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What landlords need to know on deposit disputes

Disputes are the last resort for landlords and tenants who cannot come to a solution over deposits.

To help landlords avoid any pitfalls with disputes, we have put together some of the most asked questions and our expert advice on how to prepare for the future.

What is the burden of proof?

Whilst a tenant has no obligation to prove their position, many landlords do not realise that the burden is on them to prove they have a valid claim to a share of the deposit.

Landlords must submit evidence to support their claim and tenants will then provide their own evidence supporting their position in response. The deposit remains the tenant’s money until the landlord has successfully proven their claim.

This is sent to an independent, unbiased adjudicator who will review the evidence and decide how the deposit will be repaid.

What evidence should landlords gather?

Landlords can submit many kinds of evidence; however, this will depend on what the claim is for. Some of the most common examples of evidence include:

  • Signed tenancy agreements
  • Invoices, estimates and receipts
  • Signed reports of property inspections
  • Witness statements
  • Screenshots for texts and WhatsApp messages
  • Photographs (showing dates if possible)

Landlords must provide a copy of the tenancy agreements and a check-in and check-out report at the very least, to give them the best chances of success.

To avoid or prepare for any future deposit disputes, a strong inventory and check-in reports are essential at the start of the tenancy.

Inventories can help avoid a dispute over deposits when tenants move out as it proves what state the property was in when the tenants moved in.

Therefore, a check-out report is equally as crucial. All parties can review the condition of the property and discuss the deposit or any deductions to it.

Should landlords perform inspections and when?

Landlords need to carry out periodic inspections throughout the year. This is a great way to make sure that the property is being looked after by the tenants and to see if there is any maintenance needed.

It is important to note that landlords need to give their tenants at least 24 hours of written notice before the tenants grant access. A landlord can only enter a property without a tenant’s permission in “emergency” scenarios.

Inspections will allow landlords to check on more general wear and tear, examine if any repairs are needed and more generally, ensure the tenants are looking after the property.

However, do not carry out checks too often as this may upset tenants. Seasonal inspections are a good balance to make sure everything is running efficiently.

Do I need tenant signatures?

A tenant signature is the most important as it confirms their agreement to the condition at the time. If the tenant has signed and returned an inventory, it indicates that they were given the opportunity to respond to any concerns they may have had.

It can also be useful for tenants to sign inspection reports. If they then refuse to sign the check-out report, make sure to submit the report and supporting evidence anyway. The adjudicator will make the decision based on the evidence provided, not just the tenant’s signature on the check-out report.

Therefore, if tenants send any emails or text messages to confirm they agree with the check-out report, that will be adequate evidence for the adjudicator.

At Mander Hadley, we can offer advice and support on all aspects of property disputes, from lease breaks, rent reviews to repair claims or deposit disputes.

For more help or advice on related matters, please contact us today.

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