Can I get the deposit back on a house I didn't move in to?
March 9, 2009 3:40 PM   Subscribe

Can I get the deposit back on a house I didn't move in to?

At the end of last month I made a rushed decision to move in to a shared, rented house here in the UK. It wasn't a nice place, but time wasn't on my side and I desperately needed a roof over my head. The landlord showed me round, and I paid him £50 cash to hold the property.

Moving day came, I visited the landlord with a further £200 in cash towards the deposit - unfortunately my cheque book was packed away with my belongings, and £200 was the most I could get out of the cash machine.

Driving up to my new place, I had a really bad feeling, it was on a council estate on the outskirts of a small town and it just felt so incredibly depressing that I'd be spending the next six months there. I'd had a call from the landlady of another property that day, and she said she had a room available in a period house in the middle of town. I went and took a look around her place and it was exactly what I was looking for - a nice place with good views and a 10-minute stroll to work. And it was cheaper than the horrible council estate house.

I moved in right away, and paid her a deposit. I called the landlord and told him I wouldn't be moving in. I appreciated that I'd let him down, and said I'd try and find someone else to move in to my room. I also - possibly stupidly - agreed to let him keep some of my money on a pro-rata, for each day he couldn't find someone to move in.

I re-advertised the room, but as I listed his number as a contact I have no idea if he's found someone to move in. I've left messages but he hasn't got back to me.

Of course, he could have found someone to move in the day I decided not to, and not told me. He seemed like an honest enough bloke, but I'm worried I won't be able to get my cash back. I didn't sign any contracts or anything, and everything was agreed verbally - where should I go from here?
posted by hnnrs to Work & Money (14 answers total)
Isn't the point of a deposit to prevent the other person from flaking out? In this instance, this means that you agreed to move in, and the landlord agreed not to give the place to anyone else. So, when you didn't move in, your deposit is (partially, since you apparently didn't pay the full deposit) covering the time the room/flat is unoccupied while they find someone new.

As the person who is the leaseholder on my apartment, if I find a new roommate and we make a verbal rental agreement, and they give me cash (I would insist on first month, last month & security, that's standard in my area) but then flake out, I owe them NOTHING if I can't find anyone right away, nor am I under any obligation to find someone RIGHT NOW. Again, this is why deposits exist. Sorry you didn't like the place, but that's not the landlord's problem. (And also, I don't think re-listing the room is your problem. Just tell them you won't be moving in and be done with it.)

of course, I'm not in the UK, which may disqualify my answer. But I still think agreeing to a place and then backing out because something better shows up AND THEN expecting your deposit back is kind of crappy.
posted by AlisonM at 3:56 PM on March 9, 2009

Did you get a receipt for the cash you gave him? If not you may not have any legal recourse as you have no way to prove that you gave him the money or what it was for (since you don't have a contract either). Also I agree with AlisonM: that money was flake-out insurance; since you flaked out, you forfeit it.
posted by bizwank at 3:59 PM on March 9, 2009

Yeah, the whole point of the deposit is to give him an incentive to keep the place available to you. Your deposit makes up for the time wasted that he could have spent trying to rent it to someone else. I think it's a kind gesture of him to offer a pro-rata refund, as most landlords would probably keep the whole thing.

If I were you, I'd post an ad for the house in as many places as possible (online, bulletin boards at universities, etc) to increase the chance that he rents it early and gives you back the deposit.
posted by helios at 4:03 PM on March 9, 2009

posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:04 PM on March 9, 2009

Oops, fourthed.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 4:05 PM on March 9, 2009

Thirded: the point of a deposit is that he will hold the unit for you in good faith, but if you back out he gets to keep the money.
posted by davejay at 4:13 PM on March 9, 2009

Actually rereading all of this, I'd have to say that my last line of my original answer was a bit snarkier than I meant. But the point is that you agreed to move in to somewhere, you didn't, so the deposit is covering the time that you're not occupying the place. I definitely empathize with both sides (I've almost moved into my fair share of shady places, and I've had a potential roommate flake on me because they found an apartment 1 block closer to the block! A 20 second walk!), but the fact remains that you paid a deposit on a place and didn't move in.

I think your best bet is just hoping the landlord is a decent person if they find someone before what you've already paid has been covered time-wise, and you might get a bit of your money back. But they really don't owe you anything. Sorry.
posted by AlisonM at 4:25 PM on March 9, 2009

Deposits in the UK are actually taken for the reason of preventing or paying for damage by a tenant to the rented property. If you never moved in, then the landlord can't rightly claim that you've caused any damage whatsoever, and so technically cannot withhold any part of your deposit. However, some of the money usually paid to landlords isn't deposit, but rather admin fees for contracts/profit. You need to be sure what you handed money over for, and you ought to have been given two separate receipts: one for the non-refundable admin fee, and the second for your deposit.

Having said all that, you still signed a contract stating that you would move into the property on date X, and vacate by date Y unless a new contract is agreed. There is possibly a clause in the contract (you really need a copy) specifically dealing with what happens if you don't move in, and definitely one for you vacating before the six months has expired. In the latter case, it may mean you have to give the landlord one month's notice from the date of moving out. Technically, you could count the day you told them you weren't moving in as the beginning of the notice period, but they would insist that you pay the full month's rent. This could be taken out of your deposit, as is usual for unpaid rent/bills left upon vacating.

If your deposit was larger than a month's rent, ask for the remainder to be returned. If it was the same (or smaller!) write it off. If you know that they have leased the room within the one month period of your 'notice', ask for the pro-rated amount.

I hope this helps.
posted by Sova at 4:27 PM on March 9, 2009

Thing is, I never signed any contracts, I just handed over some cash. I was wondering if this altered where I stood?
posted by hnnrs at 4:31 PM on March 9, 2009

According to this link, "From 6 April 2007, all deposits (for rent up to £25,000 per annum) taken by landlords and letting agents for Assured Shorthold Tenancies in England and Wales, must be protected by a tenancy deposit protection scheme."
The info on that page might be helpful in getting the deposit back.

More info on "assured shorthold tenancies" here.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 5:04 PM on March 9, 2009

I never signed any contracts, I just handed over some cash. I was wondering if this altered where I stood?

How are you going to prove you gave him any money at all, then?

Just reading this (which recommends early on that you get a receipt for moneys given over), it looks like your deposit is both to prevent/pay for damage to the property (as Sova notes) and to cover unpaid rent in the event that a tenant doesn't pay. Technically, you took the place and aren't paying for rent. So it seems about right that he's keeping the money.

If a new tenant was already found I think even then you'd have to fight to get your money back, honestly... your old landlord's under no obligation to find anyone quickly. It looks like your landlord *may* be supposed to put your deposit money into a holding scheme within 14 days of retrieving it, or face paying you three times the amount back; challenging him over not having done that might be the only leg you have to stand on. But the thing is if you haven't signed anything, then as soon as you try to make that nasty move on him on that count he's free to say that he's got no money from you and he's never seen you before in his life. And really, would you blame him for doing this if you were to try this one on him? Why *would* he put the money into a scheme meant to protect you when you forfeited the place and the whole deal's in "agreement broken" stage already? Additionally, it sounds like you haven't even paid the full deposit - so he's basically just hanging onto your cash instead of you hanging onto it while you continue to scrape the money together, right? - so (IANAL, but) I doubt there's any legal recourse for you there at all. How could anyone argue he should be submitting it anywhere before he's even received all of it?

I'd just be rationalising the loss right now: it's unfortunate, but you did buy what you were after - which was a temporary bit of security and the knowledge that you weren't going to be living on the street - and then you continued shopping around after that for what you were really after, knowing that that would mean leaving the other landlord in the lurch if you found somewhere better. You've got something nicer now: be happy! And it's cheaper than what you would've paid for the other place, right? Maybe all up it works out about even?
posted by springbound at 5:06 PM on March 9, 2009 [2 favorites]

A contract does not have to be in writing to be legally binding.

I don't believe you have a leg to stand on, either legally or morally. It seems as though you're a bit fuzzy on the concept of deposits - a deposit is basically security for an agreement. It's standard practice to take a deposit of one month's rent - an acknowledgment of the fact that a landlord is vulnerable in these circumstances. The deposit allows a landlord to protect him/herself from flaky tenants.

So, unless the total amount that you gave over was more than a month's rent, chalk it up to a lesson learned - caveat emptor right? It's your own fault that you didn't put enough thought into your decision before committing to it. Like others have said, it was incredibly kind of this person to offer you the pro-rata refund. He had no obligation to do so.

If you paid a damage deposit, then yes that should be returned to you.
posted by keep it under cover at 5:16 PM on March 9, 2009

You will not get your cash back. Regardless of arguments about agreements you do or do not have, whether you should get it back or not, etc - you won't. You can't prove you gave it to him and in the absence of a contract, lease or shorthold agreement, you'll be arguing a verbal contract.

You gave him a deposit to secure your claim to the room. You get to back out, he gets to keep the deposit. That's how that works.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:22 PM on March 9, 2009 [1 favorite]

Thing is, I never signed any contracts, I just handed over some cash. I was wondering if this altered where I stood?

I'm sorry I missed that part.

I more or less agree with the last two comments, in that you're at his mercy. With no contract and no receipt, he could keep the whole lot and oyu have very little or no recourse. Even if you had a contract you would still potentially be liable for deductions from the deposit, if not forfeiture of the whole amount. That you've agreed verbally for him to keep it as pro-rated until he leases the room has created a moral hazard where he can advartise the room to let from date X, which is the day after your deposit runs out.

Write it off, it's gone.
posted by Sova at 5:25 PM on March 9, 2009

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