Archive for the ‘Deposit Protection Dispute’ Category

Happy Deposit Protection Dispute Clients

Monday, July 4th, 2011
I thought I would share some recent testimonials with you from satisfied customers.
“I can highly recommend Tom’s services. He has always been very helpful and willing to go the extra mile. He has a great level of expertise and knowledge. He has saved me a huge amount of of time and effort when having to deal with property issues. His company offers a very unique service which is extremely useful to any landlord who manages their own property. I have found him extremely good value for money!” 
C. Surujpaul, London

“I could not recommend them highly enough. Thomas Derrett helped me settle an extremely problematic situation, and with his expertise, experience, professionalism and charming manner, I could not have asked for a better service. His thoroughness and inside knowledge took the pain out of an extremely stressful situation, and when I was called abroad on business he pretty much handled the whole case on his own. He knew how to present my evidence in a concise and correct way, and the final judgement was happily, fairly, and correctly completely in my favour. I am extraordinarily grateful to him.” 
D Moxon, Brighton
“Toms advice, knowledge and approach has not only impressed my clients but I have also benefited from his presentation and explanation of the system to pass onto my staff. My portfolio has grown significantly since using Deposit Claim’s unique service. This insider knowledge and outside of the box thinking has improved my product, presentation and extra service as an expert. Tom is always available on the telephone and replies comprehensively to any emails.” 
L Bailey, Hertfordshire
It is always nice to be appreciated

Student Deposit Dispute Season

Tuesday, June 28th, 2011
If the weather is anything to go by, summer is upon us already, which can only mean one thing for thousands of landlords up and down the country: student changeover time.
In my, admittedly anecdotal, experience adjudicating deposit disputes, there are three groups of people responsible for significantly more damage to rented property than everyone else put together. They are:
  1. Barristers (the shame!)
  2. Doctors. I saw a defence from a tenant once that read “I don’t have to clean, I’m a doctor”. They didn’t win.
  3. Students. It’s no surprise really. Students have a well deserved reputation for trashing properties and there will be very few student landlords who don’t need to make a claim on any protected deposits this summer, so here is some advice for landlords in the run up to changeover season.
As the end of the tenancy approaches, send your tenants a letter reminding them of their obligations. Point out any relevant terms of the contract that might prompt them to clean up and tidy garden. Remind them that they have a copy of the inventory, or even give them another copy, and gently suggest that the inventory provides a useful guide as to how the property should be left, subject to fair wear and tear, of course.

Make an appointment with the tenants to check-out the property when the last one leaves. If they are going home before the end of the tenancy, you can hold the check-out early provided they voluntarily hand over their keys. If you come to an agreement at the check-out meeting regarding deductions from the deposit, make a note there and then as to how much was agreed and what for, and have the tenants sign it.

Sometimes, even with the best will in the world, relations between landlord and tenant break down over repayment of the deposit. One of the pitfalls of student letting is that indignant parents who couldn’t possibly believe their little darling could be responsible for any damage wade in with their best legal sounding letters. If you find yourself in a pickle over a deposit, with a difficult parent giving you a hard time, please call us. We will always do our best to make sure you get a fair deal, and can even deal with the tenant or parent on your behalf, which can be very helpful if you are no longer able to have a constructive discussion.

Better Inventories Required

Monday, June 6th, 2011
Better Evidence For Landlords
I have been very busy recently getting a new project off the ground which could really change the fortunes of landlords and letting agents in deposit protection disputes. 
The Problem With Inventories
All too often landlords lose deposit disputes simply because their inventory evidence doesn’t show what they need it to show. Inventory clerks tend to focus their attention on any parts of the property that are already damaged, whereas what landlords require is an inventory that shows the property in it’s undamaged condition at the beginning of the tenancy. Only with concrete evidence that the property was in good condition to start with can the landlord show that the tenant is responsible for any change in condition – damage to the property.
Ordinary inventories tend to come with a dozen or so photographs by way of supporting visual evidence. It is simply not possible with a few photographs to categorically demonstrate the condition and cleanliness of every part of every wall, every metre of skirting board, or the inside of every kitchen cupboard. 

A New Inventory

I have been working closely with the Video Inventory Network on their video inventory training course, developing a system that enables inventory clerks to take an average of 60,000 still images per inventory to corroborate their work.

The answer, of course, is to use a video camera to record 25 still images per second while conducting the inventory, enabling the clerk to provide close up images of every part of the property at no additional cost to the landlord.

The landlord receives a detailed written report as usual with chaptered DVDs of corresponding video, which the tenant can view and sign. If the tenant later disputes the landlord’s proposed deductions from the deposit, the landlord will have the written inventory, corroborated by visual evidence, which will show any given part of the property in the condition it was in at the beginning of the tenancy.
This could really redress the balance in deposit protection disputes.
Find Out More
The Video Inventory Network run two-day training courses on how to carry out video inventories. The course is ideal for landlords or letting agents looking to carry out high quality inventories in house, for experienced inventory clerks who want to add video inventories to their available products, and for those new to inventories wanting to set up a full time or part time inventory business.
See for more details.

Useful Guidance From The Deposit Protection Schemes

Monday, May 9th, 2011
I was very pleased last week that the deposit protection schemes have finally got together to offer some joint advice on the dispute process. The advice itself is very practical and if you are involved in a dispute, I would recommend you read it. Each scheme has published their own version, but I am assured the text is the same in each. Even I am not dull enough to compare them. Read the booklet here:
What pleases me most about this publication is not the advice itself. Although undoubtably useful, there is nothing new or unexpected in there. I am most pleased that it shows the schemes are working together to ensure common standards across adjudications.
One of the things I have had difficulty with since I began advising landlords on deposit claims is explaining that the likelyhood of any given claim succeeding varies greatly depending on which scheme they use. I avoid expressing my opinions on the relative merits of the schemes in order to maintain a professional, detached stance, but like everyone else in the industry, I know which scheme you are more likely to get a sensible decision from and why.
The fact that the schemes seem to have been able to work together on this booklet bodes very well for the landlord. Further co-operation may eventually lead to a uniform method of managing and deciding disputes which, while it won’t tip the scales in the landlord’s favour, may well iron out some of those frankly unjustifiable decisions which can give the schemes a bad name.


The Future Of Deposit Protection Disputes

Tuesday, April 19th, 2011
I had a really enjoyable day last week giving an inventory masterclass to the experienced team at Inventory House in London’s Docklands, who had asked me to consult on the format and content of their inventories. Their inventory product is already very professional and the guys really know their business inside out, so we were able to delve very deep into what makes a great inventory, touching on subjects as diverse as how deposit protection adjudicators arrive at decisions and awards, how to maintain admissibility of evidence for criminal court and how language is used to describe phenomena in quantum mechanics.
One of the recurring themes of the day was whether the deposit protection dispute model as currently practiced is sustainable and how the inventory industry, and other interested parties, might be able to influence any developments.
Several questions kept recurring which included: 
Whether the methodology for resolving disputes through adjudication could be standardised, as there is a feeling that the standard of proof was interpreted differently across the schemes?
Whether the schemes could agree a baseline of expected lifespans for commonly claimed for items (such as carpet) in an average tenancy, to prevent landlords claiming with unrealistic expectations, or unnecessarily pursuing claims that are without merit?
A feeling that the trained inventory professional’s opinion is underused led to discussion of whether a (self?) regulated inventory industry adhering to common standards could remove some of the burden from the deposit protection schemes’ dispute resolution departments?
Answers on a postcard please…

Thoughts on Universal Estates v Tiensia and Honeysuckle Properties v Fletcher

Wednesday, March 9th, 2011
Universal Estates v Tiensia and Honeysuckle Properties v Fletcher were joined as a single appeal. The judgment handed down by the Court of Appeal on 11th November 2010 is widely considered to have confirmed a loophole in the deposit protection legislation, but the exact nature of the precedent set has been a cause of some confusion amongst landlords.

The cases stem from possession proceedings brought on the basis of rent arrears. In both cases the landlords protected the deposit with My Deposits, but well outside of the 14 day deadline specified in the Housing Act 2004. Only in Honeysuckle did the the tenant actually counterclaim for the fixed penalty for non-protection. The court looked at Draycott v Hannells where late protection had been considered acceptable by the high court because it did not infringe the initial requirements of the DPS. The Court of Appeal approved of the reasoning in Draycott, and held that the 14 day deadline was only effective as an administrative requirement of the particular scheme, and non-compliance was not a basis for legal action.

The situation as it stands is that, where the tenancy has not yet ended, the deadline for protection of a deposit is the date of the court hearing although, according to the Court of Appeal, landlords can expect to found liable for costs in such circumstances. Whether the higher courts would look so favourably on late protection after the end of the tenancy is still a live issue, although I am aware of lower court decisions where protection on the eve of the case has been held to be sufficient.

A point to note for landlords is that failure to adhere to the 14 day deadline for protection may still be grounds to have a claim pursued through the scheme’s own dispute resolution system thrown out. Notably, landlords using the DPS need not worry about this.

How long this particular loophole will remain open is yet to be seen. Whitehall do not like having swathes of legislation interpreted down by the courts and there are clauses in the Localism Bill, currently being debated in Parliament, which may serve to tighten the legislation governing deposit protection. Watch this space.

Mould: Condensation v Damp

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011
A conversation with a client last week made me realise just how many deposit protection disputes are over the cost of repairing mould. As an adjudicator, I would dread claims relating to mould, not just because the pictures of black and green slime colonising walls would make my skin crawl, but because they always came down to the same argument, and sometimes it was very difficult to know who was right.

The landlord’s case was always that the tenant did the laundry, dried their washing, bathed and cooked without properly ventilating the property. This, they argue, caused excessive condensation to build up on the windows and in the corners, and it is in these moist areas that the mould began to grow.
The tenant’s case, without exception, was that the cause was damp. They would usually point to a problem with the building, such as gutters blocked or broken, render cracked or roof in need of repair. This, they argued, was the cause of the moisture, and the mould.
Disputes relating to mould are notoriously difficult to prove and tend to be over quite significant sums of money. When it really takes hold, there is a lot of work to be done, drying out the property and redecorating the damaged areas, and the bills can soon be up to and over the value of the deposit. All the more reason to make sure your claim has the best possible chance of success.
So what can you do to maximise your chances of success. You need an inventory for starters. If you aren’t getting a professional inventory for every tenancy, you are asking for trouble. 
If you suspect that there is a condensation problem building up, you need to conduct an interim inspection. You are entitled to do this. Best to ask your inventory company to do it for you. Give the tenant plenty of notice in writing and give the inventory agent a pass key. They will produce a report, hopefully with corresponding evidence showing the condition of the property. If there are early signs of a problem, write to the tenant explaining what you have seen, what the likely outcome might be and what you think they should do about it. Specify a date for a follow up inspection.
At the end of the tenancy, you should be offering your tenant some kind of check-out meeting as a minimum, where you go through the inventory and discuss any damage. Your inventory agent will be happy to do this for you. If there is mould at the check-out meeting, note it on the report and get some images or video of it. Make sure you get evidence that shows the cause was condensation, rather than damp. Show the mould forming above the bath, or the river marks around the windows from the water drops running down the wall.
If the tenant really wants to make it difficult, commission a report from an expert, but beware; I can recall had a case where each side had an expert’s report backing them up. Now that one really gave me a headache…

Prevention, Rather Than Cure

Thursday, January 27th, 2011
It’s the nature of the business that I’m in that I deal with a lot of unhappy landlords. Landlords who have had their trust abused, been ripped off and left to clear up someone else’s mess. Most of the people reading this blog will have been in that situation at some time or another.
Most landlords come to me for help sorting the situation out, but we often get round to discussing how to prevent it happening next time. Naturally we talk about inventories, interim inspections and properly drafted tenancy agreements, which I will no doubt discuss the finer points of in the future, but I also raise the issue of tenant referencing. 
Landlords who use agents to find their tenants will tend to rely on their agent to perform background checks on the prospective tenant, but few enquire as to the nature of the checks. A surprising number of independent landlords perform no background check at all on potential tenants, not even a credit check. When I ask them why not, they seem to think it is something expensive that only big companies can do. For a start, credit checks can be performed for very little, but did you know that the most effective form of tenant check is free?

I met the guys from Landlord Referencing Service (LRS) last year at a landlord event in Cardiff and I was amazed at the story behind the website. It was set up by Paul Routledge, a landlord who was stabbed and left for dead by one of his own tenants, which is one hell of a way to spot a gap in the market. Seeing a need to check his own tenants more thoroughly, Paul conceived a way for landlords to exchange information over the internet. 
LRS is a very modern service, as it relies entirely on user input and is completely free of charge to use. All it requires is for landlords in your area to log on and post warnings about difficult tenants. The information can then be accessed by other landlords to help prevent them having the same problems you’ve had. Once registered, the system will even alert you when particularly difficult tenants are house hunting in your area.
I fully support the scheme, and I’m sure you will see the benefits once you’ve looked at the site. After all, you don’t want what happened to Paul to happen to you.
Did I mention it’s free to use?