How clean is clean? Tips to get back the full security deposit

Looking for tips to get your full deposit back and want to know how clean is clean when moving out of your rental property? We’ve got you.

Some of the main causes of disputes between landlords and tenants surround the cleanliness of the property at the end of a tenancy. In England, Scotland and Wales, cleaning claims are the top reason submitted for deposit deductions, followed by damages to fixtures and fittings and rent arrears in third place.*

So to help tenants get the full deposit back, we ask the question: how clean is clean? But before we can get into the nitty-gritty, we need to understand what security deposits are and how they work.

What is the security deposit?

Before the tenant moves into the rental property, they usually pay the landlord a deposit (no more than 5 weeks’ rent) which, by law in England, Wales and Scotland, should be protected in a government-approved tenancy deposit protection scheme.

Deposit schemes protect both the landlord and tenant by mediating between them, in case an agreement cannot be reached on how much of the deposit is to be paid at the end of the tenancy. The scheme’s findings are binding on both parties.

Note that there are also alternatives, for which you can find more information here. Also keep in mind that Scotland has different tenancy deposit schemes to England and Wales.

When is the security deposit returned?

The deposit is returned at the end of the tenancy, once landlord and tenant have come to an agreement. Where an agreement can’t be reached, a dispute needs to be raised so that the protection scheme can step in and take over. Whilst unusual, the courts can also instruct on how the deposit is to be handled.

How long should it take to get my deposit back?

This will vary depending on whether the landlord and tenant are in agreement on the claim against the deposit and how long it takes them to reach that agreement. If both parties are quick to act, a deposit will usually be released in a few weeks.

When can a landlord keep a deposit?

A landlord must demonstrate that they have a legitimate claim against their tenants' deposit. Successful claims typically centre on the cleanliness and condition of a property, including its contents, fixtures and fittings at the end of the tenancy in comparison to when it started. Landlords are not able to claim for deterioration through reasonable fair wear and tear. If a dispute arises, landlords will usually be required to evidence their claim, primarily with inventory documentation and copy invoices/quotations.

Landlords can also claim for rent arrears.

Cleaning tips to get the full safety deposit back

As over half of the disputes surrounding tenancy deposits are down to the cleanliness of the property, here are some tips for tenants who want to ensure the property is left as clean as on move-in day.

  1. Hire a professional cleaner. If you don’t have the time to do a proper clean, but want to make sure you leave it behind in a good state, hire a professional cleaning company.
  2. Whether you do the cleaning yourself or hire a cleaner, check the inventory from the start of your tenancy and compare the condition of the property, its fixtures and fittings to identify any liability you may have.
  3. Don’t leave the cleaning to the last minute. Things may get dirty (again) while you’re packing up or moving things around, but by starting a few weeks before your move-out date, you’ll find your final day of cleaning in the property may be less stressful.
  4. Create a to-do list of the areas you need to clean or go over again. In this way, you ensure that nothing is forgotten and get that satisfying feeling of being able to tick an item off your list.
  5. So that you don’t dirty surfaces or areas that you’ve already cleaned, start from top to bottom. For example, start by wiping down the tops of cupboards and finishing with hoovering or mopping the floors.
  6. Consider cleaning areas that you don’t use regularly or won’t be using anymore first. Leave areas such as the kitchen and bathroom for last, as you’ll be using these until you move out.
  7. Enlist the help of friends. Put on a great playlist and make it a fun experience together. You’ll get the cleaning done in no time!
  8. Use the right cleaning products for the various surfaces, as well as for stains, light mould or mildew. If you’re not keen on using harsh chemicals, there are many more natural products that can help you get the job done, too.
  9. Don’t forget to check and clean behind and under beds and sofas, wiping out drawers and wiping down or dusting skirting boards.
  10. When leaving the property, take photos as evidence of the condition in which you left the property, just in case you and the landlord disagree on how much deposit you should get back.
  11. Can a landlord request a professional cleaning service?

    The update to the Tenant Fees Act 2019 prohibits the inclusion of clauses that request tenants to hire a professional cleaning service at the end of their tenancy.

    Lastly, keep in mind that your next landlord may ask your old landlord for a reference on how you looked after the property and if it was returned in accordance with the terms of your tenancy agreement.

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