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.

Do you rent to students?

We recognise that business runs a little differently for agents who let to students, which means your needs are different too.
 
We know it's getting close to that time of year when students will be ending their studies and their tenancies, which means a busy period ahead for you. With all your deposit repayments occurring at once, you need a deposit protection provider who can take away the administrative burden.

We’ve created a helpful infographic with some tips and tools to help make the process as easy as 123. We hope you find it useful.

Merry Christmas from The DPS!

It’s impossible to miss the tinsel, wreaths and Christmas jumpers that have sprung up all over the country in the last couple of weeks which can only mean one thing – it’s nearly time for us all to down tools, enjoy lots of food and the joys of Christmas TV. As you know however, you can never fully switch off from your responsibilities as a landlord, whether that’s making sure your property is kept in good condition over the festive period, completing deposit disputes or even taking on new tenants.

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 receives a lot of claims following severe winter weather. The majority are usually 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, contact your tenants to see if they’re going away for the festive season, to ensure that the proper measures are taken to avoid this kind of damage.

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:

Monday 24th – 8:30am – 4:00pm

Tuesday 25th – CLOSED 

Wednesday 26th – CLOSED 

Thursday 27th – 8:30am – 5:30pm

Friday 28th – 8:30am – 5:30pm

Monday 31st – 8:30am – 4:00pm

Tuesday 1st – 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!

Keep safe, stay safe, #fraudprevention

We are aware of emails using our name asking customers to transfer money via wire transfer – these emails are fake and they are not from The DPS. If you receive one of these emails please ignore and delete it. We will be working with the relevant authorities to investigate who is sending these emails.

 

We are also aware of emails using our name which asks recipients to click on a link in the email which takes them to a fake log in screen. To try and fool the user, this fake log in screen may also contain links to our real website. These emails are fake and should be ignored and deleted. If you are ever unsure of the authenticity of an email, please do not click on any links within the email, but instead open a new web browser and go directly to www.depositprotection.com.

We will never email you to ask you to transfer money, or to ask for confidential information such as your username, password or answers to security questions. If you receive an email asking for this information, do not click on any links in the email or agree to any of the email requests.

All legitimate transactions with The DPS are completed via our secure website www.depositprotection.com only. If you are unsure, please go direct to our website or call us on 0844 4727 000.

When completing a transaction at www.depositprotection.com you will see our secure website starting with https:// so you can rest assured our site is safe and protected.

We will be tweeting online safety hints and tips with the hashtag #fraudprevention – spread the word and pass this information on to your tenants to protect our industry from fraud.

 

We’re here to help

Lately we’ve had quite a few people ask us questions on our twitter page @The_DPS. While we will always try to help where we can, messages on twitter can be seen by everyone so we can’t answer questions about a particular deposit for reasons of customer confidentiality. If you have a question about your deposit, there are plenty of ways to get in touch. You can fill in our online form, call us on 0844 4727 000, or you may find the answer in our FAQs for tenants and landlords, or by asking our virtual agent Emma.

 

Logging in to The DPS

We have also had some tenants contact us asking questions about the repayment process, so here’s some top tips to help:

1)    If you log in with your Deposit ID and surname, you will be able to view the details of the deposit, but you will not be able to action the repayment process. This is for security reasons, to ensure changes to the deposit can only be made by those who are authorised.

To log in and complete the repayment process the lead tenant or sole tenant needs to log in with the Deposit ID AND Repayment ID. 

2)    If you do not know your Repayment ID, you can request a new one by filling in our online form or by texting REPAY followed by the Deposit ID and deposit amount to 07537404808.

3)    If you do not know your Deposit ID, you can find it on your deposit submission confirmation, or your landlord or agent should be able to provide it. If not, call us on 0844 4727 000.

4)    Remember, keep your Repayment ID safe – it’s unique to you like a PIN number and shouldn’t be shared with your landlord or agent (they will have their own unique ID number). The Repayment ID grants authorisation to repay the deposit, so make sure you keep it confidential.

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.

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!

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.

ADR Insight: "But I was on holiday?"

We’re always advising landlords that for deposit dispute claims to be successful they have to provide as much relevant evidence to support their claim as possible, as this is absolutely crucial for adjudicators to make educated and informed decisions. However, it’s equally important that evidence is submitted within our published deadlines. Landlords have 14 days to submit all the evidence they would like considered in relation to their claim. If we don’t receive anything within the two weeks, we will repay the full amount to the tenant as we have nothing to assess the claim against.

When we receive the evidence, we send a summary to the tenant giving them 14 days to respond. Again, if there’s nothing received from the tenant, we repay the disputed amount to the landlord.

We appreciate that it is frustrating to both parties when the deposit that they believe they have a rightful claim to is repaid in this way, but the ADR process is intended to be a faster alternative to the courts which is why evidence submission deadlines are imposed.

To give yourself the best chance during a dispute, we offer the following advice :

›       Create a legally binding signed tenancy agreement

›       Provide a thorough inventory and schedule of condition report (signed)

›       Complete a check-in and check-out with the tenant present

›       Keep hold of all correspondence, invoices and other admin that may be relevant

Having done all that, you wouldn’t want to fall at the final hurdle so make sure you get everything to us within the 14 days.

If for any reason you can’t meet that deadline, let us know as soon as possible so we can arrange an extension for you.

For more information on ADR best practice, read our Essential Guide. There is further information on evidence and deposit disputes in our Guide to Tenancy Deposits, Disputes and Damages.

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.

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.

Some advice for choosing a student house - by Ben Whittaker, NUS Vice-President (Welfare)

Horror stories abound of the rat-infested, mouldy, poorly-secured flats and houses encountered by moving out of halls and into private-rented accommodation and of landlords who are either intrusive or negligent or both. The truth is these horror stories represent a tiny proportion of student accommodation but there are still things you can do to limit the chances of ending up in a nightmare and more mundanely, making sure you get what you expect. Your first port of call when you start looking for a new place to live should be your university accommodation office and your students’ union. They’ll be able to give you plenty of advice about what’s available in your area and may be able to point you towards reputable lettings agents or landlords.

Many landlords and lettings agents are accredited and have signed up to a code of conduct that gives you some security as far as what you’re likely to get in terms of accommodation and service. For more information about accreditation look to the Accreditation Network UK, the National Approved Letting Scheme and the Association of Residential Letting Agents. Many student properties (in England and Wales) are counted as ‘licensable HMOs’ – rented properties of five or more people and three or more floors – and these must be properly licensed and meet certain standards, giving you another layer of protection.

When you’ve found some properties you’re interested in there are a number of things it is important to consider relating to the internal and external condition of the property, the suitability of the accommodation, security, your prospective landlord and your contract. The National Union of Students (NUS) have put together a House-Hunting Checklist of some of these considerations and we’d recommend taking one to every viewing. Whatever you do, don’t panic the first time you see a half-decent place and lay down a deposit straight away. Make sure you view at least three properties and take photos if you can so that when you come to make a decision later they can jog your memory.

Take your time and get all the information and you’ll avoid being caught in one of the student digs horror stories. For more information you can visit the NUS housing pages - the NUS website contains advice on all sorts of aspects of student life.

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

An Adjudicator’s Perspective: discussions arising from recent claims

Our adjudicators deal with thousands of disputes a year – they’ve settled over 9,000 since we launched 4 years ago – so they’ve heard everything, from the reasonable to the ridiculous. There are some particular cases that have sparked interesting discussions recently which I wanted to share with you:

1.    How many pounds does it take to change a light bulb?

Light bulbs; not something you’d think could cause much trouble but we’ve had several cases lately where instead of simply claiming the cost to supply a bulb, our adjudicators have seen some rather expensive claims including:

- £40 for a contractor to fit 3 spotlight bulbs

- £30 for a contractor to fit 2 ceiling bulbs

- £28 for a contractor to replace 1 bulb in a cooker hood

Did these jobs really require a contractor, or could the landlord simply have claimed for the cost to supply replacements?

2.    How clean is your house?

Is there a difference between a property that is ‘domestically clean’ and ‘professionally clean’?

We’ve had cases in which independent inventory clerks have recorded a property as ‘domestically clean’ but the landlord has made a claim for a ‘professional clean’ even though there is no record in the inventory to suggest that the property needed further or deeper cleaning.

It would seem that if a tenant cleans their rental property on vacating it is recorded by inventory clerks as ‘domestically clean’. However, if the landlord pays a cleaner to clean the property to exactly the same standards – and that cleaner can provide a formal invoice – the inventory clerk will record the property as ‘professionally clean’.

However, the level of cleaning is no different and the inventory clerk is happy with the state of the property so what level of cleanliness must you go to in order to achieve a ‘professional clean’?

Ask yourself – is this reasonable?

The tenancy agreement is likely to place responsibility for replacing light bulbs with the tenant but if they don’t, is a contractor really required to complete the work?

It may be necessary in certain properties – those with high ceilings for example - but often it’s more appropriate for landlords to simply claim the cost of the replacement bulbs. If a landlord sends in a claim for a high contractor fee, it’s likely that they will need to provide evidence or explanation as to why the contractor was needed.

In the case of the level of cleaning required, the tenant can only be expected to return the property to the same level of cleanliness as when they moved in. Therefore, if the cost of professional cleaning is claimed, it’s likely that you’ll need to provide evidence of a similar professional clean being carried out before the tenant moved in.

There’s a specific section in the recently published Guide to Tenancy Deposits, Disputes and Damages that looks at cleaning charges - you’ll find it on page 9.

Tenants should make sure they understand and are happy with each clause in the tenancy agreement before signing it and landlords should ensure they’re not making unreasonable claims or risk disappointment when they are rejected.

For more advice on tenancy deposits, disputes and damages, download our recently published guide.

An industry first: dispute resolution guidelines released by the three TDP schemes

I’m pleased to announce that we’ve jointly published a 'Guide to Tenancy Deposits, Disputes and Damages' with the other two deposit protection schemes (my|deposits and TDS)

The new guide outlines the principles on which all three scheme administrator’s adjudicators make decisions so that the process is consistent and transparent for letting agent, landlord and tenant alike; regardless of which scheme you use.

Since 2007, around 47,000 disputes have been settled by our collective alternative dispute resolution processes and whilst we’ve always worked to the same principles, by pooling information on disputes and their eventual outcomes we’ve been able to identify common issues and work together to publish guidelines which cover:

›      How to avoid disputes in the first place

›      How to collate  evidence, and the types of evidence accepted by adjudicators

›      What an adjudicator looks for when considering a dispute

›      How to deal with common problems such as wear and tear.

This is the first time we’ve worked together to publish educational information that’s aimed at landlords, agents and tenants alike and it’s great to have had such positive feedback already.

You can get hold of a copy for free – download it from our website now – and understand for yourself how disputes are adjudicated, potentially helping you avoid these situations in the future.

Click here to download the guide.

The Single Claim process – when should it be used?

Since launching our online Statutory Declaration request facility, we’ve seen a sharp increase in the number of Single Claim requests. It appears that some landlords, letting agents and tenants are incorrectly using this as the default option to request repayment at the end of a tenancy.  There are only 2 reasons for using the Single Claim process at the end of a tenancy:

›       One party has no means of contacting the other party; or

›       One party fails to respond to the other party’s communication asking whether they accept their claim.

Other than that, where both parties agree on the deposit repayment, they should always start the Joint Deposit Repayment process. The single claim shouldn’t be used just because there’s a disagreement over the amount to be returned to each party – in this instance they should either agree to use the ADR Service or go to Court. 

If you’re following the Single Claim process for one of the reasons above, make sure it’s completed correctly. We have recently seen a 3% increase in the number of Declarations being rejected because of either:

›       A misunderstanding of the circumstances in which the Single Claim process can be followed; or

›       Inaccurate completion of the Statutory Declaration.

In order to help clarify the correct use of the single clam process, we have revised the design of our Statutory Declarations*. To help you further here are some important tips:

›       Make sure you tick either box (i) or box (ii) within Section 4 of the Declaration

›       If you tick box (ii) and you aren’t making a single claim because of the failure of the other party to respond within 14 days to your online claim, then you must attach the written notice that you have issued to the other party asking whether they accept your claim.

›       For landlords and letting agents, make sure you give details of your claim in Section 6 – if you don’t, your Declaration will be invalid.

Further details of the Joint Deposit Repayment process and ADR Service can be found via Ask Emma or our FAQs on our website or in our Terms & Conditions.

* Please note, the clauses within the Statutory Declarations have not changed as these are in line with the Statutory Instrument ’The Housing (Tenancy Deposit Schemes) Order 2007 No. 796, paragraph 3, "Custodial schemes: termination of tenancies - absent or un-cooperative landlord or tenant’.

Private landlords – improve your deposit dispute submissions

During the lifecycle of a tenancy, the biggest challenge often comes when the tenant moves out and a dispute arises over the deposit. In this instance, the burden of proof lies with the landlord and if your evidence submissions aren’t credible it makes it difficult for the adjudicator to make a sufficient assessment of the claim.

In order to help landlords who may need a bit more guidance, we’re running an ADR Workshop especially for private landlords on March 29 from 10.45am - 4.00pm* at The DPS office in Bristol and if you book before 4th March, you'll receive a 50% discount!

Sessions include practical guidance on evidence collection and submission, examination of real-life case studies and a comprehensive look at the ADR process. They will be hosted by senior members of The DPS ADR team, including our Head of Adjudication, with a Q&A session chaired by Kevin Firth, Director of The DPS.

Our speakers have extensive experience and have previously hosted several ADR workshops for letting agents who have found them beneficial – there’s some feedback here on the blog; have a look through our archive for relevant posts.

Don’t miss out! If you’d like to come along and equip yourself with the information that will help improve deposit dispute submissions, download the booking form today and email it to us at events@depositprotection.com.

For a limited time only, places are £25 per person (inc. VAT) so book before 4th March to qualify for this great offer.**

Places are limited so it’s best to make your payment when submitting your booking form to avoid disappointment. Payment is via bank transfer only; our account details are on the booking form.

* Final timings and agenda will be sent to delegates closer to the event.

** Bookings made after 4th March will be £50 (inc. VAT) per person.

Five essential points on tenancies – guest blog from Tessa Shepperson

With a stagnant buyers market, we’ve seen a wave of reluctant landlords and tenants forced in to the private residential lettings industry. Our blog today comes from Tessa Shepperson, a solicitor specialising in residential landlord and tenant work who has provided some important points for landlords and tenants; particularly those who are just starting out in the industry.

Five essential points on tenancies

Here are some really important points on tenancies which are equally important both for landlords and for tenants.

1. Have a tenancy agreement. You can legally create a tenancy without one but that is not a good idea. Memories fade and if there is no written document you may find disagreement on what was actually agreed. Also if there is no tenancy agreement, landlords will have no chance of bringing any successful claim at adjudication for deductions from the deposit for damage.

2. If a deposit is taken (which needless to say, should be protected), make sure that there is a detailed inventory and preferably have this prepared and checked by an independent inventory clerk. Again from both parties' point of view, it is essential to know the condition of the property at the start of the tenancy if there is going to be any sensible discussion about what the tenant is or is not liable for at the end. If this is prepared by an independent inventory clerk then this should prevent arguments and disputes.

3. Make sure that the gas and electric supply and installations are checked and a certificate obtained before the tenants go in. The gas certificate is required by law but electrical and PAT certificates are advisable too. From the landlord’s point of view it means that he/she has complied with his/her legal obligations and is able to prove this. So if any problems occur, they are more likely to be the fault of the tenants (and he/she will have a better chance of successfully claiming the cost of repair from them at adjudication). From the tenant’s point of view it means that the property is safe for them to live in!

4. Have regular inspection visits. Not too often or the tenant will feel oppressed by them – say every six or three months. These are good for the landlord as it means he/she can keep an eye on the property and make sure that any defects get fixed quickly before they deteriorate and turn into a costly repair exercise. From the tenant’s point of view they provide an opportunity for them to tell the landlord or his/her agent about any problems that they have been experiencing and arrange for them to be dealt with promptly.

5. Have both a check in and a check out meeting at the property with the landlord/inventory clerk and the tenants. This is essential for preventing disputes about tenancy deposit deductions as in most cases any deductions can be agreed there and then.

If these five points are followed, then the tenancy is more likely to run smoothly with no arguments and problems at the end. 

Tessa Shepperson runs the popular Landlord Law website. She also blogs at the Landlord Law Blog.

ADR claims: why some succeed and others don’t

I posted some stats on Twitter the other day that some of you found interesting so I’ve elaborated on them here where I’m not restricted to 140 characters. In 2010 we completed 3150 adjudications.

38% of those claims were awarded solely to the tenant for two main reasons, which are:

a.    A full, signed tenancy agreement was not submitted as evidence

In this instance the claim will automatically fail. The Adjudicator assesses the claim on the terms of the tenancy; impossible if they don’t have sight of the terms.

b.    The evidence submitted was insufficient

It’s easy to assume that the Adjudicator is as familiar with the tenancy as the landlord and tenant but unfortunately, this is not the case. During a claim the burden of proof – defined as; ‘a duty placed upon a civil or criminal defendant to prove or disprove a disputed fact’ – lies with the landlord. If their evidence is not sufficiently persuasive there’s nothing for the Adjudicator to base their decision on, making it less likely to succeed.

18% of those were awarded solely to the landlord as they sufficiently proved the claim.

44% of those were split between landlord and tenant because an unreasonable claim was submitted.

It’s frustrating when your property is damaged – but it’s important to make claims that accurately reflect the damage. Just because a carpet has been stained does not mean it needs replacing. If the Adjudicator deems the claim to be unreasonable, they may choose to return a smaller amount to the landlord as a contribution for whenever they decide to change the carpet; the rest will go back to the tenant and result in a split award.

You can read more on this in ‘Managing expectations: what’s ‘reasonable’ in deposit disputes?

The best advice, if you have a legitimate case for wishing to withhold a tenant’s deposit, is to submit as much (relevant) evidence as possible so the Adjudicator can’t be in any doubt.

Check out our Essential Guide to Dispute Resolution if you need more information about our ADR process.

Prescribed Information on the agenda at our ADR Workshop in London

We had some lively discussions at our latest ADR workshop in London and some really interesting questions and topics were up for debate. One thing I was surprised to hear was that several letting agents weren’t aware that we have a Prescribed Information template on our website. Having then gone to speak at a forum for Castle Estates franchisees where agents said the same thing, I wanted to make sure you’re all aware of it.

You have to provide Prescribed Information under section 213(5) of the Housing Act 2004 to make certain information about the tenancy available to the tenant. You can use our template in order to comply with this.

It should be signed by both parties and can either be attached to the back of the tenancy agreement or incorporated in it – it can even be an entirely separate document. The Prescribed Information should be given to the tenant within 14 days of the deposit being received.

Although we provide the template, it isn’t our responsibility to provide the Prescribed Information, legally it falls to the landlords and letting agents to make sure it’s correct and given to the tenant on time. 

Visit our FAQs for more details on Prescribed Information.

These ADR sessions are not only useful for letting agents, but really valuable to us as an opportunity to get direct feedback from our customers.

I’ve uploaded some photos from the workshop showing agents in adjudication mode during one of the case study sessions.

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Here’s what some of our attendees said:

"It has given me a better understanding of the ADR process and what kind of paperwork would be relevant." - Lorraine Simms, Smith Street Estates Limited

"[I have] a better understanding of how hard the adjudicators’ job is and what information they need." - Simon Alexander, Alexander Property Management Ltd

"Overall [I] really enjoyed it and feel much better equipped to handle deductions ourselves and to present evidence effectively when a dispute arises. [I] have implemented much of it already." - Richard Symes, Eden Harper Ltd

We may hold further ADR workshops next year and will keep you posted.