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Housing and debt helpline for Northern Ireland – 028 9024 5640

Ask the adjudicator: Avoiding deposit disputes

Ben Beadle, Director of TDS Northern Ireland gives his take on how best to avoid disputes over deposits.  Ben has previously worked on the adjudication team in TDS and has first hand experience in mediating disputes between tenants and landlords. 

Most tenancies end without any major problems, however it is an unfortunate fact that some do end with a dispute over the amount of the deposit which is kept by the landlord.

The most common disputes are over cleaning and repairs, but they arise for all sorts of reasons and there are some steps which can be taken by both tenant and landlord to make the process of resolving the dispute that much easier.

Naturally, most problems come to light at the end of the tenancy when the landlord enters the property and dirt or damage becomes apparent. Cleaning and repairs may seem a fair reason to take money from a deposit, but frequently landlords don't keep a record of the state of the property when the tenant moved in so when there is a dispute they have no way to show how the property has deteriorated and how much they are justified in deducting.

To make sure you can justify any deductions you need to be prepared from the outset. Photos of dirt and damage at the end don't mean the property was in clean and good condition at the start.

Prepare for the end of the tenancy at the start

Here are a few things which we advise landlords and tenants to do to avoid problems later on:

  • Agree the condition of the property in writing at the start by completing an extensive 'check-in' report comprising a full inventory, photographs and descriptions of all aspects of the property.
  • Make sure the tenancy agreement states what the deposit can be used for. This can be a very broad statement but an adjudicator can only make an award for things which have been agreed in advance.   
  • Keep an audit trail from the outset. Whether you're the landlord or the tenant, have a record of all communications, quotes, requests for repairs or invoices for anything that might become an issue at the end of the tenancy. 

Of course these should be supported by a check-out report recording the condition of the property at the end. Together, the check-in and check-out reports create a coherent story with a clear start and an end point, making it easy for an independent adjudicator to reach a fair decision if there is a dispute.

Remember - the deposit is the tenant's money. This means it's for the landlord to show he's entitled to keep the money, not for the tenant to show why he isn't. A lack of coherent evidence is often a reason why landlords aren't satisfied with the decision made by an adjudicator - but if there is nothing to show that the landlord had to pay £100 to redecorate a room due to damage caused by the tenant, an adjudicator cannot fairly award £100 to them.

Having clear inventories from the beginning and end of the tenancy with photographic evidence can be instrumental in helping landlords and tenants to resolve deposit disputes without the help of the deposit scheme mediation service.

Practical advice and assistance

Ben will be joining Housing Rights Service to deliver training on the Adjudication Process in Belfast and Derry/Londonderry in August.   This training course will help landlords and advisers get to grips with issues around tenancy management and help tenants and landlords avoid tenancy deposit disputes. 

Landlords can get free information on how to prepare a property for new tenants on our website.  Our website also has advice for tenants on what to consider before signing a new tenancy agreement

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Landlord, Private Tenancies