How to avoid being ripped off when moving out of your student accommodation

At this time of year, tenancies are coming to an end and a lot of students find that their landlords want to make unwarranted deductions from their deposits for 'damage'. Here's how to fight it. 

Note: This is for tenancies in England & Wales only. The law is very different in other countries, especially Scotland. Also note that, I am not a lawyer and this is not legal advice (so, don't sue me). It's a starting point. If you're in any doubt then go and speak to CAB / Shelter / your SU advice service. 
Did your landlord protect your deposit properly? Under the Housing Act 2004, your landlord must protect your deposit with one of the three approved deposit protection schemes.

They must do this within 30 days of receiving your deposit (it used to be 14 days, but this was changed under the Localism Act 2011). 
They must also give you the prescribed information within 30 days. The prescribed info is

  • the address of the rented property
  • how much deposit you’ve paid
  • how the deposit is protected
  • the name and contact details of the tenancy deposit protection (TDP) scheme and its dispute resolution service
  • their (or the letting agency’s) name and contact details
  • the name and contact details of any third party that’s paid the deposit
  • why they would keep some or all of the deposit
  • how to apply to get the deposit back
  • what to do if you can’t get hold of the landlord at the end of the tenancy
  • what to do if there’s a dispute over the deposit

If you're not sure if your deposit was protected or not, you can find out by contacting the three deposit protection schemes that I mentioned earlier. 

If your landlord didn't protect the deposit, and they refuse to return the deposit when asked, then you can take them to court for up to 3x the deposit (see below). 

Is it fair wear and tear? At the end of the tenancy, you must hand back the property in the same condition as it was at the start of the tenancy, minus fear wear and tear. If you do this, your landlord cannot make a deduction for damage from your deposit. 
What counts as fair wear and tear? These are the things that you would normally expect to happen as a result of someone living in a house. So, carpets wearing through and things breaking as a result of old age (as opposed to misuse) counts as fear wear and tear. If you spill a glass of red wine on the carpet, or take a sledgehammer to your bathroom this isn't fair wear and tear, and the landlord is entitled to make a deduction for it. 
Are they trying to charge you full price for repairs / replacements? This isn't legal, and it's known as 'betterment'. A landlord isn't allowed to benefit financially or materially from making deductions from your deposit, so he mustn't be in a better position than he would have been if there was only fair wear and tear. This means that "new for old" type replacements aren't allowed. 

ARLA has produced some very useful guidance on how to work out how much can be deducted

(Original post by ARLA) The principles of some very general examples might include

  1. A small to medium stain or mark on a carpet or mattress - perhaps £15 - £35 e.g. the cost of a "spot" clean or, this amount as the tenants' contribution to a full clean of the whole item, or as compensation for the diminution. A small to medium size chip or mark, scratch or burn on a kitchen worktop - perhaps £5 - £25. A landlord could of course decide to have a new carpet put down or a new kitchen worktop installed if they wished, but, they cannot lawfully charge the tenant for that full cost. The costs should be apportioned and shared between landlord and tenant on the principles given above. E.g. Cost of new carpet £500 - apportioned £465 to landlord, £35 to tenant.
  2. In the rare circumstances where damage (to the worktop/carpet/mattress) is so extensive or severe to the item so as to affect the achievable rent level/lettability or quality of the property the most appropriate remedy might be to apportion costs according to the age and useful lifespan of the item. An example of how this might be calculated is as follows:

a) Cost of similar replacement carpet: £500
b) Actual age of existing carpet: 2 years 
c) Average useful lifespan of that type of carpet: 10 years 
d) Residual lifespan of the carpet, calculated as (c) minus (b): 8 years 
e) Annual depreciation of carpet, calculated by dividing (a) by (c): £50 
f) Reasonable apportionment cost, calculated by multiplying (d) by (e): £400 

This method of calculation could, (with a minor downwards adjustment to (c) to take account of the existence of more than average use of the carpet/item e.g. its useful lifespan had already been shortened prior to the tenancy in question.), be used to apportion costs of a carpet/item which had already or previously suffered excessive deterioration.

How to challenge it If your landlord didn't protect your deposit, and negotiations fail, then you can take them to court. Note that you must take the landlord to court, and not the letting agent. This is because you have a contract with the landlord and not the letting agent. Shelter has some really useful advice: 
Negotiating with your landlord Taking your landlord to court 
If your deposit was protected, and you want to dispute the deductions, then you need to follow the dispute procedure at the relevant tenancy deposit scheme to get your money back. 

One final note: most letting agents and landlords are idiots. There is no requirement for any form of legal training or licencing before you can become a letting agent or landlord, so most of them don't have a clue about the law relating to tenancies. If you've read something from a reputable source on the internet then it's probably true, even if they're swearing that it's not. Most will cave once you've sent them the formal letters, but if they don't then don't be afraid to take them to court.