit scheme. This will be much quicker than taking matters through the county court, and an independent adjudicator will review the case. The ADR route is only open for deposits which are held in a government-authorised scheme.

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