One of the most painful parts of renting a Property is the security deposit that most landlords expect.
In the UK, at least, that tends to equate to around 1.5 months of rent – in addition to your first month’s rent.
That means that you’ll need to find two and a half months rent before you even walk through the door – not a cheap proposition.
Over the years I’ve heard some horror stories of people losing most if not all of their deposit when moving out of a rental property.
It’s even happened to me in the past. Of course, that’s a whole lot of Money to lose, especially if you need to find a similar sum all over again to move into your next home.
So what can you do to protect your deposit and get back as much of it as possible at the end of your tenancy?
Having just moved out of a property myself, and got an astonishing 100% of my deposit back again, here are the steps we took to achieve this goal…
When You Move In
Moving into your new property is arguably the most critical time for protecting your deposit. All too often landlords take money out of deposits for issues that were already present.
Your aim when moving into a new rental property is therefore to fairly assess every element, gathering evidence as necessary, to ensure that all parties are comfortable with the “starting point”. Here’s how to do just that…
Ask for Any Concerns
We all have our little fetishes when it comes to cleaning and tidying. A good idea is to try and assess whether the landlord or managing agent has taken money off previous tenants in the recent past, and if so what for.
As an example, in our last property we learned that the previous tenants had lost money because the inventory found “unacceptable” levels of limescale on the shower cubicle. This then entailed a professional cleaning company coming in, and money being deducted from the deposit to cover this.
With this information in mind, we paid particular attention to limescale around the property, treating all necessary surfaces on a weekly basis so it wasn’t allowed to build up in any crevices.
Check the Inventory for Irregularities
These days any property you rent should come with an inventory – a written document detailing the contents and condition of the property you’re renting. That said, they’re often woefully inaccurate; something that can come back and bite you on the butt at a later date.
So firstly, make sure you’re issued with an inventory on day one of your tenancy – if not before. Secondly, make it your job to go through this with a fine-toothed comb, making any changes necessary.
Your job here is to be as picky and negative as possible. If there are scuffs, lose paintwork, scratches to wooden floors, write it down. Every single imperfection should be recorded – lest you’re held accountable in the future.
In our inventory, for example, we made over 70 changes! I know this may seem like overkill, but you want to make sure that every imperfection is recorded and reported before your deposit it at stake.
Take Meter Readings
If you’re paying the utility bills while in the property, ensure you take readings on day one. This avoids the risk of paying over the odds for electricity or gas that you haven’t used.
Most inventories will have meter readings on them, so check that the given figures are close enough to your own.
Read Your Contract Carefully
Reading tenancy agreements might not be fun, but it is a critical step to keeping your deposit safe. After all, if you don’t know what you’ve agreed to, you can hardly complain later on if money is subtracted from your deposit because you broke a clause.
In our case, our rental property had a septic tank, and there were very particular rules that had to be followed to keep this in good condition.
Only by reading the contract in depth did we discover this, and learn exactly which household chemicals we may use safely.
Give a Copy of All Paperwork to the Managing Agent
If you’ve made any changes to the inventory (which you almost certainly will) or noted any issues with the meter readings then provide these to the managing agent. You will normally have a time-limit on when any changes must be submitted, so be mindful of these.
Keep a copy of the paperwork for your own records, and get evidence that your submitted changes have been received by the agent. This means either posting them, and requesting a signature on arrival, or simply visiting in person and asking them to sign a document to confirm they have received your changes.
Then guard this paperwork – and proof of receipt – with your life. Put it somewhere safe, as you may well need to refer back to it when you move out.
Lastly, take photographic evidence. Don’t just take photos of any blemishes or issues, but also take photos of the good stuff. Take multiple photos of the kitchen – the sink, refrigerator, oven etc. Also do the same for the bathroom, and so on throughout the property.
These photos do two things. Firstly, they record any issues present, which can serve as evidence at a later date if necessary. Secondly, and just as importantly, they allow you to look back years later when you move out to assess the cleanliness of the property on your arrival.
Use these as a guide when you move out, aiming to clean and scrub everything till it matches the standards you experienced on your arrival.
While You’re Living in the Property
OK, so that crazy first few weeks is complete. Life is slowing down and you’re starting to feel at home. While the hard part may be over, protecting your rental deposit is still an ongoing process. Here’s what you should be paying attention to in your normal, everyday life…
Meet All Contractual Agreements
You’ve read your contract, so this now needs to be your guide. If necessary, re-read it on a regular basis so there’s nothing you forget.
Your goal is to meet or exceed every element here that may refer to maintaining the property, reporting issues and generally enjoying it in a considerate manner.
Build a Relationship
If your landlord or managing agent likes you then they’re more likely to be forgiving when you move out. On the other hand, a nightmare tenant may find themselves being assessed rather more harshly.
There’s more. Maintaining a good relationship with the property’s owner can also make your tenancy more enjoyable, and may make it easier and quicker to resolve any minor hiccups along the way.
Take the time, therefore, to foster a positive relationship when possible. Be helpful, be polite, pay every bill on time, every time. Be someone that the property owner realises they can trust and rely on. Perfect tenants can be hard to come by, so you’ll be appreciated for your efforts.
Clean Thoroughly and Regularly
There aren’t many of us who enjoy cleaning, but it’s a necessary evil if you want to get your deposit back at the end.
Don’t assume that giving everything a thorough clean at the end will be enough. Instead, while you should give the property a good clean each week, choose a “focus” area to really go to town on each time.
I divided my cleaning time roughly 50/50 between a general clean and a focus area – such as the bathroom, or the oven, or the decking area. Giving each area the most thorough clean possible on a regular basis not only makes moving out easier, but also keeps things in better order if you receive visits from your landlord.
Report Any Issues in Writing
If you have any major issues with the property – such as damp patches appearing or white goods breaking – then report these swiftly and in writing to the property owner.
This will enable your landlord to resolve the issue swiftly, and ensures neither of you have a nasty surprise in the final weeks of your tenancy as you try to get it back to habitable state. Better to deal with issues as they crop up and keep things in a respectable condition at all times.
Lastly, one of our little tricks for keeping our property in the best condition possible was to take precautions to avoid mess or breakages.
As examples, we used some fantastic Teflon hob protectors to guard against spillages, and we also bought a similar liner for the bottom of the oven. These are easily wiped clean weekly as part of our regular cleaning routine, which is a lot easier than trying to chisel burned food off an oven.
Oven bags can be used when roasting meat, helping to reduce any splashes, further speeding up your cleaning and making the end result more satisfactory.
The same goes for other areas of the house too. Be careful of wooden surfaces that can be scratched or dented, and place protective pads under furniture to prevent damage to flooring.
Your goal is to return the property in the same condition – if not better – that you received it. So put some thought in early in your tenancy as to how you might take precautions to avoid dirt or damage to the fabric of the house.
When You Move Out
If you’ve followed the guidelines so far then moving out of the property and getting your deposit back again shouldn’t be too difficult. However, this is no time to rest on your laurels; instead it’s the time to take advantage of all your ongoing efforts, giving the property a final “polish” before you hand it back to the owner…
Clean Like Your Life Depends On It
Despite our ongoing cleaning regime it took the best part of four days to clean our house from top to bottom, going back over every aspect with a fine-toothed comb. Every room, every aspect was considered, cleaned and buffed to within an inch of it’s life.
This final clean might not be much fun, but consider the deposit you’re hopefully going to get back. Divide this by the cleaning time available, and equate money to time. Our four days of cleaning got us over £1,000 back, making each boring day worth over £250. Suddenly, things don’t seem so bad, do they?
Do this for both the inside and outside of the property, remembering windows, the garden, drive and so on. When you move out you want it to look like a “showhome” ready to being new tenants to the very next day.
Repair, Replace, Improve
If, despite your best efforts, there are areas of the property that are of concern to you then consider doing the right thing and repairing or replacing them as necessary.
Re-varnish wood, give that wall where you spilled the hot custard a coat of paint. It’s a lot cheaper and easier to do these little chores yourself than it is for the landlord to get a professional in.
Compare Your Photos
Remember those photos you took at the beginning of the process? These can now become your allies. Revisit your pictures, and compare the property now with how it was when you moved in.
Satisfy yourself that the property is in a condition at least as good as this – or take remedial steps to achieve this.
Also, take your own new photos, so you can compare the “before” and “after” if necessary in the future.
Ask for an Early Inspection
Moving out of a rental property doesn’t have to be a “one hit wonder” where you either get things right or wrong – and either lose money from your deposit or don’t.
It is better to plan your exit to complete all your cleaning a day or two before the tenancy ends. Then ask the property owner to visit, and walk round with you. Ask them if they have any concerns at all, or anything they’d like you to sort out before you go.
This helps to give you a “second pair of eyes” on any potential issues, as well as giving you time time to remedy any concerns raised. From the landlord’s perspective, of course, they can get a better idea of anything that needs doing before they rent out the property again, which also makes their lives easier.
Be Prepared to Haggle
Lastly, in all the mayhem of moving out, make sure that your “before” and “after” photos, together with your adjusted inventory are easily to hand. In this manner, if it is proposed to deduct any money from your deposit you’ll have all the evidence necessary in hand to prove that such issues were present when you moved in, or are as a result of general wear and tear.
I’m not for a moment proposing you lie to the landlord or managing agent. If you messed up then take it on the chin. However if there’s a genuine issue that isn’t your fault then it makes sense to be fully protected, so you can demonstrate to everyone concerned that such an issue doesn’t like with you.
While I know that the above list is extensive, all being well you will find that all that hard work worked well, and soon enough you’ll be receiving your full deposit back again while leaving the property owner over the moon with the condition of their property.
That reference alone can be worth more than the deposit money in the future.
So take action today, and protect your deposit for the future.
Have you ever lost money from your security deposit? What happened? How do you protect your security deposit these days? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below so that we can all learn from one another…
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