The concept of a damage deposit is simple. Your landlord holds a big fat chunk of your money so that they’re covered in the scenario that you and your cotenants turn their maisonette into the fifth circle of hell – sounds fair enough.
Unfortunately, damage deposits are often treated as a piggy bank by opportunistic landlords who aren’t content with the thousands of pounds they’re getting from their tenants and can’t resist the opportunity to bump them for trivial infractions at inflated costs.
“Damage deposits are one of the most common issues people come to us with,” says Owen Polley from the renters’ union ACORN, “whether it’s because landlords haven’t protected deposits, or they’re trying to make unfair deductions, there’s always a healthy supply of landlords carrying out dodgy practises.”
The going rate for a deposit is six weeks rent, which, given that average rents in the UK have risen by 13.2 percent since 2015, is not to be sniffed at. Whilst this roughly correlates with wages over the same period, the cost of rent is actually moving faster than earnings once adjusted for inflation. TLDR: Deposits are very expensive.
Every year, thousands of people have their deposits unfairly deducted. “My advice would be to make sure it’s in a protection scheme,” says Polley. “Many landlords fail to do this and if they have then you shouldn’t accept any deductions even if there is damage. If it’s protected but the landlord won’t negotiate, you should dispute it through the protection scheme.”
Unfortunately, many British renters just aren’t aware of their rights. We spoke to people from up and down the country about the wildest times their landlords have docked their damage deposits.
Amber Kelly, Manchester: “We got deducted £50 for ‘a hair in a drawer’”
“I lived in a student house where the landlady mugged us off so badly. We had to buy all the stuff to repaint the kitchen and we also got deducted £50 a pop for ‘a hair in a drawer’ and ‘dust on skirting boards’. She then also made a big deal out of hiring a professional cleaner when we moved out. You’d like to think they’d do that anyway?”
“When we lived there, we also had a massive fruit fly infestation that the landlady refused to do anything about because she’s a Buddhist. Clearly Buddha has no qualms with unjust taxation.”
Ed Emberson, South London: “We owed a combined £300 for a ‘generally unclean’ house”
“Lived in a place that was in good shape, but came completely unfurnished. When we moved in, the house was completely empty besides a toilet plunger that was in the garden.”
“This plunger was broken and didn’t even work so we chucked it. Fast forward two and a half years and we’re leaving. I needed my deposit back for my next place, so spent two days cleaning the house from top to bottom. We repainted, filled in all the holes, cleaned the window, everything you can think of.”
“We then got an email saying we owed a combined £300 for a ‘generally unclean’ house, which amongst other things was down one broken toilet plunger, valued at £25. Other notable discrepancies included dust on lampshades that were above head height and rubbish in the wheelie bin.”
Ella Baraclough, Nottingham: “I had to hand a tenner straight over to the landlord”
“I had some cigarette butts outside my house and the landlord came around demanding a £10 cash fine. I had just opened a card from my grandma and had to hand a tenner that was in it straight over to the landlord.
“I was still living there and had nine months left on my lease.”
Meg Thomas, Manchester: “The landlord started pretending that he didn’t know what a deposit was”
“I moved into this flat that was advertised via a sign in the window. Pretty suspect but it was cheap and in a good location. The flat was an extension built on to the landlord’s own house, so he was our next-door neighbour.
“Everything was very informal, but we set everything up directly with the landlord and paid a deposit [around £1300]. However, when it came to moving out and we asked for our money back, the landlord suddenly started pretending that he couldn’t speak English and didn’t understand what a deposit was.
“We all lived basically in his driveway and spoke with him multiple times and could literally hear him speaking English through the walls. In the end, the set up was so dodgy and he was clearly not budging so we just swallowed it and left.”
Ricki Lee, Eastbourne: “The landlord said something about lampshades”
“We had a nice flat near the sea front that wasn’t officially student accommodation, but the landlord gave it to us and we had no problems all year.
“When we moved out, we properly cleaned the whole place and were shocked when we got a bill for £100 each. When we complained, the landlord said something about lampshades, a carpet stain, but the main thing was a crack in the bath. Apparently, the whole tub would need replacing because it was porcelain and couldn’t be fixed.
“When we checked, we found the crack was about the width of a fingernail, so small that no one had noticed it all year. We couldn’t prove that we hadn’t done it so ended up paying.
“We actually moved back in the following year and, you guessed it, nothing had been fixed besides two cheap lampshades from Ikea. We were livid but were told that nothing could be done because the matter was closed. When we left, we got an email from the landlord thanking us for being model tenants and saying that no deductions would be made. They probably pull that trick every year but couldn’t do it twice. I bet people are still getting fined for that crack.”
Ollie Ford, Brighton: “We tried to dispute it for four months but ended up backing down”
“I lived in a nine bed student house and despite how many of us there were we still managed to leave the place as found.
“The property was managed by agents and after we left they came round and put loads of stuff in all the rooms. We’re talking identical blankets and pillows but also garden furniture and cutlery in the kitchen. It was all brand new so clearly not ours, but they still charged us £45 per person per item to get it removed. We tried to dispute it for four months but ended up backing down because we were all on years abroad and needed the money.
“They also tried to charge us for carpet cleaning, which was strange because the entire house was laminate floors.”
Adam Sandford, Brighton: “They tried charging us £260 for damages we didn’t cause”
“We moved into an unfurnished place that stank of shit and was full of mouldy furniture from old tenants. The whole place was full of mould, hair, cobwebs and burn marks and the outside had been neglected for years.
“After complaining, the agents said over the phone to just leave the place as I found it but wouldn’t give me this in writing even when I asked. When we moved out, they tried charging us £260 for damages we didn’t cause, jet washing and professional cleaning. When we showed them the evidence, they offered us a tenner off.
“We disputed and it went to adjudication but they blocked us from submitting any evidence and before the deadline we were told that the landlords claim was just accepted out of hand and we’re not allowed to see the reports.
“We were also paying £17 a month for ‘property insurance costs’. Still don’t know what that means.”
The post All the Ridiculous Ways Landlords Have Stolen People’s Deposits appeared first on VICE.