For a general overview and background on tenancy deposits, please refer to the tenancy deposit guide. For those of you that are familiar with the legislation but have failed to protect your tenant(s) deposit for one reason or another, you’re in the right place.
Brief reminder of what is required to comply with the Tenancy Deposit Legislation
To be in compliance with the Section 213 Housing Act 2004, any money taken from a tenant as a security deposit must be protected in a Government approved scheme with in 30 days of receiving it. Just to clarify, it is NOT a legal requirement to take a deposit, so this legislation only applies to those landlords that do (which, quite frankly, is most).
After the deposit is protected, the tenant must be given the Prescribed Information related to the protection of the deposit, also with in 30 days. NB. Make sure you have evidence that you have done it.
It’s also worth noting that ALL deposits ever taken must now be protected– even those taken before 2007 when the original deposit legislation was introduced (that was previously NOT the case). Landlords had until the 23rd June 2015 to protect deposits!
Once the deposit is protected and the proscribed information is served with in the allocated time, you have complied with the law until the tenancy ends – even if you allow it to roll on (known as Statutory Periodic Tenancy) after the fixed term has ended.
I didn’t protect my tenant’s deposit!
If you are one of the many landlords or Letting Agents (yep, they screw up too, but that’s probably no surprise) who have not protected your tenants deposit you’ve got a problem. Well you know that otherwise you wouldn’t be reading this. Hello, welcome.
There have been so many changes to Deposit Protection Legislation, since it was foist upon us in the Housing Act 2004, it’s not surprising that so many landlords get it wrong– but unfortunately ignorance is no defence in law.
I am going to do this backwards because it is when a problem shows its ugly face that most landlords realise that they have screwed up, so let’s look at some of the most common scenarios (sadly, none of which will save you), and from my experience, when most landlords frantically start becoming concerned about their non-compliance…
1) My tenants are threatening me
Your tenant(s) has discovered they can prosecute you and potentially make a quick buck by seeking compensation for your failure to comply with the law. Either you pay compensation or face legal action.
This is unbelievably common, which is pretty sad. More about what to do in this scenario below.
2) I need to get rid of my tenant but I can’t serve a Section 21
The penny usually drops when you reach for a Section 21 Notice and read the notes, which tell you what you have to do to serve a valid Notice on your tenant.
If the Deposit Protection Legislation has not been followed, you’re screwed – meaning you can’t serve a valid Section 21, and your only option is, possibly, serving a Section 8 Notice where you must prove grounds for eviction (which you may not have).
3) The Judge threw out my Section 21 because I had not protected the tenants deposit
Most savvy tenants will take advice when they are served with a Section 21 and one of the first questions they will be asked is “Did your landlord protect your deposit?” Followed by “Did he send you the legally required information about your deposit protection within 30 days?”
If they cannot answer YES to both questions they will be told to contest the Section 21 in court. That’s when the Judge will most likely look at the details and throw the case out of court, so here you are.
4) A bloke in the pub told me that I should have protected my tenants deposit – what is he talking about? I didn’t have a clue!
This is a typical case where the landlord has just one property, from when he moved in with his girlfriend, and hasn’t a clue about the landlord legal requirements. You have also heard through your sources that the tenant can gain compensation… and now you’re scared, wondering if it’s all true.
Yes, it’s true.
5) I forgot!
You forgot to protect the deposit and/or serve the prescribed information (not sure how many people will believe this one!).
Any of the above sound depressingly familiar? If your case is not one of the above (or similar), please leave a comment with the details…
I didn’t comply with the tenant deposit legislation– what can I do?
Now, let’s get to the crux of the matter.
As it stands, these are your options:
- Recommended solution: Protect it now and serve the prescribed information hoping that if an issue arises and it goes to court the Judge will take the view “better late than never”
- Pay the deposit back to the tenant and hope that he doesn’t find out that he can get compensation, although it might be difficult to explain *why* you’re giving it back.
Suggestion: just come clean, say you didn’t follow the proper procedures and you’re trying to rectify the situation. Don’t mention the entitled compensation.
- If you’re trying to get rid of a rogue tenant and you have grounds for eviction (e.g. your tenant is in 2 months rent arrears), serve a Section 8 (as already covered, unlike with a Section 21, you don’t need to comply with the tenancy deposit legislation in order to serve a Section 8.
- Do nothing, but sit tight and pray that your tenants don’t realise protecting the deposit and serving the Prescribed Information is a legal requirement and/or they don’t care enough to seek compensation because you’ve been an amazing landlord.
If your tenant hasn’t mentioned anything…
There’s a good chance your tenant isn’t aware of the tenancy deposit legislation or the ramifications of failing to comply. It’s also not unusual for tenants to be aware, but waive their right to prosecute because their landlord has been reasonable throughout the tenancy.
The point here is that you don’t want to give your tenant a reason to look into the legislation or exercise their right to claim compensation.
- The most common reason why tenants proceed to take legal action is because they feel screwed over by how the deposit has been handled (i.e. when landlords try to make deductions over trivial and menial damages, which actually, quite often fall under wear and tear). So when it’s time for them to vacate, forget the temptation to deduct £90 for carpet cleaning, or £50 for picture hook repair, just let it go. Otherwise they may start looking into their rights. Generally speaking, biting your lip and absorbing those costs is the safest and cheapest option!
- The second most common reason is failure to complete repairs promptly, or making repairs at all. Ignoring your duty to maintain and repair is a sure-fire of pissing your tenants off, consequently giving them reason to prosecute given the opportunity. So with that in mind, and ethics aside, it might be sensible to ensure your attend to repairs and maintenance issues promptly, and generally be a good landlord all round (you should be anyways, mind you!).
It’s also worth noting that if your tenant does take the matter to court to seek compensation (regardless of whether you’ve been a good or bad landlord), some Judges do take into consideration how the landlord has conducted themselves during the tenancy before determining how much they should be penalised.
Can I get in serious trouble for not protecting my tenant’s deposit? What can happen?
Putting it bluntly, you have broken the law, so yes, there can be consequences.
- A tenant, who takes legal action, can expect to be awarded compensation because his legal rights have been denied. A Judge has the power to award between 100% and 300% of the deposit in compensation and may also instruct you to return the whole deposit. This can be an expensive loss, not just because of the compensation, but also if you actually need use the deposit to cover damages.
- Because you have not complied with the law, your rights to use legal process to remove a rogue tenant have been reduced- you can no longer use Section 21 of the 1988 Housing Act (which is often the most efficient method of removing a rogue tenant).
My tenant is threatening me with legal action, what should I do?
Ok, so presumably shit has hit the fan; your tenant has discovered you failed to comply with the deposit legislation, and now they’re after a handsome payout. Unfortunately, this is becoming a terribly familiar scenario, rightly or wrongly so.
What to do at this stage will depend on the individual circumstances, so there isn’t a simple solution for all. However, there’s more information available in the “ways you can legally end a tenancy agreement.
My letting agent did not protect the deposit…
Your hired help has failed you. Common scenario.
So where do you stand in this case? Are you given the luxury of mercy? Unfortunately, you’re in the exact same position as if you have no association with a letting agent. If its of any consolation (which it probably won’t be), the law was specifically changed in the Housing Act 2004 to allow tenants to sue the agent as well as the landlord for the penalty for non compliance of protecting the tenancy deposit.
If you are using a Letting Agent and they do not protect your tenants deposit correctly– you’ll still ultimately be held responsible. Even if you have not touched a penny the law states that the deposit was taken on your behalf and therefore you are responsible. That’s why it’s essential to ensure that your Letting Agent is a member of a Property Redress Scheme (legally required since October 2014) so at least you will have redress if they screw up.
A Letting Agent cannot go to Court for Possession without the property owner, he can go with you as what is known as a “McKenzie Friend”. He can complete the Notices and other documents but you must sign them. Only a legally qualified person can represent you in Court.
Does anyone else have any additional tips to share? Do you have any experiences to share regarding this matter, weather you’re a landlord or a tenant? I’d love to hear your story!
Disclaimer: I'm just a simple landlord blogger, I am not qualified to give legal or financial advice. Any advice I give is my opinion based on my experience, and is never legal or professional advice. You should always get professional advice on any legal and financial matters!