As a new university year begins, thousands of fresh faced students from across the globe are flocking to their respective new homes with the buzz and excitement that comes with starting the next chapter of your life.
For many, this will be the first time they lived away from home. And while the excitement of that first taste of freedom is rightly palpable, renting a property does require some sober consideration, a ton load of paperwork and, yes, money.
Once you’ve found your dream student digs, you’ll have to hand over a tenancy or security deposit to the landlord. This is to ensure you free-wheeling students look after the property during your stay and return it to the landlord in the same condition at the end of the lease. It also protects landlords from people ‘doing a runner’ or skipping out on paying the bills.
While many students come and go with little problem in their rental properties, the annual gauntlet of deposit retrieval has become somewhat of a university rite of passage, with unscrupulous landlords often reluctant to loosen their grip on the banked deposit money, regardless of how careful, clean and considerate you may have been as a tenant.
So what can you do to protect yourself against this major pitfall of renting? We’ve reached out to UK law firm Stephensons to get some handy tips and expert advice on how to make sure you get every penny you’re owed.
1. Examine the place from top to bottom – and take photos!
Before signing the all-important contract and committing to a place, make sure you give it a good once over – and then a twice over, just for good measure.
A common dispute with landlords is due to the condition of the property when you move out. It’s not uncommon for landlords to point out damage and hold you responsible even if you’re certain it was like that when you moved in. The end result is usually that you end up footing the bill as you have no evidence to back up your claim.
The solution to this one is easy – take photos.
“With modern smartphones, there really is no excuse for not having strong evidence to prove your case. When you first move in, take the time to do a thorough sweep of the property, taking photos of the condition of all rooms – particularly where there is existing damage or wear,” says Joanne Ellis, head of housing law at Stephensons.
“Save these photos, digitally, in a safe place, and make sure that they are time stamped so that the time they were taken cannot be disputed.”
I moved out of my student home 3 months ago. My landlord still owes me money & he’s ignoring my messages 🙃
— hannah ✨ (@Hannanar) September 2, 2017
2. Read that contract
It might sound obvious but you’d be surprised at how many students get swept up in the excitement of signing their first house and don’t give the contract a thorough read.
Contracts can vary wildly between properties and will include all of the small print and criteria expected of you on moving out. Common ones include hiring a professional cleaner, servicing the air conditioning, or completing a checklist of certain items. Some go as far as dry cleaning the curtains.
You need to ensure you fulfil these criteria or you can kiss your deposit goodbye, so make sure it’s reasonable and achievable before signing on the dotted line.
3. Inventory can be your best friend – or your worst nightmare
Most landlords will now use an inventory document as an addition to the contract. This is basically a list of everything, from cutlery to couches, in the property when you move in.
This can be a lifesaver when settling disputes at the end of your tenancy – assuming of course it’s correct. It is absolutely essential that you make sure this inventory is accurate and double checked before moving in so you don’t find yourself “missing” items that never existed when it comes to moving out.
Joanne suggests that even if you are not offered an inventory by your landlord, it is a good idea to ask for one.
“The inventory is good for landlords and good for tenants. The landlord gets a comprehensive account of all his belongings, furniture, crockery and cutlery. The tenant knows what’s theirs and what belongs to the landlord.”
— Ontario Housing (@housingON) August 23, 2017
4. Clean like you’ve never cleaned before
At the end of the year, when the exams are over, the parties are starting to wind down and you’re looking forward to getting home for the summer, the last thing you probably want to do is don the rubber gloves and get scrubbing. But this is an absolute essential if you want your deposit back and it’s guaranteed to be a criterion on every landlord’s checklist.
You want that place sparkling and as close to move-in day as possible. You don’t want to give the landlord any excuse to find fault. It might even be worth all pitching together and getting a professional in if you really can’t face it. And remember, be thorough! Items left in drawers or food left in the fridge can often be an excuse to charge for removal.
5. Lawyer up!
This is a worst-case scenario, and its unlikely things will ever get this bad during your university life, but should you come across a stubborn landlord who refuses to budge despite your best efforts, it might be time to bring in the experts.
Some advice from the pros could prove invaluable as they’ll know exactly what avenues are open to you to retrieve your money.
“A specialist housing solicitor will be able to advise the best course of action when dealing with a dispute over a security deposit,” says Joanne.
“In a case where the landlord has made deductions from your deposit, these can be challenged and – if necessary, pursue the matter through the court.”