Family’s fight to win back tenancy deposit

Tim Raw from Fratton with his two children Phoebe, two, and Nelly, one. Picture: Ian Hargreaves  (122444-3)
Tim Raw from Fratton with his two children Phoebe, two, and Nelly, one. Picture: Ian Hargreaves (122444-3)
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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Trouble getting deposits returned at the end of a tenancy has become alarmingly common.

Last year Streetwise offered readers advice on how to avoid giving your landlord an excuse to hold onto your cash.

But even if you scrupulously clean and check and do everything right before you move, sometimes you can still be on the receiving end of unreasonable bills for damage you didn’t cause.

And all too often, tenants are lost on where to turn when it comes to taking on landlords or letting agents levying unfair charges.

This can lead to frustration and, ultimately, the impression that no matter what you do you can’t win.

But falling into despair isn’t the answer.

The proof of this comes from the experience of 30-year-old Tim Raw and his young family when they decided to move from their home in Byerley Road, Fratton, in March this year.

Having lived in the house for two-and-a-half years, Tim soon learned that Pearsons Letting Agency, in Marmion Road, Southsea, proposed to deduct £765 of his £945 deposit on behalf of his landlord.

They provided a breakdown of the reasons for the deduction: £100 for cleaning, £330 for replacement of a worktop, £20 for removal of child safety catches, £130 to supply and fit an under-stairs door, £115 to repaint various areas and £70 to reinstate a solid panel to the rear door.

Needless to say, Tim was far from happy with taking responsibility for hundreds of pounds worth of damages he was certain his family weren’t responsible for.

He says: ‘Having exhausted negotiations with Pearsons over the disputed amount, we sent an appeal submission to the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, informing them that we accepted a deduction of £100.

‘That’s £20 for removal of child safety catches and £80 for the supply and fit of an under-stairs door – but that we disputed the remaining £665.’

And last month an adjudicator from the government-run scheme largely agreed with him, returning 70 per cent of the disputed amount – £464.80 – to his account.

But Tim has been left concerned that many other tenants are also being unfairly treated and aren’t aware that they can fight back against this kind of behaviour.

He says: ‘We want to encourage people to appeal unfair deductions from their tenancy deposits.

‘People should have confidence that however intimidating, time-consuming and laborious the appeal process can be, it’s worth standing up to landlords who have made unreasonable claims.

‘My wife and I, and our one and two-year-old children, found the process of negotiating with the letting agent and compiling a submission for the Tenancy Deposit Scheme very stressful.

‘And we are conscious that tenants who are far more vulnerable than us may need support to protect them from abuse.

‘As with all tenancy deposits, our money had been set aside to compensate the landlord for any damage caused to the property at the end of the tenancy, except reasonable wear and tear over a two-and-a-half-year occupancy.

‘The adjudication confirmed that Pearsons, on behalf of their client the landlord, had proposed a deduction of nearly three per cent of our family’s annual household income to repair damage that we hadn’t caused and that we weren’t responsible for.

‘I think as much support as possible should be given to tenants who find themselves in similar, or worse, situations.’

The director of lettings for Pearsons, Simon Pinkney, said tenants should bear in mind that agents don’t decide on deposit deductions and often end up caught in the middle of disputes.

He says: ‘In this case we are more than happy that the process worked as it is supposed to do and a fair resolution was reached. But tenants need to realise that leaving properties without cleaning them is not considered wear and tear.’

The News’ consumer rights expert Richard Thomson says the deposit scheme was set up to try and avoid this kind of situation.

‘A landlord is obliged by law to tell a tenant who is holding their deposit,’ he says.

‘A tenant can ask for it back, and if refused can obtain a court order to have it returned. A landlord cannot make deductions from the deposit for wear and tear, but where most tenants fall down is they don’t read the incoming inventory, and query any suspect items.’