Your rental questions answered with Stephanie Robinson

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The definition of wear and tear can lead to differences of opinion when a tenancy ends.

In this month’s column Stephanie Robinson outlines the steps a landlord can take to avoid deposit disputes...

How can I prevent tenants disagreeing with me about how much of their deposit should be returned when they vacate my property?

Most landlords and letting agents ask for a deposit to provide security should tenants break the terms of their agreement or cause damage to the property.

You should ensure your tenancy makes clear what is expected in terms of cleaning and repairs and when moving new occupants in, highlight these obligations, giving guidance about what maintenance is required during the letting and before they leave.

A detailed inventory is essential, as it will help you compare the state of the property at check in and check out and determine if any deductions need to be made from the deposit. It will also be relied upon if a disagreement has to be referred to the free dispute resolution service offered by the deposit protection scheme.

Give a copy of the inventory to your tenants when they move in so there can be no argument about the condition of the property and they can ensure it is retuned in good order.

If an inventory isn’t carried out, if it is rushed or incomplete, it may not be clear how the property should be left and could lead to a dispute. Inventory companies can be commissioned, but many landlords choose to produce their own. Do it at the start of the tenancy and it must be undertaken with care.

The inventory should not only detail the state of the property, but also define the terms used to report the condition or cleanliness of the items. It must be clear enough for a third party to understand without being present and should include dated photographs.

Check out is the perfect time to discuss and agree any deductions, however, you may consider conducting mid-term and pre-check out inspections to help resolve any issues and avoid a dispute. Don’t forget you need to give the tenant adequate notice of any inspection.

It may also be useful to remind new tenants that they are personally responsible for paying utility bills and council tax, unless you have an alternative arrangement. Draw their attention to the clause in your agreement that sets out this obligation and ensure you identify the location of all meters so they can take accurate readings.

Landlords also have various responsibilities towards the maintenance of a rental property, to ensure it remains in good repair. These duties are set out in the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 and include the structure and exterior, as well the heating, hot water and sanitary installations. You are generally accountable for major repairs and if your tenant informs you of a problem, either verbally or in writing, you should investigate as soon as possible.

My advice is to stay on top of problems. Keep your investment in good order and maintain a professional relationship with your tenant. If you uphold your side of the bargain, you have an excellent chance of making a rental agreement work and of the property being handed back in an acceptable condition.

Stephanie Robinson is a solicitor specialising in property and commercial litigation at Sheffield’s Taylor&Emmet LLP. Telephone 0114 218 4000 or visit www.tayloremmet.co.uk and www.landlorddisputes.co.uk.