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Student housing – deposits

This advice applies to England

Most private rented landlords require students to pay a deposit as a condition of letting accommodation. The deposit acts as security against non-payment of rent or damage to the property.

This page considers some of the main problems students experience around tenancy deposits.

Tips to get your deposit back

  • get a receipt for the deposit you paid
  • agree an inventory with your landlord before you move in. Note the condition of the property and everything in it
  • take photographs to accompany the inventory. Add a date and brief description to them
  • keep records about all repairs, when you reported them and what your landlord did.

If you're an assured shorthold tenant

If you have an assured shorthold tenancy and paid a deposit on or after 6 April 2007, your landlord or an agent acting on their behalf, must protect it in a government-approved tenancy deposit protection scheme.

A deposit protection scheme helps ensure that you get back what you're entitled to at the end of the tenancy.

If you're not an assured shorthold tenant

For other occupiers, such as lodgers, there are no special rules requiring your landlord to protect your deposit in a government-approved scheme.

Paying a deposit for a joint tenancy

If you share accommodation with other tenants under one tenancy agreement, you will have a joint tenancy. Landlords normally take a single deposit for the whole of the joint tenancy.

This means that if another tenant doesn't pay their share of the rent, or if they cause damage to the property, your landlord can deduct this amount from the whole deposit. If this happens, you and the other tenants will have to agree on how to divide up the remainder.

Make sure you have an inventory

An inventory is a list of the furniture and fittings provided in your home. It should specify the condition of items and of the property generally. Having an inventory can help prevent disputes about the deposit at the end of the tenancy. It's best to have a written inventory that is signed by you and the landlord when you move in.

If your landlord provides an inventory, check it carefully before signing it. If it isn't accurate and you agree to it, the discrepancies could be deducted from your deposit when the tenancy ends.

If your landlord doesn't provide an inventory, you should draw one up yourself and ask the landlord or an independent witness to sign it.

It's also useful to take photographs to accompany the inventory.

What can your landlord deduct from the deposit at the end of the tenancy?

Your landlord should only make deductions for things that cost them money. For example, it's reasonable for your landlord to take money off your deposit to cover:

  • damage to the property or furniture
  • missing items that were listed on the inventory
  • paying for cleaning because the property was left in a dirty condition
  • outstanding rent owed by you or a joint tenant.

Your landlord shouldn't deduct money from the deposit to cover damage that could be regarded as fair wear and tear. Wear and tear happens when furniture and contents deteriorate as a result of normal use, for example, carpet becoming worn. Generally, wear and tear takes place over a long period of time through normal use.

Anything which needs to be repaired or replaced should be on a 'like for like' basis, so a second-hand desk shouldn't be replaced with a brand new one.  

You can ask your landlord to show you receipts or estimates for anything they want to deduct from your deposit.

Your landlord is usually responsible for returning your deposit even if you originally paid it to a letting agent acting on their behalf.

What can an assured shorthold tenant do if they don't agree with the deductions?

If you have a dispute about how much of the deposit is repaid at the end of the tenancy, the tenancy deposit protection scheme your landlord used will hold the relevant amount until the dispute is resolved. You can also use an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) service provided by the scheme, or take court action.

If you find that your landlord didn't use a tenancy deposit protection scheme to protect the deposit, you can:

  • contact your landlord and use the fact that they haven't met their legal obligations to negotiate getting your deposit back
  • take court action if they fail to return your deposit.

What can other occupiers do if they don't agree with the deductions?

Other occupiers, for example, lodgers, who are not assured shorthold tenants may find it more difficult to get their deposit back because there are no special legal rules protecting them.

Your landlord may deduct an amount before returning the deposit to cover certain things, such as damage to the property or furniture. If you disagree with that amount, you can try to negotiate with your landlord to reach an amount you do agree on. Any evidence you have to support your case will be useful, such as the inventory, photographs and anything relating to the condition of the property or the things in it.

Ultimately, if you and your landlord can't reach an agreement and you think the deductions are unfair or unreasonable, you can use the small claims procedure in the county court to get the rest of the deposit back. Sometimes the threat of legal action will be enough to make your landlord return the deposit.

► More about taking court action and small claims

What happens if you decide to withhold your rent?

If you think that you and your landlord are likely to disagree about the return of the deposit, you might decide to withhold some or all of the last rent payment.

It's important to remember that you are legally liable to pay your rent and if you withhold it, your landlord may take court action to recover the debt.

If nonetheless, you decide that you want to withhold the rent, you should keep the money in a separate bank account in case your landlord does try to claim it back.

Next steps

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