What if your tenant moves out without paying their utility bills or council tax? Does it fall on you as the landlord to pick up the pieces?
This is a common question among both landlords and tenants, and it needs clearing up. So, who is responsible for unpaid utility bills? Let’s find out.
Are Landlords Responsible For Unpaid Utility Bills?
Not usually. As long as it is the tenant’s name on the bill, and it is stated in the tenancy agreement that tenants are responsible for utilities, landlords are not liable for unpaid bills left over by tenants.
However, as a landlord, there are some steps you will need to take to protect yourself if you find yourself in this tricky situation;
- Always tell the local council when a new tenant moves in. You will need to provide the names of the new tenants and the contact details of the previous tenants so they can get in touch if needs be.
- Inform the energy suppliers of the property of any change in tenancy (this includes gas, electricity and water)
- Encourage new tenants to change the name on the utility bills as soon as possible.
- Make a note of the meter readings at the start and end of each tenancy so you have a record for the utility companies.
- Ensure your tenancy agreement clearly states that utility payments are the responsibility of the tenant.
- Keep a signed copy of the tenancy agreement in a safe, easily accessible place.
What Bills Are Tenants Responsible For?
This depends on the tenancy agreement you have in place.
Commonly, tenants are responsible for the following bills;
- Council tax
However, this is not always the case. Let’s look at two different situations;
Utilities Registered In The Tenant’s Name
When bills are registered in the tenant’s name, the tenant is responsible for paying them from the date they move into the property. However, they are not responsible for any debts left behind from previous tenants. It’s important for tenants to check the meter readings on move-in day so they can supply their energy providers with the correct readings at the start of their tenancy.
In this case, landlords are not required to pay any remaining payments after their tenant has left. The utility companies will have to chase the tenant themselves, meaning the issue is out of your hands.
Utilities Registered In The Landlord’s Name
You can choose to register bills in the landlord’s name and ask the tenant to pay you for their usage. This can be helpful for short lets, or if you rent out a room in your own house. However, if the tenant leaves without paying, you may be responsible for paying the outstanding sum.
To avoid this situation, always follow the steps outlines above.
End Of Tenancy Utility Bills
To end a contract, most utility suppliers require a few days notice before the end of a tenancy. As long as the bills are in the tenant’s name, this is entirely their responsibility to organise.
If there is outstanding debt left over and…
- The utilities are in the landlord’s name
- Or the tenant failed to register for utilities whilst living at the property
You may be able to prove the tenants were living at the property if you supply a copy of the tenancy agreement. However, this will depend on the individual policies of the utility companies.
Who Is Responsible For Bills During Void Periods?
If your property is empty for any period of time, the owner of the property is responsible for utility payments.
This is why it’s best to keep energy usage to a minimum in between tenants. However, during the winter, we recommend keeping the heat consistent to protect against mould and damp and avoid further maintenance costs in the long run.
If your property is left vacant for an extended period, you will need to organise regular vacant property inspections to check for leaks or mould.
Who Is Responsible For Utilities In Multiple Occupancy Properties?
If there are several tenants living at a property, disputes can often arise regarding bills. The main thing to remember is that whoever’s name is on the bill is ultimately responsible.
This means, if all tenants in a house share or HMO rental property have their name registered to a utility bill, they are all equally liable to repay debts, even if it’s only one tenant who hasn’t paid.
Property Management Help From No Letting Go
One of the simplest ways to avoid disputes and protect your investment at the end of a tenancy is to have all of your property reports in one easily accessible place.
All of our check in reports come with utility checks and meter readings included to help landlords and property professionals keep on top of their responsibilities.
Keen to learn more about how our flexible reporting could help? Find our full list of property inventory services here.
Ending a tenancy can be awkward for both tenants and property professionals. Dealing with tenancy deposit returns, outstanding rent and resolving disputes can take time and a lot of effort. So, how can tenants and landlords alike ensure the end of tenancy goes smoothly?
No Letting Go’s chief operations officer, Lisa Williamson recently joined Richard Blanco on his podcast ‘Inside Property’ to discuss the types of issues that can arise and how to resolve them through unbiased, end of tenancy services.
Lisa was joined by Suzy Hershman, head of dispute resolution at My Deposits, and Al McClenahan, the director of Justice4Tenants to get a full picture from all sides of the story.
Here is a roundup of the key insights that came out of the programme;
Start as You Mean to End
Lisa’s top tip on ending a tenancy well is to determine a clear position from the start. The way to do this is through a well thought out inventory including detailed but concise information, clear photographs and a comprehensive list of contents and condition.
Creating a tenancy format which is easy to read by both parties is essential for avoiding confusion at the end of the tenancy.
Another tip for landlords from Lisa is to ensure that tenants sign the inventory report to avoid deduction disputes during check out.
An Unbiased Outlook is Key
One question that arose in the podcast was whether landlords should create their own inventory reports.
While it’s completely fair for a landlord to perform their own survey, they run the risk of using emotional language which can be interpreted in different ways.
This is where an independent inventory service can resolve issues. No Letting Go inventory reports include a glossary of terms to determine the condition and cleanliness of items in the property. For example, rather than a landlord using the word ‘immaculate’ to describe a piece of furniture which could come across as biased or open to interpretation, instead ‘professionally clean’ is a clearly explained term in the NLG glossary.
Another benefit of using a professional, unbiased property inventory service is that in the case of a dispute over deposit returns, judicators can clearly understand the benchmarks.
Are Pre-Check Out Meetings A Good Idea?
As an active landlord himself, Richard highlighted the benefit of arranging pre-check out meetings with tenants to go over what is expected of them during the moving out process.
This all sounds well and good, but the question is, who will pay for it? Landlords and tenants may be reluctant to fork out this extra cost, but it could save money further down the line.
Alternatively, providing tenants with an end of tenancy letter detailing all the tasks that need to be completed before moving out is a great way to prevent confusion over where responsibilities lie. This can include the date and time of the key handover and what needs to be cleaned.
End of Tenancy Property Cleaning
As the head of dispute resolution at My Deposit, Suzie Hershman has a lot of experience dealing with the common issues affecting landlords and tenants during the checkout process.
According to Suzie, cleaning comes top of the list when it comes to end of tenancy disputes.
The resolution is simple. Start with an inventory report which plainly states the condition of the property and how it is expected to be maintained. For example, if the property has a garden, the inventory needs to clearly state that the grass needs to be cut or the paving de-weeded and power washed before leaving the property.
Other issues that can arise include whose responsibility it is for window cleaning and whether professional carpet cleaning needs to be undertaken.
The main rule of thumb for tenants, is that the property needs to be returned in the original state as at the start of the tenancy. This may involve hiring an end of tenancy cleaning service (make sure you keep the receipt as evidence) or giving the property a thorough clean yourself. Either way, ensure you leave on the last day of your tenancy confident everything looks the same as it did when you moved in!
Fair wear and tear can be a bit of a grey area when it comes to cleaning. Suzie recommends that landlords should think of the items in their property as having a lifespan. A carpet or decor has an average lifespan of 5 years, which needs to be taken into consideration during the checkout report.
Managing the Landlord-Tenant Relationship
Al attributed this to poor inventories which leave too much room for interpretation and miscommunication, which is more common when landlords create their own.
Another common reason for strained relationships is when tenants are in arrears at the end of the tenancy agreement. To minimise conflict, Al recommends that tenants are as open and communicative with their landlord about their financial difficulties to help landlords remain understanding until the issue can be resolved.
However, when landlords view their role purely from an investment perspective and ignore the human side of the relationship, this is when disputes are likely to arise. The lesson? Landlords who are more understanding and willing to negotiate are likely to have better relationships with their tenants, resulting in a smoother parting.
How Will the Letting Agency Fee Ban Effect End of Tenancy?
There has been much discussion over what changes the letting agency fee ban will bring to the industry. However, for now, Lisa doesn’t see much change to the way check out reports will be processed.
Currently, landlords usually pay for the inventory, and for either check-in or check-out services while the tenant pays for the other. This means there is only one cost that needs to be recuperated by landlords.
According to Lisa, most landlords and tenants can see the advantages of having these services managed by independent professionals.
Unbiased End of Tenancy Services from No Letting Go
To ensure the end of a tenancy goes as smoothly as possible and you retain a positive relationship throughout, using an independent property service can help resolve issues and disputes before they arise.
No Letting Go provides all the documentation needed at the start and end of a tenancy to determine how much money is deducted from the deposit. Using the latest technology, No Letting Go can advise against fair wear and tear and create reports to ensure you are fully compliant with regulations.
To see the full list of services on offer, head to the No Letting Go services page.
It’s time to talk deposits…
These are a source of protection for landlords, ensuring they have a safety net should anything happen to their property.
But, this doesn’t mean they’re without their own complications!
Deposit disputes are common. If a landlord withholds money for any reason, this is an obvious conflict of interest between both parties.
Let’s ensure that doesn’t happen. Here are some important landlord deposit rules to remember.
The Government Approved Tenancy Deposit Scheme
These ensure a deposit is protected, and that tenants receive the full amount back if they meet the terms of their tenancy agreement and maintain the property as agreed.
TDS disputes are very uncommon, as the deposit is looked after by an unbiased, regulated third party.
Some landlords can be confused by these schemes, as in England and Wales there are two options. So, let’s straighten it out:
The Insured Scheme is where the landlord or letting agent keeps hold of the deposit throughout the tenancy, while paying a fee to the TDS.
This fee operates on a ‘pay as you go’ basis, meaning you don’t pay after the tenancy has finished!
With the Custodial Scheme, the landlord or letting agent doesn’t have to pay a fee, as the TDS looks after the deposit.
The TDS will then release the deposit at the end of the tenancy.
Both tenancy deposit protection schemes have their benefits, so it’s important to work out what works for you.
When are Tenancy Deposit Deductions Allowed?
There’s no hard and fast rule when tenants ask, ‘what can my landlord deduct from my deposit?’ as this varies depending on the individual circumstance.
However, there are some common reasons why deposits aren’t returned.
Reasons for these deductions must be stipulated in the tenancy agreement, for example cleaning deposits. If you require the property to be returned in a certain way, for example the carpets cleaned, ensure this is clearly communicated.
After the tenant leaves, landlords are allowed to make deposit deductions for the following reasons:
There are numerous reasons why tenants may not be able to afford rent.
However, while some circumstances are out of their control, missed or withheld rent is a justifiable reason not to pay back some, or all, of their deposit.
Many landlords prefer to deduct money from the deposit rather than serve their tenant with a Section 21 eviction notice.
If your tenant owes more than the deposit amount, you can take legal action, and a court can order them to pay the full amount back. This will incur it’s own legal fees, so you’ll need to work out if it makes sense financially.
Serious Damage to the Property
Whether it’s to the property itself, such as smashed windows, or broken furniture, damaging the property contradicts the terms of the tenancy agreement.
Therefore, landlords are allowed to deduct the appropriate amount from the deposit.
Recklessness is something you can take seriously!
However, it’s important to remember that this mustn’t count as fair wear and tear.
Lost or Broken Items
One main reason for landlords not returning deposits is missing items. The cost of these can be deducted at the end of the tenancy!
The inventory will have set out what items were included with the property, and their condition. So, in the interest of reassurance for the landlord, a detailed inventory is essential.
In the world of tenancy deposit disputes, cleaning can be a huge source of disagreement between landlords and tenants, largely because we all have different definitions of what is ‘clean’.
However, it’s a common cause of deposit deductions. For example, if it was negotiated in the tenancy agreement that the tenant would pay for a professional carpet clean after keeping pets in the property, they must uphold this.
If they fail to do so, landlords can pay for the cost of the clean from the deposit. For a landlord, cleaning is the tenant’s responsibility!
General maintenance can be difficult because it’s a vague term.
But, misuse can result in a deposit deduction. For example, if any appliances have been deliberately neglected, the landlord will have to pay to repair these before the start of the next tenancy.
Damage Caused By Pets
Landlords and pets have a strained relationship. However, with half the UK’s population owning a pet, and nearly 1 in 5 of us renting our home, landlords have had to make compromises.
Before the tenancy starts, those with pets often agree to pay a higher deposit or the cost of a professional clean. But, this doesn’t make any damage caused by pets acceptable!
Many tenants find it difficult to understand why their landlord has kept their deposit. But, when you consider the cost of repairing damage, it doesn’t seem so unreasonable.
If a tenant takes it upon themselves to redecorate the property without asking you first, this may be in breach of their tenancy agreement. As a result, you might be able to deduct money from their deposit to get the room back to its prior condition.
Alternatively, if you allow a tenant to redecorate, but they do a poor job, you can claim for redecoration costs also.
When Can Tenants Dispute Deposit Deductions?
But, it’s important landlords understand what they can’t claim for. When can landlords keep deposits, and when can’t they?
Tenants have many responsibilities, such as keeping up with rent payments and taking care of the property. But, for landlords, unfair deposit deductions are simply unacceptable.
Tenants are always asking ‘can my landlord withhold my deposit?’ The answer is yes, but, within reason.
Let’s put the issue to rest. Landlords cannot refuse to return the deposit for:
General Wear and Tear
As mentioned previously, reasonable wear and tear isn’t a reason to withhold tenants’ money.
The definition of normal wear and tear is a difficult one, so it’s essential to consider the tenancy itself, such as the amount of tenants and the time of occupation.
For landlords, what is considered normal wear and tear can be a grey area. So, you’ll need to justify any deposit claims you make. Your property will have been lived in for a certain amount of time, so, while there are no rules for what is ‘reasonably acceptable’, you can’t expect it to be completely fresh at the end of the tenancy.
Redecorating the Property
You can’t charge outgoing tenants for the price of redecorating the property simply because you feel it needs a facelift.
If you’re only trying to give the place a freshen up in the hopes of charging higher rent, this must come out of your own pocket.
Preparation of the Dispute
If a deposit dispute has arisen, you can’t claim for the cost of any evidence gathered or legal paperwork drawn up.
Even if the dispute goes in the favour of the landlord, the tenant’s deposit doesn’t pay for it.
Cost of Re-Letting the Property
Costs involved with re-letting the property cannot be claimed for.
The end of an old tenancy and the start of a new one are completely separate!
Anything that Contradicts the Contract
If your property has failed to live up to the standards tenants expect and deserve, you can’t claim the cost of fixing this before the next tenancy.
For example, deposit deductions aren’t allowed for repairing appliances that have failed to work throughout the tenancy.
Just as the tenant has to keep to their contract, so do landlords!
Repair to the Structure of the Property
Structural damage, such as roof repairs, cannot be deducted from the deposit.
The tenant has a right to live in a structurally safe and well-built property, therefore any repairs are the responsibility of the landlord!
Claiming for More than the Deposit
You will have set the deposit amount at the start of the tenancy. At the end of this tenancy, it cannot be changed.
If you have grounds to ask for more money, you’ll need to go through the appropriate legal proceedings.
Giving Notice About a Tenancy Deposit Dispute
Feel you have grounds for a claim? You’ll need to provide notice of this.
So, when should a landlord return a deposit? A tenant cannot expect to receive their deposit back before the end of the tenancy. However, under normal circumstances, the landlord pays it back within 10 days.
When you need to make a claim, you must write to your tenant and explain why you’re not returning the full amount. Resolved deposit disputes don’t occur without your reasons in writing.
Previously, they’ll have needed evidence that you placed their deposit in a Tenancy Deposit Scheme within 30 days of the start of the tenancy. If you’ve failed to provide this, you may find it difficult to make a claim.
How to Make a Deposit Claim
If you’re making a claim, ensure you write to the tenant and explain exactly why. They’ll need to understand your reasons behind it. Tenancy disputes need to be clearly communicated between both parties.
If they agree with your reasoning, you won’t have to go through a dispute service. However, it’s likely that they’ll disagree.
A dispute service will be provided free of charge by the Tenancy Deposit Scheme you’ve used. It can often be difficult to find a dispute resolution, however, using a professional service ensures it will be fair.
Required Evidence for Deposit Claims
Feel you have the right to make a claim?
Evidence is key. Here’s a closer look at exactly what you’ll need:
If you have evidence of any serious damage, ensure you have photographs to prove this.
Photos are also useful to back-up any points made in the inventory, showing the before and after state of the property and any particular items.
Inventory and Schedule of Condition
However, photographs aren’t the only piece of evidence you’ll need.
A detailed, comprehensive inventory will be invaluable when make a deposit claim against a tenant. Within this report should be photos, used to support the written details within.
Naturally, this will have needed to be compiled at the start of the tenancy. The more evidence, the better!
While many landlords choose to carry these out themselves, a professional inventory will provide more clarity than a DIY one. This is thanks to the independent, unbiased third party who compiles the report!
What was laid out in the tenancy agreement? How was it stated the property must be maintained?
One important landlord deposit rule to follow is to use the tenancy agreement as a piece of armour. It will protect you from any untrue claims made by the tenant, as they will have signed it.
Have you kept hold of any important emails between you and your tenant?
If you’ve visited the property during the tenancy and found it’s not being maintained as you’ve agreed, ensure you’ve followed this up in writing.
This will be valuable evidence when it comes to making your claim!
You’ll need to show you’ve communicated any issues you’ve had with your tenants, as this will prove whether or not they took action to fix them.
Need to repair something, such as an appliance?
Ensure you’ve kept a receipt or invoice of its original cost, as you can use this when working out how much to deduct from the deposit.
Landlords withholding deposits isn’t a decision made lightly. But, if you feel you have grounds to make a claim, ensure you can support it with evidence.
How to Win a Dispute Between Landlord and Tenant
How can you ensure you’ll be granted your deposit deduction?
Don’t Be Unreasonable
A property will never be returned to you in a completely shiny and new condition. This needs to be allowed for.
It’s likely that, if you make an unreasonable claim, you’ll end up wasting the time and effort on the claim for no reward.
Don’t negate your claim by making unfair or ridiculous statements!
Keep Communication Open
Communication with your tenant is key.
When you inspect your rental property, keep an eye out for any damage and follow up with your tenant. This might be able to be fixed before the end of the tenancy.
However, if you do feel you need to make a claim, communication will be essential here also. Sitting down with your tenant and clearly explaining where the claim has come from will make it less likely that they’ll dispute it.
Here’s where your evidence will be vital. If you present all the facts in front of them, it will be difficult for them to dispute it.
Have a Detailed Inventory
When it comes to landlord disputes, a detailed inventory will be the most useful piece of evidence. Better still, it may even be able to prevent them completely!
Just as the tenancy protection scheme is in place to protect both parties, so are inventories. When landlords lose disputes, this often is down to a poorly put together, insufficient inventory.
The inventory should be used as comparative evidence, showing every detail of the condition of the property at the start of the tenancy. This is where detail will become so important, as it will provide clarity.
Claims from tenants such as ‘my landlord won’t return my deposit’ or accusations of unfair treatment will be stamped out with the help of an inventory.
Want to protect your investment? No Letting Go provide professionally compiled, unbiased inventories that will help to provide clarity throughout the tenancy. Interested in finding out how we can help you? Browse our full range of services here.
The Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS) – the government approved deposit protection scheme for landlords, agents, and tenants in the UK – today announced the value of deposits protected has grown by £100m from last year, to over £1.3bn and a 25% increase in deposit disputes, to 11,900.
The TDS figures show that 19.2% of all disputes raised resulted in 100% pay-outs to tenants; 19.8% of all disputes raised by landlords or agents resulted in 100% pay-outs to them; while in the remaining 61% of cases saw the disputed money split between the parties.
Most of the disputes in England and Wales were about cleaning (58%), followed by damage (52%), redecoration (32%), gardening (17%) and rent arrears (10%).
It is worth noting the average amount of money disputed in cases across England and Wales was £831 – Our average inventory costs only 10% of this value; isn’t it worth considering a professional inventory service?
You can avoid the trend of increasing tenancy disputes with leading inventory provider No Letting Go: with an incredibly successful track record, we are the largest and most respected property inventory company with over 40 offices throughout the UK.
Call us today for enquires 01322 555128.
You can read the full TDS Dispute Service Annual Review 2015 here.
The importance of Inventory Management Reports.
The importance of correct paperwork when letting a property cannot be underestimated. There are over 55 pieces of legislation to rent a single property and all require adhering too. Mostly, this legislation can be effectively managed at the start of the tenancy.
Condition and misuse of property reporting comes under the general term of Inventory Management reporting. These reports cover:
- Inventory and Schedule of Condition – a detailed professionally prepared aesthetic description of the internals and externals of a property, an inventory of all fixtures and fittings and their condition.
- Check In – the process of agreeing the inventory, the condition and cleanliness with the incoming tenant and registering of meters and keys.
- Property Visits – mid-term periodic inspections to check that the property is not being misused and that the tenant is adhering to the tenancy agreement.
- Check Out with Damage and Dilapidations – the report that determines the change between the start and the end of the tenancy, lists damages, missing items, the state of the cleanliness, property and garden condition, outstanding or due maintenance items, meters read and keys returned. The check out is carried out as the last act of the tenancy and is therefore usually carried out on the last day of tenancy.
Should the dispute end up at adjudication with one of the deposit schemes (ADR), the requirements for inventory management documentation are clearly defined as crucial. The onus is on the landlord to show why they are entitled to claim money from the deposit. The landlord must support their claim with robust and reliable evidence to show that the tenant has broken the tenancy agreement, and that the landlord has suffered, or is likely to suffer, a loss as a result.
The dispute service states the following:
“…..inventories that are not prepared by independent companies or individuals…..are likely to place less weight on their contents. It may also be necessary for a landlord to provide more corroborating evidence to show the condition of the property than would normally be required if the process was carried out by qualified and independent inventory clerks”.
“where landlords use their agents to conduct their check-in and check-out inspections………there is an added need to show that the process, and the person undertaking the inspection, was impartial. Adjudicators will take into consideration the general circumstances and relationship between the parties in determining what weight to put on the evidence”
“…..where a landlord puts the onus on the tenant to complete their own check in inspection, this type of check in is far less robust than a ‘full’ check in”.
“Just providing an inventory to the tenant and expecting them to note any discrepancies, or relying on a document that has not been signed, will not be sufficient to convince an adjudicator; the landlord will need to provide other evidence to show that their expectations and the tenant’s obligations were fully explained to the tenant”.
“Where a check-in is challenged by the tenant, a full audit trail of what remedial action has occurred should be provided and a revised check-in agreed and signed”
Further information on the requirements of the deposit schemes and other useful articles on inventory management can be found https://www.nolettinggo.co.uk/property-inventory-articles.html