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028 9024 5640: Housing & Debt Helpline for Northern Ireland

Think like a TDSNI Adjudicator

On 15th April TDSNI will be delivering a seminar on the tenancy deposit dispute process, helping you understand how adjudicators make their decisions. Here are a few key principles of deposit disputes to keep in mind, before referring a case for adjudication.

It’s the tenant’s money

Even though tenants don’t hold their deposit, the money still belongs to them. This is important because it means the burden of evidence first falls on the landlord to justify their deductions.

It’s all in the tenancy agreement

The deposit is held as security against the tenant breaking the terms of the tenancy agreement. This makes it an essential document for disputes. The adjudicator must see the terms of the agreement to decide whether or not the tenant has met them; and no award will be made to the landlord if there is no evidence that the tenant has not. 

What adjudicators want

A good case will be clear, factual, and supported by evidence. Ideally you should go through each deduction one by one, stating how the tenancy agreement has or has not be complied with, and directing the adjudicator to a specific piece of evidence which justifies each statement.

For example, a tenant may state that;

“1. £100 deduction for professional cleaner: See section 2.5 of the tenancy agreement.  I was required to “leave the property in a clean state”. I was not required to have it cleaned to a professional standard.
See pages 3,4, and 5 of the check-out report. It confirms that I did leave the property in a clean state, thereby fully meeting my obligations in the tenancy agreement.”

Examples of useful evidence include check in and check out reports, inventories, dated photographs, receipts, bills, quotes, and rent statements.

You should have known betterment…

The landlord will only be compensated the cost of returning herself to the situation in which she would have been, had the tenant met the terms of the agreement.  Any more and this is ‘betterment’, where the landlord is better off (materially or financially) at the cost of the tenant. 

When is wear and tear fair?

Betterment is a frequent issue in damage disputes where landlords feel that they should be compensated the full purchase value of an item. However the landlord must factor in the depreciation in condition and value over time and tenants must not be charged to repair the effects of “reasonable use of the premises…and the ordinary operation of natural forces ” – otherwise known as ‘fair wear and tear’.

For example, a landlord who is left with a broken bed which is four years old can only be compensated for the value of a four year old bed, not for a brand new one.  Here is an example of how the adjudicator would calculate the cost to the tenant.

a How much would the bed cost to replace? £250
b How old is the bed? 4 years
c What is the average lifespan of a bed? 10 years
d What would the residual lifespan of the bed be? 6 years
e What is the depreciation of the value rate? 
Calculated as (a) divided by (c)
£25 year
  What is the reasonable cost to tenant? Calculated as (d) times (e)  £150

For further advice on tenancy deposits, including real life case studies of tenancy deposit disputes, visit the TDS Northern Ireland website.  

You can also find out more from TDSNI when they deliver the seminar 'Adjudicating Tenancy Disputes' on behalf of Housing Rights on the 15th April. This 3 hour session will look at

  • Pre tenancy administration
  • Setting up a tenancy correctly and the importance of inventories
  • The check out process
  • Quantifying damage and assessing fair wear and tear
  • What the adjudicator is looking for
  • How the adjudicator decides a dispute
  • The role a court can play

Tagged In

Private Tenancies, Practical tips
This article was written on 25 March 2015. It should not be relied on as a statement of the current law or policy position. For help with housing issues please contact our helpline on 028 9024 5640 or use our online chat service at www.housingadviceNI.org.