Kevin Winchester shares his approach to avoiding deposit disputes

[caption id="attachment_886" align="alignright" width="200" caption="Kevin Winchester, MD of Winchester Lettings"][/caption] Since the law regarding deposits paid by tenants to landlords or lettings agents changed in April 2007, disputes over the deposit have been a common problem at the end of the tenancy. For example, the landlord will say the tenant has damaged something and the tenant will say it was like it when they moved in.

I can thankfully say that we’ve been one of the few agents that haven’t had this problem and below are some of the reasons why we never really get disputes.

First and foremost, we produce a very detailed check-in inventory and schedule of condition. The more time taken compiling one the better, with date and time stamped photos preferably as these can be used to show a very real portrayal of how the property was handed to a tenant. If the property is professionally cleaned beforehand keep the receipt and add a copy of it to the inventory. Both the landlord / agent / check-in clerk and tenant should mutually agree that the inventory is accurate. I’ve seen some pretty basic inventories in my time and it’s this type that is open to being ambiguous.

Don’t rely on a very tight tenancy agreement with clauses about cleaning etc. as these types of clauses can be deemed unfair – see the Office of Fair Trading website regarding unfair tenancy terms.

Carry out regular inspections on your properties; mark my words if you never make any inspections you may end up getting a shock when they leave. I’d suggest a visit once a quarter as a minimum - ideally on different dates and times – and take a camera to log any damage caused; it’s a great way of ensuring your tenants are looking after the property and if anything is of concern it can be nipped in the bud straight away.

If you have to provide maintenance to a rented property don’t ignore it as these problems will get worse over time and cause more damage to your property. Landlords have to comply with the statutory repair obligations in section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985, and if you get work done promptly then a tenant will be a lot more conscious that you like to keep things nice.

When you receive notice from your tenant that he/she intends to vacate, send them a letter prior to check-out advising them of your expectations and arrangements for key handover and final meter readings. We always add instructions for things like cleaning and gardening to this letter to highlight what we expect to be done prior to the meeting. We also send a copy of the check-in inventory for the tenant to refer to.

A couple of days before the check-out meeting make another inspection; this is your chance to assess any potential problems you could face at the exit meeting. Again take photos and document what you see.

The check-out meeting should be conducted using the agreed check-in inventory and it’s at this point that you’ll need to assess what is genuine wear and tear or what is actual damage - if there is any!

If you need advice on what is considered fair wear and tear then I suggest you buy 'A Guide to Best Practice for Inventory Providers’ which you can get from The Association of Professional Inventory Providers. If you’re not a member of a professional body it will cost you around £100.00 which is a worthwhile investment – we refer to it all the time!

If there is a dilapidation that needs to be addresses, try making an agreement with your tenant there and then and discuss the likely cost to rectify. For instance, if the property has not been cleaned but you had the property professionally cleaned prior to them moving in, refer to the receipt in the inventory as the cost is already there.

If you need to get quotes for any work then aim to get at least 3 so you can show due diligence in obtaining the best contractor. It’s also a requirement if you decide to use an ADR service.

Finally, always try to come to an amicable agreement regarding the repayment of a tenant’s deposit: remember the golden rule - ‘the burden of proof lies with the landlord'.

Kevin is Managing Director of Winchester Lettings Group – based in Bromley, Kent – a dedicated property lettings specialist that deals with every aspect of residential lettings and property rental management.

These opinions are those of the writer and not necessarily those of The Deposit Protection Service.