SAFEagent Awareness Week – we’re fully behind it

From the 6-10 June, letting agents and organisations from across the UK will come together in support of SAFEagent Awareness Week. SAFEagent was set up “by the industry, for the industry” to protect landlords’ and tenants’ money. As a company that is committed to protecting tenants’ deposits, we’re fully behind it.

Throughout the week, SAFEagent will highlight the importance of choosing a letting agent that is part of a Client Money Protection (CMP) Scheme. In an industry that’s estimated to be worth £2.7 billion, it’s vital that our customers’ deposits are safe. There are still too many cases where tenants are losing money to rogue agents. 

John Midgley, Chair of the SAFEagent Steering Group, says: 

“Choosing a letting agent without CMP in place is a massive risk for both landlords and tenants. Who can afford to lose thousands of pounds? We might finally be getting closer to mandatory CMP but we aren’t there yet. It is so important that consumers understand that they need to choose their agent wisely by asking if they are part of a CMP scheme before entering into a contract with them.”

While it’s not mandatory to protect client money in a CMP, it is now firmly on the Government’s agenda. It’s definitely a step in the right direction and one that is supported by many organisations in the housing industry, including us. 

We’d like to encourage all letting agents to become members of SAFEagent. The blue and black SAFEagent ‘mark’ gives tenants and landlords the peace of mind that their money is protected.

Don't lose your deposit on bonfire night

We all know how fun bonfire night can be, and it’s always tempting to outdo the neighbours with your display, but it does have its risks. There are over 1,000 firework-related injuries* every year, and also damage caused to gardens and properties. If you’re a tenant in rented accommodation, it can prove costly and could lead to you losing your deposit if you’re liable for any damage caused to the property.

When planning your evening, here are just a few facts for you to bear in mind… 

  • Fireworks can travel at speeds up to 150mph*
  • Three sparklers burn together at the same heat as that of a blowtorch*
  • The majority of firework-related injuries happen at family or private parties*

We want you to have a great time, but more importantly we want you, your family and friends, and your homes to be safe, so here are some safety tips to help avoid bonfire night going with the wrong sort of bang! 

1)    Make sure you only buy fireworks from a reputable retailer
2)    If you’re having a bonfire, make sure it’s at least 18m (60ft) away from buildings trees, hedges, fences or sheds
3)    To avoid your fireworks ‘firing’ in the wrong direction, put them in a bucket of soft earth and in a suitable location
4)    Keep a close eye on the weather. Any sudden changes in wind direction could change the direction of aerial fireworks
5)    Don’t ever light fireworks in or near your property
6)    Never throw any used fireworks on a bonfire
7)    Never use flammable liquids like paraffin or petrol to get a bonfire going. This can cause an uncontrollable spread of fire or even an explosion.

Of course, the best way of protecting your deposit on bonfire night is to leave it to the professionals and go to a public display.

Have fun, be safe and keep your home in one piece.  

The DPS Team

*Source: NHS choices  

Students, 12 tips to safeguard your deposit and have a happy tenancy

Students, it’s that time again – your new academic year. We hope by now you’ve sorted your accommodation and are looking forward to moving in, if you haven’t done so already.

Here at DPS HQ we’ve been recalling our student days, remembering how we made it through the long hours of study with the help of the great friends we made and some epic house parties…but we also haven’t forgotten the weird unidentifiable objects in the fridge, the post-party disaster zones, and, of course, always being skint!

There’s no good time to lose money but it’s worse when you have hardly any in the first place, which is why we were sad when our research into deposit repayments suggested students are twice as likely to lose part/all of their deposit than other renters.

Common sense should tell you that you’ll need to keep your house clean and in good order to get your money back, but there’s actually a lot more to keeping your deposit than you might think.

To help you, we’ve put together these 12 tips:


1.    First and foremost, make sure your landlord protects your deposit with an authorised deposit protection scheme.

2.    When you move in, agree an inventory with your housemates and return it to your landlord. Take date stamped photographs of any damage or problems that you record on the inventory as evidence.

3.    If you don’t know your landlord, check their name against your university or student union’s list of approved landlords.

4.    Remember, every tenancy agreement can be different: make sure you read yours and understand your obligations.

5.    Record all communication with your landlord in writing, particularly any agreements you make. Follow up phone calls with an email confirming what was agreed. 

6.    Keep copies of any documents, receipts and emails relating to your tenancy.

7.    Report any defects with the property promptly and in writing, including the cause of the problem where you can.

8.    Take photos of problems that arise in the property, and make sure they are date stamped.

9.    Remember your obligations as tenants are what are known legally as “joint and several”: if an individual tenant does not accept personal responsibility when something goes wrong, such as a breakage, then it becomes the joint responsibility of all the tenants.

10.    Keep in mind that with most tenancy agreements you’ll be liable for damage to communal areas as well as your own room.

11.    Remember in most cases you’ll be liable right until the end of the tenancy, even if you move out before your housemates. You could remain jointly responsible for any cleaning or repairs to the property, even if the damage happened after you left.

12.    Attend the checkout inspection at the end of your tenancy and take your own photographs if necessary.

It may seem like a long time before you’ll need to think about moving out, but now’s the right time to be thinking about your deposit, so you don’t lose out. Now you’re in the know, why not do a good deed and share these tips with your housemates and friends? 

And don’t forget to watch our short video to see some amusing ways you could lose your deposit.

Beware of fraudsters targeting tenants

Con artists and fraudsters are constantly changing their tactics. This is why we continually monitor the use of our service, as from time to time tenants can sadly find themselves a target.

We’ve identified a new scam which is targeting tenants using websites such as spareroom.com.

Here’s how it works:

  • The fraudster advertises a fake property or room – often at quite a cheap rental rate to attract interest
  • To secure the rental, prospective tenants are told to make a deposit payment to The DPS using a set of bank account details that actually belong to the fraudster

How to spot the scam

First and foremost, we will never ask you to make a payment directly to us.

You should only ever make a deposit payment to the letting agency or landlord, and we advise that wherever possible you inspect the property/room in person before doing so. Always obtain a receipt.

In many scams, communication is conducted via email. Tell-tale signs will be bad spelling or grammar and overly informal language (e.g. “finish the deal”). They may also try to make you feel under pressure to do what they want, and will sometimes ask you to confirm information that they should already have.

Protecting your money

Fortunately fraudulent landlords and letting agents are a minority in our industry. The majority are genuine and treat their tenants fairly. For further peace of mind, it’s also worth checking if your landlord or agent is a member of an industry body such as the Residential Landlords Association (RLA), the National Landlords Scheme (NLA). the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA), or the National Approved Letting Scheme (NALS). Membership of these schemes indicates that a letting agent/landlord is genuine and committed to improving standards in the private rented sector. If you’re dealing with a letting agent, you can also check if they operate a client money protection scheme. The Safe Agent mark is an industry accreditation that shows an agent uses client money protection, which can also give you additional reassurance about the organization or person you’re dealing with.

Staying safe online

Here’s a few other tips:

  • Keep your passwords secret
  • Where possible, use passwords that include numbers, capital letters, lower case letters and symbols to make them more secure
  • Don’t write passwords down or save them in your phone
  • Take a good look at emails before clicking on any link – if it looks fake, or the offer sounds too good to be true, then think twice

You can also watch our video on ‘phishing’ to help you learn more about staying safe from fraudsters using email as a way to gain your personal information.

If you’re still not sure if an email has come from us, please forward it to us here and we’ll let you know if it’s genuine.

Changes to tenancy deposit protection from 6th April 2012

The Localism Act achieved Royal Assent in December and the DCLG has now confirmed that changes to tenancy deposit protection, introduced by the Bill, will come into force on 6th April. Tenancies already in place on this date will have 30 days in which to comply with the new rules. Here’s a recap of the changes due to take effect as a result of The Localism Act:

30 days – not 14 – to protect deposits

From 6th April, landlords and letting agents have 30 days from receipt of deposit in which to protect it.

The re-wording and extension of this timeline also closes the loophole with regards to deposit protection deadlines that was highlighted by cases such as Universal Estates v Tiensia in 2010.

Now, if a deposit is not protected within 30 days, the tenant can take their landlord or letting agent to court – there is no other way to interpret this legislation.

Prescribed Information

The requirement for providing the Prescribed Information to the tenant will also be changed to within 30 days of receipt of the deposit.

Whilst we provide a template for Prescribed Information on our website, it is the landlord or letting agent’s responsibility to ensure it is issued at the correct times so it’s vital they review the Localism Act and understand when Prescribed Information should be issued.

No retrospective protection after the tenancy ends

If a tenant makes an application to the county court once the tenancy has ended, the landlord will no longer be able to retrospectively protect the deposit in order to comply with the Act. If the tenancy has ended, the only option is for the landlord to repay the deposit, or part thereof, to the tenant.

Revised sanctions for non protection

The changes give the courts discretion to award not less than the amount of the deposit and not more than three times that amount depending on the individual case. For example, a repeat offender may find themselves with a larger fine compared to a landlord who has simply forgotten to protect as  an administrative oversight.

Section 21 notices

Further clarity to Section 215 of the Housing Act highlights that a section 21 notice may not be given where a deposit has not been protected within the 30 day period. However, there are exceptions to this which you can view in The Localism Act.

For a comprehensive explanation of each change, read our blog from September 2011 – ‘Tenancy deposit protection amendments proposed by the Localism Bill’. You can also read the The Localism Act (section 184) and view the amendments against the Housing Act 2004 (sections 213 – 215 are relevant).

We’ve returned 1 million tenancy deposits!

On Tuesday we paid back our one millionth deposit to Yvonne Stenning, a tenant from South East England! It’s great to have hit the million milestone just before our 5th birthday on April 7th and to mark the occasion, we’ve sent a bottle of champagne to the tenant and letting agent.

When we called Yvonne to let her know she said: “It’s a lovely gesture particularly as it was such an easy process; The DPS did all the hard work!” 

Her letting agent Wendy Carman from Molica Franklin, was pleased too: "We protect all our deposits with The DPS and it was a big surprise to be called and offered a bottle of bubbly! I'm thrilled it was Yvonne's deposit, she’s a wonderful tenant."

Since 2007, when The DPS started, we have returned deposits worth over £750 million to tenants, landlords and letting agents.

As the only approved custodial tenancy deposit protection scheme in England and Wales, we’ve focused on honing our unique repayment system to ensure that deposits are repaid as fast as possible. As soon as we have agreement from both parties, we can repay deposits within 2 days so that tenants can quickly use their cash for future lettings, for instance.

We re-pay an average of 950 deposits a day to recipients across England and Wales and work really hard to make things as simple as possible for everyone involved. We’re aiming to launch in Scotland too in the very near future, so landlords and tenants there will be able to take advantage of the same tried and tested system.

We currently protect over 840,000 deposits worth £660 million on behalf of tenants, landlords and letting agents. Our operating company, Computershare, is awaiting approval to launch The Letting Protection Service Scotland (The LPS Scotland) – a service that will provide similar protection to tenants, landlords and letting agents in Scotland.

The experience we’ve gained during five years of protecting and repaying deposits in England and Wales is of huge benefit to the Scottish market and we’re spending a considerable amount of time in the region talking to landlords and agents who have to start making changes to the way they treat tenancy deposits.

Tenancy deposit protection legislation is expected in Scotland towards the end of April 2012. For more information, visit http://www.lettingprotectionscotland.com/.

ADR Insight: DIY SOS - tenants painted my living room bright pink!

As a general rule, responsibility for decorating a property lies with the landlord. However, we see a number of disputes each year where the parties agreed to the tenant redecorating but the precise details were not clearly defined. Landlords who find that their calm and tranquil magnolia property has been returned in fuchsia pink, turquoise blue or pillar box red can be understandably shocked at the changes to the property. Here are a few of the statements we often see in evidence and the potential flaws with each of them:

1    Landlord says: ‘I told them it was ok if they used a neutral colour’

[caption id="attachment_964" align="alignright" width="300" caption="'You said yes, as long as it's neutral...yellow is neutral isn't it?'"][/caption]

What is a neutral colour? Most would assume magnolia, cream or beige but the landlord’s definition may be very different to the tenant’s, so it is helpful to be clear about what constitutes a ‘neutral’ colour.

2    Landlord says: ‘I told them they could use whatever colours they liked as long as they repainted it all back to original colours at the end of the tenancy’

If the details of the decorating agreement are not clearly set out in writing, it is difficult for the landlord to prove that such a discussion took place. Therefore it is unlikely to result in the claim being awarded in the landlord’s favour.

3    Landlord says: ‘I didn’t give permission’ but tenant says: ‘I told them I was going to redecorate and they didn’t object’ or alternatively ‘the landlord has been round many times since I redecorated and said how lovely it looked’.

Again, the precise details of any permitted decoration needs to be clearly defined.  Depending on what is said in the Tenancy Agreement, the tenant’s argument is unlikely to be persuasive in this instance, particularly if the agreement requires written permission from the landlord.

4    Landlord says: ‘I gave tenant permission to redecorate but they botched it and it looks awful’.

You may wish to include a requirement in the Tenancy Agreement that if the tenant is going to redecorate, the landlord is entitled to inspect the results. If they’re not satisfied the tenant can be asked to do it again, or the landlord can complete the works at the tenant’s cost. Alternatively, the landlord could insist that the tenant uses a professional to decorate the property.

Often Tenancy Agreements will state that the tenant can redecorate if the landlord’s written permission is given. Our adjudicators often see letters from landlords which simply allow the tenant to redecorate without stating the specific parameters. It is helpful to fully define them, so for instance an agreement may be drafted to confirm:

›       What rooms are being decorated

›       What colours are being used – this could include reference to colour charts or even sample wallpaper

›       Who is doing the redecoration – the tenant, or a professional decorator

Either way you should have something in writing, which is dated and signed by both the tenant and the landlord, that sets out the rules for redecoration so that the details agreed at the time can be absolutely proven.

Whilst disputes over redecorating are most common, if there is any agreement for other works to be carried out to the property by the tenant, such as alterations to the garden or carpets, or if for example appliances are being replaced, it is always prudent to document these and ensure that the terms are agreed by both parties at the time.

Our ‘Guide to tenancy deposits, disputes and damages’ provides comprehensive information and advice about deposit disputes – you can download the guide from our website.

The DPS – a year in review

Undoubtedly the hottest topic on the property pages has been the rapid rise of the private rented sector. Monthly rental values soared and tenant population increased as the housing market struggled. Letting agent Haart released figures in December 2011 that showed a 10% increase in the number of people registering with them over the last 3 months – a trend they expect to continue this year.

Activity at The DPS over the last year has also increased in line with this report. Since April 2011, monthly registrations and deposit submissions have been higher than last year. Here are some of the highlights:

›  Nearly 1 million deposits repaid since scheme launch in 2007

›  825,000 deposits worth £644 million currently protected on behalf of 166 organisations, 280,000 landlords and letting agents.

›  191,000 enquiries through Emma, our online virtual agent

›  69,000 text message reminders sent

›  50,000 deposit submissions in September – always a peak month but this was 4,000 more than 2010.

›  6,000 new landlords in August - 500 more than in 2010

›  600 adjudications completed in November – twice as many as last year but you’d expect this rise as the scheme matures

›  450 new letting agents in October

The DPS has the infrastructure and capability to easily deal with any rise in registrations, submissions, repayments and adjudications. With a new look website launched late last year and several new features that make deposit protection even easier for those landlords and tenants who are new to deposit protection, we’re more than ready to cope with further increases expected in 2012.

A landlord’s work is never done…

Landlords and letting agents never rest, particularly when there is so much demand on rental property and it seems several didn’t even take a break over Christmas and New Year.

›  We registered 5 new landlords on Christmas Day and a further 59 on New Year’s Eve.

›  15 deposits were submitted on Christmas Day and another 187 on New Year’s Eve

›  The latest deposit submitted on Christmas Day was at 23:09. On New Year’s eve, the last deposit was registered just in   time for fireworks and champagne at 23:41!

The year ahead…

We’re all very excited about taking deposit protection to Scotland this year and are currently awaiting approval from the Scottish Government to launch The LPS Scotland. We’re expecting this to be in April this year, so if you have rental properties in Scotland, get familiar with the requirements on the website and blog.

On behalf of everyone at The DPS, I wish you all the best for 2012.

ADR Insight – don’t neglect your rental property over the Christmas period

As you know, you can never fully switch off from your responsibilities as a landlord, whether that be taking on new tenants, completing deposit disputes or making sure your property is kept in good condition over the festive period. There are a couple of things you can do to make sure your properties are in order, ensuring the safety of your tenants and hopefully a stress-free Christmas for you.

Are your tenants leaving the property over Christmas?

Our adjudication team received a lot of claims earlier this year following the severe winter weather in 2010. The majority were the result of burst or frozen pipes at student houses where tenants had left the property to spend Christmas with their families.

In the worst cases seen by our adjudicators over the years burst pipes have resulted in damage to carpets and flooring, kitchen appliances needing replacing and claims for lost rent whilst damage is repaired. Some landlords have faced repair bills of several thousand pounds.

To avoid this stress and expense, you should contact your tenants if they’re going away to ensure that the proper measures are taken to avoid this kind of damage.

The AIIC has issued some guidance on keeping your properties safe during cold spells:

›   Insulation – Ensure water pipes and tanks are lagged and insulated.

›   Heating – Advise tenants to keep the heating on, at a min. of 15 degrees, if they’re going away. It’s also sensible to open the loft hatch allowing air to circulate and prevent pipes freezing and bursting in the loft.

›   Boiler servicing – Ensure that gas and oil boilers are serviced every 12 months.

›   If the property is going to be empty for an extended period it’s sensible to have the heating/water system drained by a qualified contractor.

›   Chimneys – Ensure they are swept once a year by a professional chimney sweep, ideally before the tenant starts using the fire.

›   Smoke Alarms – Check that smoke alarms are fitted in all properties and that they are all working properly. Replace batteries as necessary.

Be aware of evidence submission deadlines

If you’ve currently got a deposit in dispute then don’t forget to stick to your evidence submission deadlines. The DPS is not extending any deadlines but is making allowances for bank holidays so if you’re concerned about a deadline then get in touch so we can see what we can do for you.

Our Christmas opening hours

If you’re taking on new tenants over Christmas or the New Year you can submit deposits at any time online. If you need assistance our contact centre opening hours are:

Friday 23rd - 8:30am – 4:00pm

Monday 26th - CLOSED 

Tuesday 27th - CLOSED 

Wednesday 28th – 8:30am – 5:30pm

Thursday 29th – 8:30am – 5:30pm

Friday 30th - 8:30am – 5:00pm

Monday 2nd - CLOSED

You can also get in touch via online form or why not ask Emma, our online customer service agent.

Finally, a very merry Christmas to you from everyone at The DPS!

The DPS makes tenancy deposit protection even easier

We’ve made protecting and returning tenants’ deposits even easier with our latest service enhancements. As well as a new look website which launched successfully this week, we’ve introduced:

› Repayment ID reminders via text message › ‘Organisation’ as a new registration category › Incremental deposit payments › Simplified direct transfer process › Ability to cancel joint repayment claims started in error

The enhancements are part of our ongoing commitment to simplify deposit protection and, more crucially, speed up the repayment process.

Whilst repaying deposits only takes two days once we have agreement from both parties, the biggest barrier is misplaced repayment IDs by both tenants and landlords each month – without these, they cannot start or complete the deposit repayment process.

The latest addition to our SMS service is the fastest way for tenants to receive repayment ID reminders. Tenants simply text us and ask for a repayment ID reminder. We’ll then instantly issue the reminder via return text message. Tenants can only use this service if their mobile number is registered, so it’s important that landlords register the correct mobile number for their tenants.

The enhancements also coincide with our application for a licence to take our considerable experience as the UK's only custodial tenancy deposit protection scheme and apply it to Scotland.

Here’s a little more information on each of the enhancements launched this weekend:

SMS repayment ID reminders Tenants can text The DPS requesting a reminder of their repayment ID. The DPS will instantly issue the reminder via return text message so it is important that landlords ensure a correct mobile phone number is registered for their tenants.

New registration type Organisations such as NHS Trusts, companies or Universities can register deposits as an ‘organisation’ rather than ‘letting agent’ or ‘landlord’, if they do not fall into either of these two categories.

Incremental deposit payments Landlords, letting agents and other organisations can now pay deposits in stages if their tenant is unable to pay the full deposit upfront, or has agreed a payment plan prior to taking the tenancy.

Enhanced direct transfer payment service This enhanced process makes it easier for landlords, letting agents and other organisations to pay for new deposits.

Ability to cancel joint repayments if started in error Previously the requesting party would have had to contact The DPS to rectify any errors, causing delays in getting their deposits back.

Revamped website The new website allows easier navigation to the pages that visitors need to access. Whether the user is already registered and protecting deposits or simply browsing the site, they can quickly access information that is relevant to them with regard to managing deposits or getting help online.

For more information visit our new-look website.

ADR Insight: Stick to the facts and don’t get personal

They don’t call it dispute resolution for nothing – but there are some cases that take disputes over deposits to a more personal level. Landlords and tenants enter into a contractual relationship and, like any other relationship, this can ‘irretrievably break down’ during the course of the tenancy.

We’ve seen several cases where this has happened. The relationship breaks down to such an extent that tenants withhold rent as they feel the landlord hasn’t maintained the property correctly, or in some cases, the aggrieved tenant has trashed a property as a result of the disagreement.

When it comes to a head like this, adjudicators can be left to deal with the fallout and find themselves wading through lengthy and heated email or text message exchanges between the parties in order to establish the real facts of the case.

A recent case got so personal that it wouldn’t have been out of place on ‘Jeremy Kyle’! The initial evidence involved a 13-page typewritten submission which was largely a tirade of abuse – referring to the other party as, amongst other things, habitual liars, alcoholics, weak, lonely, unhappy, angry, unbalanced and violent. 

Not surprisingly, the other party responded with an 18-page typewritten submission that claimed their opponents were abusive and rude, harassed them, made personal insults, had mental health issues, threatened them and made nuisance calls to them.

With this abundance of excess information, the real facts of the case can get lost and in some cases delay a decision due to the sheer volume of correspondence to trawl through. It can also confuse the outcome and mean that a fair decision cannot be made.

Whilst our adjudicators wouldn’t ever prevent the disputing parties providing anything which they feel is required for the adjudicator to come to their decision, it’s advisable to stick to the facts where possible.

Attempts to assassinate the character of the other party are rarely helpful to the claim and are unlikely to be given much weight by the adjudicator. A clear and factual account of the tenancy, a chronology of events, clear evidence of the condition of the property and invoices/estimates/receipts will always be much more persuasive.

If you need help or guidance on how to tackle a deposit dispute our ‘Guide to Tenancy Deposits, Disputes and Damages’ gives further information on the adjudication process and the way a decision will be reached.

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.

DPS operating company has applied to protect tenancy deposits in Scotland

As you may know, the Scottish Government is introducing legislation that will make it compulsory for all landlords and letting agents in Scotland who take deposits for a relevant tenancy to protect them with a Government approved tenancy deposit scheme. Unlike England and Wales, there won’t be any insurance-based schemes to protect Scottish tenancy deposits. Approved providers will operate custodial schemes – like The DPS – where the money is handed over to the scheme to protect for the duration of the tenancy.

The LPS Scotland – run by the same company as The DPS – has submitted an application to run a scheme and, once approved by the Scottish Government, will be the only provider in Scotland with any experience of running a custodial tenancy deposit protection scheme.

There are some differences in the Scottish requirements to those in England and Wales which we’ll be looking to communicate with our landlords and letting agents with properties in Scotland very soon.

I’m also giving a presentation on 9th November in Edinburgh to introduce the legislation, what it will mean for landlords, letting agents and tenants and how The LPS Scotland will work once approved.

I’ll also talk about our experience of running the DPS in England and Wales and how that knowledge will benefit the running of The LPS Scotland.

If you’re a registered DPS landlord or letting agent with property in Scotland why not come along to find out how it will affect you - email The LPS Scotland to register your interest.

To find out more about The LPS Scotland, visit the website or read the latest blog post:

The Letting Protection Service Scotland (The LPS Scotland) prepares to protect tenancy deposits

You can also follow them on Twitter (@LPS_Scotland).

Government issues guidance to the lettings industry

Housing Minister Grant Shapps published new factsheets last week to give landlords and tenants a better understanding of their roles and responsibilities whilst renting or letting a property. The landlord factsheet provides advice on picking a letting agent, making sure the property is safe for tenants, producing tenancy agreements and inventories and protecting tenants’ deposits. The information for tenants includes tips on the legal requirements of renting, avoiding disputes and what to expect from landlords.

By providing access to better information on roles and responsibilities, Mr Shapps hopes that unnecessary disputes can be avoided during and at the end of assured shorthold tenancies.

The factsheets are free to download and you can access them here:

›       Top tips for landlords

›       Top tips for tenants 

They also include contact information for various organisations – like Shelter and Citizen’s Advice Bureau – that will be able to help if you’re looking for more information. 

We have also made the factsheets available on the tenant and landlord information sections of our website.

Tenancy deposit protection amendments proposed by the Localism Bill

At our ADR workshop in Leeds last week I was interested to learn that some of the attendees weren’t aware of the changes proposed by the Localism Bill that will affect tenancy deposit protection under the Housing Act 2004 (the Act). With that in mind I thought it would be useful to summarise them here:

30 days – not 14 – to protect deposits and issue Prescribed Information

Currently the Housing Act requires that landlords/letting agents protect a tenant’s deposit within 14 days from the day it is received – the Localism Bill has proposed that this be amended to 30 days. This will remove landlord’s/agents’ ability to rely on ‘administrative oversight’ for any delay in protection.

The requirement for providing the Prescribed Information to the tenant will also be changed to within 30 days of receipt of the deposit.

Closing the loophole

Following high profile court cases – like Universal Estates v Tiensia late last year – the Localism Bill has proposed a change that will close the loophole regarding the ‘initial requirements’.

Rather than it being mandatory to comply with the ‘initial requirements’ of a tenancy deposit scheme, the proposed change will give tenants the ability to approach a county court to enforce compliance by a landlord with its obligation to protect the deposit and supply the Prescribed Information – where this has not been done – within 30 days of receipt of the deposit.

Protection after the tenancy has ended

If a tenant makes an application to the county court once the tenancy has ended, the landlord will no longer be able to retrospectively protect the deposit in order to comply with the Act.

Currently the courts can order either the repayment of the deposit to the tenant, or the immediate protection of the deposit with a custodial scheme. A new proposed subsection to the Act will ensure that if the tenancy has ended, the only option is for the landlord to repay the deposit, or part thereof, to the tenant.

Revised sanctions for non protection

Currently, if a landlord is required to pay a fine to the tenant for failing to comply with the Act, then the judge has to award three times the amount of the deposit. Under the new proposals the Judge will have discretion to award not less than the amount of the deposit and not more than three times that amount.

Section 21 notices

Section 215 of the Housing Act will also be amended to provide clarity that a section 21 notice may not be given where a deposit has not been protected within the 30 day period under section 213(3) or (6), however this prohibition may be mitigated where:

  • the deposit has been returned to the tenant in full or with such deductions as have been agreed;
  • an application to the county court under section 214 has been made and has been determined by the court or withdrawn or settled between the parties.

The above changes are awaiting Royal Assent; if they’re passed they will come into force in April 2012. We’ll keep you updated on the progress of the Bill and if passed we’ll let you know of any enhancements we’ll implement to stay ahead of the changes.

To familiarise yourselves further with the proposed changes, have a look at the Localism Bill (section 171) and view the amendments against the Housing Act 2004 (sections 213 – 215 are relevant).

The DPS shows 10% growth as rates stay low

We’ve seen a marked increase in landlords and letting agents registering with us over the last three months. The largest increase in landlord and letting agent registrations came in May, with an 11 per cent increase over the same period in 2010. June and July also saw increases of 10 and 8 per cent in registrations over last year respectively.

There are now 22,000 letting agents and 250,000 landlords registered with our scheme which safeguards 760,000 tenants’ deposits worth £590 million.

It’s not surprising that there’s been a considerable increase in registrations over the last few months. With bank rates likely to remain low for the foreseeable future even landlords and agents with very large property portfolios are turning to us for free deposit protection rather than pay the fees charged by the insurance schemes.

This is also representative of the growing number of landlords forced to rent their properties rather than sell them, often to tenants who have been priced out of the buyers’ market.

The increased demand for rental properties means higher rents and larger deposits. It’s therefore more important than ever to ensure that landlords are protecting deposits as there is so much more at stake.

The increase in registrations is also testament to how easy it is to use our service. It takes a matter of seconds to create an account online and only a few minutes to submit a deposit – which is ideal for new landlords who have fallen into the role by circumstance.

If you'd like more information about The DPS, visit our website.

ADR Insight: A cautionary tale for landlords overseas

We’ve seen claims recently from overseas landlords who’ve fallen foul of the provisions of Section 48 Landlord and Tenant Act 1987 which requires landlords living overseas to provide an ‘address for service’ to the tenant. This address must be in England or Wales and we often find it’s the address of their estate agent, or possibly a friend or family member who looks after the property when they’re abroad.

Unfortunately some landlords don’t comply with this but they need to beware – the consequences for failing to comply with this provision are severe. The Act states that until the landlord provides a valid ‘address for service’, no rent is lawfully due from the tenant and we have seen claims where landlords find themselves vastly out of pocket, simply because they didn’t add this to the tenancy agreement.

We’ve also seen landlords give the address of the property itself as the ‘address for service’. Whilst this appears to comply with Section 48 requirements, it’s not wholly practical. For example, in the past we’ve dealt with claims for damage where the tenant’s defence was that it occurred as a result of a problem with the property (such as a leak or flood). They’d notified the landlord of the need for repair by sending a letter to the ‘address for service’ – here you see the flaw – which turned out to be their own home!

In these instances, there was no provision in the tenancy agreement that required the tenant to forward the landlord’s mail on to them, so the claims for damage failed – the tenants had done everything they were contractually required to do. 

So, whilst the property address would seem to fit the bill, think about how it would work in practice. If the tenant is going to vacate, as a landlord you need to receive notice of that. If all that the contract requires the tenant to do is equivalent to leaving their vacation notice sat on their own kitchen table for a month, it’s not much use to an overseas landlord who will remain blissfully unaware that their tenants are packing up and moving out!

ADR Insight: ‘Rogue’ landlords – fact or media fiction?

Lately, there’s been a strong media focus on so-called ‘rogue landlords’ but is it always so one-sided? Our adjudicators tell us that they do on occasion see some quite shocking behaviour – by both landlords and tenants. Here’s some real-life examples of unreasonable landlord claims, recounted by those deciding cases on behalf of the DPS: 

  • One landlord claimed for loss of rent for the remainder of the fixed term of the tenancy. On the face of it this seems quite reasonable until you read the ‘notice’ they served on their tenants by email, giving them 24 hours to vacate the property. They did as they were told, but the landlord then insisted that they should still be liable to pay rent for the remainder of the fixed term.
  • Another landlord who, having received notice from their tenant, allowed a new tenant to move into the property a week or so before the outgoing tenant was due to vacate therefore denying the outgoing tenant the right of exclusive occupation of the property. 
  • And another landlord claimed a sum in excess of £3,500 for ‘late payment reminders’ when rent was paid a few days late on two occasions. Whilst it is of course accepted that there is a contractual obligation to pay rent on time, the landlord provided no evidence as to the extent of loss he suffered, or the number of reminders he had sent to get the rent paid. The landlord may well have been entitled to some reasonable compensation, but it is hard to see how a sum of over £3,500 for two slightly late payments can be justified.

They’ve also seen equally unreasonable behaviour by tenants, such as: 

  • One who left a huge amount of rubbish in the shed for their landlord to clear out; this included the decomposing body of the tenant’s cat
  • Another who rented a property and erected a completely unauthorised two-storey ‘home office’ extension to the garden shed
  • And a tenant who decided to ‘decorate’ their lounge without the landlord’s permission, using silver foil over the walls. From the photos supplied by the landlord, it looked like a dodgy 1970’s Dr Who set!

These issues could easily have been avoided if the parties had carefully read and understood the full extent of their obligations under the agreement. We’re often surprised at the number of people (tenants in particular) who tell us they didn’t keep a copy of their tenancy agreement. It’s absolutely vital for both parties to have a copy of this document available at all times for reference purposes. A quick check of the terms of the contract could easily avoid a number of the disputes which come to us for decision.

The above are examples of previous cases. Each ADR case is assessed independently by our adjudicators on the basis of the evidence presented to support the claim.

How can landlords improve their chances in a dispute? Guest blog by Pat Barber, AIIC

The DPS recently released figures showing that only 18 per cent of disputes over tenant’s deposits are won by landlords. This statistic could be vastly improved if landlords better protected themselves at the start, during and at the end of a tenancy agreement. For starters, some landlords are failing to put a letting contract in place, or they have very unfair clauses in the contact. Other landlords don’t conduct an adequate check-in and check-out, or don’t keep copies of correspondence with the tenant which could be evidence in a dispute.

It is so important for landlords to ensure they get all the paperwork right at the start and at the end of a new tenancy agreement. Over and over again, we see landlords losing disputes because they can’t provide the right evidence to show that a tenant has damaged the property.

Aside from ensuring there is a fair contract in place at the start of a tenancy agreement, landlords should have a thorough and detailed inventory which will enable both parties to be treated fairly and reasonably. By opening a dialogue and using an independent inventory clerk, disputes can be resolved quicker and without the hassle that is often experienced at the end of a tenancy period.

The AIIC has outlined some guidelines below to help landlords improve their chances in a potential dispute:

-   For new tenancies, landlords should ensure that the property starts the let in a clean and tidy condition. A tatty property will not magically improve by the end of a tenancy and landlords can’t charge their tenants for 'betterment'. Gardens - if your garden is hideously overgrown at the start, don’t expect any improvement on the day of check-out and don’t expect the tenants to put things right for you at their own expense.

-   Always address maintenance issues as soon as they are reported. We come across many cases of minor issues that have become major problems - which the tenant can prove were reported during their tenancy and which the landlord has not bothered to do anything about. This results in a property deteriorating, which in both the long and short term will affect re-letting capabilities and rent achieved.

-   Always have a properly compiled inventory. This will always be much more detailed than a landlord’s own document and will provide vital evidence in any end of tenancy dispute. Your tenants should check and sign their agreement detailing the inventory when they check-in.

-   End of the tenancy - always encourage your tenant to be present during the check out inspection. It is important that they are aware of any problems and chargeable issues to their deposit. This will avoid nasty disputes. Using a deposit scheme dispute service should always be a last resort. The landlord should make every effort to communicate and negotiate with their tenant.

-   Check-outs - use an independent inventory clerk as they will have the knowledge and experience to make sure this process runs smoothly. They can make sensible judgements on normal wear and tear, items that are the tenant's responsibility and landlord's maintenance issues.

-   Photography - detail is vital and fine detail is even better! Take dated photographs of the garden; interior of the shed or garage; inside of the oven; and keys handed over to tenants - these are the main areas of problems that occur and are often down to misinterpretation at the end of a tenancy. Remember, you don’t need photos of every single corner of the property, these are frankly a waste of time and effort (and would be impossible to do) - stick to the important things. Don’t try to produce a completely photographic or filmed inventory without a complete written accompanying inventory. Films and photographs alone will be of little use in a dispute when an adjudicator is trying to find hard evidence of a particular area.  You can bet the problem in question just won’t be something you have photographed in the first place!

-   Make sure your property is fit for letting - on check-in day, the place should be completely clean and any garden areas should be tidy, lawns cut, borders weeded etc. If you don't start correctly, then things definitely won’t improve by check-out day/end of tenancy and you'll end up with a very tatty property, which won’t be let easily. Tenants cannot be charged for improvements - for making good/cleaning things that were wrong at the start and are still wrong at the end of the tenancy.

-   Have a full check-in - where you or the inventory clerk check through every line of the inventory. Add any amendments needed and then ensure that the tenant signs the agreement. When moving out day comes, try to make sure that the tenant is present at the check-out and make sure all the problems are explained - nasty surprises later will cause certain disputes.

-   Always try to keep good communication ongoing with your tenants and encourage them to report any problems as and when they occur during the tenancy. This ensures that your property will stay in as good a condition as possible and will avoid problems at the end of the tenancy.

Pat Barber is Chair of the Association of Independent Inventory Clerks (AIIC). The AIIC is a not for profit membership organisation and is committed to excellence and professionalism in the property inventory process. The AIIC works hard to ensure that all landlords, tenants and letting agents understand the importance and benefits of professionally completed property inventories.

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

Britons want to live with Cheryl Cole!

Despite keeping a low profile recently, Cheryl Cole has topped our latest survey in which we asked 1000 tenants who their ideal celebrity roommate is. 8% of tenants asked wanted to share a pad with Cheryl who pipped Johnny Depp (4%), David Beckham (3%) and Lady Gaga (3%) to the post.

The results have made for interesting reading. The usual suspects are all there of course, but there are also some more bizarre choices like Johnny Vegas and Robocop!

Singers and bands were the nation’s most sought after companions with nearly a third of you wishing you could share washing up duties with the likes of Robbie Williams, Katy Perry and Snoop Dogg.

The savviest tenants wanted those who would be best around the house, like Kim and Aggie to run the duster round and Jamie Oliver to whip up some tasty meals.

There were some much loved TV and film characters in the running as well, including Eastenders’ Dot Cotton, action stars James Bond and Mr T and funny-man Keith Lemon.

There’s a serious message here too: how well do you know the people you’re moving in with? Even if you think you know your fellow roommates, living with them may be very different. You’ll be responsible for paying a deposit which you’ll only get back by complying with your signed tenancy agreement and leaving the property in the same state it was when you moved in (subject to usual wear and tear) – so the return of your money depends on the reliability of others. 

If you don’t know who you’re moving in with, get to know them a little beforehand; the people you live with can be more important than the property and you wouldn’t rent a place without going to see it first.”

It’s vital for landlords to know their prospective tenants too. I’ve read several stories lately about a growing trend for rent arrears and the impact it’s having on landlords. Cheryl Cole is unlikely to have any trouble affording rent but make sure you undertake the necessary financial checks so you can be confident your prospective tenant(s) can afford the payments.

For a list of the top ten celebs and top 5 celeb categories, click here.