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What to do (or not to do) to get your housing deposit back

housing deposit
You're gonna want that money back at the end of the year! Source: Shutterstock

Navigating the treacherous lands of student accommodation can be mighty challenging. From passive aggressive housemates to damp and moulding walls, sky-high rent to noisy neighbours, the world for student tenants is one that’s seldom simple.

But when it comes to moving out, whether you were living in a palace or a prison (not literally), you will definitely want to claim back your deposit.

For the majority of student stays, letting agents and landlords will require you to put down a deposit, usually upwards of one month’s rent in case you damage the property or leave it in a state.

Look after the house and it’ll all be fine, right?

Gotta get it clean before your landlord comes over. Source: Giphy

Well, sadly it’s often not so easy.

Unfortunately with students, particularly with international students who perhaps don’t know how things work in their host country, agents are likely to try and take advantage, thinking they are unlikely to be challenged.

We spoke to four students in the UK about the troubles they encountered when trying to get back their deposits, but their advice is relevant to students all over the globe.

Here’s what they had to say…

Keep track of everything

“Our first mistake was not going around the house with the inventory and checking it when we first moved in,” University of Brighton student Cassie Johnson* told Study International.

Johnson advised students to be very careful about what they’re signing, stating that if something is missing or damaged when you first move in, you shouldn’t sign against the inventory saying that it’s in a good condition.

She claimed her estate agent tried to charge her and her three housemates £300 (US$395) each from their £700 (US$920) deposits to cover the cost of damages when they moved out.

When your landlady says she’s going to charge you half your deposit for nothing. Source: Giphy

When it’s time to move out ask for a detailed list of all charges and be sure to check it carefully, Johnson said.

“When we got our list I noticed they’d charged us for a few things that were actually problems with the house, not things we’d damaged,” she explained.

“Like all the doorknobs that always fell off, that we’d actually complained to them about.”

Naturally, Johnson told the company they would not be paying for those things, but it was a long battle involving a never-ending stream of passive-aggressive emails and phone calls.

Despite feeling like calling it a day on multiple occassions, she pushed on. Spurred by determination and the will of her parents to get the money back, she managed to win her case.

Victory is sweet! Source: Giphy

But then, a cleaning bill came through.

“This cleaning bill was for £200 (US$265),” she said, “but it had absolutely no details on why it was £200 despite the fact that we cleaned the house with a toothbrush before we left, and the letting agents couldn’t tell us exactly what the bill was for.”

Johnson claimed that after they gave no explanation and refused to revoke the bill, she “threatened to take them to the small claims court.”

And it worked. “They gave us some money off things,” she said, “but we still ended up paying much more than we should have.”

Her advice? Look after the house, and if anything goes wrong, alert the letting agents straight away.

Keep notes of conversations, problems that occur, and always ask for things in writing so you can back up these assertions. Check all charges carefully and do not give up if you think you’ve been wrongly charged for something.

She also added that it may be wise to take dated photographs and make a note alongside them of any problems in the house when you move in.

Don’t give up

Johnson is not the only student who’s managed to get some money back through sheer grit and determination.

In Anna* Fong’s final year of university the ceiling fell down into her living room, damaging many of her personal possessions.

She claimed there were many “disagreements” along the way in her quest to get the ceiling sorted and her possessions fixed, replaced or reimbursed.

When the going gets tough, grit your teeth. Source: Giphy

It took Fong six months to solve it but she was eventually reimbursed. But now, many months later, Fong and her housemates are still “yet to find out whether or not they will give us our deposit back.”

But she is determined to keep on at them, just as she did when the ceiling first fell through.

Similar to Fong – minus the collapsing ceiling malarkey – Alice* Fullwood said it took her five months to get her deposit back and there was no real reason for the delay.

“It was only on request over the phone” they even managed to finally have the money transferred back over to them.

It’s “rude,” she remarked, but that’s the way agents will be if they can, especially with students they think they can swindle.

Pick your landlord or letting agent carefully

Recent graduate Tom* Munday claimed that when he originally put down his housing deposit at the beginning of the year his landlord asked for a £500 (US$660) deposit from each of his housemates.

But this was then swiftly changed £490 (US$645) when Munday’s landlord realised he could avoid being taxed on the cash if it was under £500.

When your landlord is messing you around. Source: Giphy

When they moved out they were charged an oven cleaning fee as it was unclean – which Munday added was the case before they moved in – and when they tried to fight it, “he invited us to come and watch a cleaner clean it.”

Munday claimed being careful about which company or private landlord you rent from is key.

He advised students to go through agents and landlords approved by the university if possible. That way, if anything goes wrong the university can step in and help out.

In a nutshell, be careful to look after your house; don’t sign anything you don’t agree with; take photographs and document everything; don’t give up if your agent is being difficult; and choose your agent wisely in the first place.

It can be tough but it’s certainly not all bad, and the memories you make in the house are bound to last a lifetime!

*Students have chosen to use an alias. 

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