AS much as we hope to live alongside each other in harmony during these challenging, isolating and sometimes stressful times – some disputes, like those between landlords and their tenants, may have the potential to escalate.
And while these disputes can be stressful for both parties, there are simple ways to avoid some of the more common ones and promote a happier relationship between tenant and landlord.
So, let’s start with some of the more common concerns and tips on how to avoid them:
Cleaning and cleanliness
It will come as little surprise that cleaning remains the biggest cause of deposit dispute. Research shows that there has been a rise in disputes around cleanliness and cleaning over the years, more recently from 67.4 per cent in March 2019 to 75 per cent in March 2020.
The definition of a clean and tidy house can vary from person to person; what is acceptable for some is certainly not for others. People have different standards, and we need to accept that this will never change.
However, it is sometimes the case that some tenants simply choose not to leave the property as they found it on moving in; with the main issues being dirty carpets, damaged furniture, grime and grease ridden kitchens and filthy bathrooms and toilets.
Tenancy deposits are taken from tenants to protect the landlord, and anything which goes beyond normal and acceptable wear and tear can be claimed for. A deposit is an important psychological lever that motivates tenants to return a property in good condition, prompting questions like ‘will I get my deposit back when I leave?’ This is normally enough of a motivator to get people to clean up and look after the property, but unfortunately this doesn’t always work.
Here is where landlords can avoid any confusion right at the start of the tenancy by advising the tenant in writing of their obligations.
Ensure that any documentation (along with photographs) shows the property at the point of checking in and make it clear that you expect the tenant to be respectful of the property and to meet the cost of any damage, cleaning etc for the duration of the tenancy.
This will provide a useful reference for both of you at the time of check out, and sending it in advance will help your tenant make sure they leave the property in the condition they found it in.
If you organised a cleaning company before the tenant moved in, you could pass the details to them so your tenant could use the same firm to clean it before handing the property back to you.
But beware – landlords also need to be transparent about their losses when it comes to Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) refunds, and as this report shows – gathering good evidence in terms of invoices, estimated or costs associated with cleaning remains an important challenge.
Damage to property
Again, tenants do need to take care to avoid damage to the property. A common issue is tenants wishing to hang pictures or mirrors on walls or put up shelves.
They should ask the landlord’s permission for this and be advised that any repair to holes etc should be made on leaving the property. You may also have a clause in your agreement that any breakages should be replaced – but landlords most also allow for reasonable wear and tear.
The greater the length of the tenancy, the greater the chances for general wear and tear. But what is the difference between wear and tear versus actual damage? Basically, if you break something – accidentally or otherwise – this is damage is not wear and tear. Light marks on a carpet may be viewed as unavoidable. Damage such as nail varnish spills on the floor or iron burns that have occurred due to neglect on the other hand could see a tenant liable for repair.
Landlords need to consider if the item has been damaged or worn out through natural use versus negligence. Again, having a thorough check-in and check out should help to avoid any disputes over whether something was damaged before the tenant moved in.
It’s almost summer and you have spent time, effort and money on making your garden attractive and functional; because after all – that’s what many tenants are looking for during the pandemic.
You may have invested in some planting, garden furniture and lighting. However, let’s face it – many tenants aren’t gardeners; so having an easy to maintain garden is a good idea in any property you plan to let.
If you have a larger or more maintenance-heavy garden, you could consider factoring in a regular gardener into the price of the rent?
Just like the property, the garden will be subject to checks and it will soon become apparent if the garden has been neglected or badly maintained. Landlords are quite within their rights to ask the tenant to tidy up – and once more, this is where a written clause can make clear your intentions and expectations.
Having a properly maintained property is a tenant’s right and a landlord’s duty. When problems occur, such as a boiler breaking down, or issues with damp (which can cause damage to health), these must be resolved quickly. Tenants who feel that their landlord is taking too long to resolve these issues often withhold the rent until the issue is fixed. This is clearly not an ideal situation and important to prevent if possible.
Landlords can avoid disputes by taking quick action to resolve the problems. Agencies provide excellent support for problems like this and have access to well-priced and reputable property repair and maintenance contractors who can keep things running smoothly, taking the hassle out of the landlord’s hands.
How to avoid deposit disputes regarding tenant fees
When it comes to tenancy deposit disputes regarding fees, it pays to think like an adjudicator. This will help you avoid disputes, minimise misunderstandings and if necessary, compile evidence to support your deduction claim.
Here is some excellent advice from ARLA (Association of Residential Lettings Agents) on all things disputes and deposits; and includes this checklist as a guide for landlords:
- The tenancy agreement must clearly explain the circumstances in which a tenant would be expected to pay a fee to an agent in line with the Tenant Fees Act. What is the fee for? When does it apply? How is it calculated?
- The tenancy agreement must make clear that the deposit can be used to pay the permitted fee. If it does not, a tenant may be liable to pay the fee, but the tenancy deposit protection scheme may not be able to award it from the deposit if disputed.
- Wherever possible, the likely amount of the charge should be set out within the tenancy agreement, particularly for lost keys or late rent interest, which must not be charged at a rate higher than three per cent. In a dispute case, the adjudicator would expect to see evidence that the tenant had otherwise been informed about potential fees when the tenancy was signed.
- If it is not possible to specify the exact fee in advance, you should at least explain how it will be calculated. Where no indication is given, any award made in a dispute will be for what the adjudicator considers to be a reasonable sum.
- If a deposit dispute does arise regarding fees, you should provide evidence that the sum claimed for has actually been incurred. For example, you could provide an invoice for key replacement.
Ways to resolve landlord and tenant disputes
We all want our renting experience to run as smoothly and as hassle free as possible; whether as a landlord or a tenant.
Many complaints or issues can be avoided altogether through transparent policies and pricing and a fair approach.
But there will be occasions when things do go wrong and disagreements arise. Contrary to common belief, these don’t necessarily always have to end up in court.
Here’s some things to consider when trying to resolve a dispute:
- A lack of communication can be the key to causing problems in some cases. Whether you are the landlord or the tenant, if there is something you need to discuss, resolve or simply clarify – talk to the other party. A lot of misunderstanding occurs through a lack of communication.
- If you cannot agree on a concern verbally, then the next stage is to put it in writing. For the landlord, this gives the opportunity to formally document any misgivings you may have. Remember to be as specific as possible in terms of dates and times, detailed incidents and any previous correspondence or attempts to resolve the issue.
- Mediation is a great way to allow both parties in a dispute to be heard in a private setting. It is likely to be cheaper than an official legal process and it helps to preserve the interests of those involved.
If you have a property that you would like to discuss the management of, or you are looking to become a portfolio landlord, speak to a member of the City and County team today, to understand more about the benefits of partnering with us.