How to get a UK landlord to comply?
June 6, 2007 11:31 AM   Subscribe

What can I do to get my security deposit back from a negligent landlord in London, UK?

I recently moved from Camden Town to Shoreditch amidst a host of problems, including the forced eviction of a housemate involved with heavy drugs and subsequent break-ins and vandalism by said housemate.

Rather than simply not paying my last month's rent as I probably should have done, I decided to go the legitimate route and pay before moving out.

It has been over a month now, and the landlord has still not returned my deposit. I have a copy of the lease, the terms of which I have not broken. I tried contacting the landlord many times, but now he is simply not taking my calls or dismissing me outright. I have an email/sms trail of messages and notifications regarding this issue.

What can I do? I'm not a UK citizen (fulltime student from USA), and am unaware of UK law as far as tenant rights go. I'm also unclear as to how to proceed with legal action should it come to that, which I'm prepared to do even if it means paying as much in fees as I'm likely to gain should it prove successful.
posted by war wrath of wraith to Law & Government (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Go through the Small Claims Court. It costs something like £7 along with an afternoon of your time to see a magistrate.

But start by seeing your local citizens advice bureau (CAB). They're free and their number can be found in the Yellow Pages. What you're describing is very common and they'll have lots of advice for you. They might even call the landlord and threaten him. That sometimes works.

As far as I know, there is no 'instant fix' legal redress for you to get your deposit back. In other words, there's no law covering the holding of rent deposits.

There is a scheme in place now, and if you're just got a new place then you've probably made use of it. I don't know exact details but the deposit is held by a third party. Maybe this will prove interesting.

However, it wasn't retrospective. Go and see your local CAB.
posted by humblepigeon at 11:51 AM on June 6, 2007

Short answer: pop into a legal advice centre and an advisor will run you through exactly how to deal with this and will be able to deal with the specific facts of your case. There's one in Toynbee Hall on Commercial Street which is excellent, and if you're in Shoreditch should be handy.

Slightly longer answer: you write the landlord a final letter of demand asking for your deposit back within e.g. 14 days. If he doesn't give it to you, you can start proceedings in the small claims court. In fact you can start a money claim (i.e. you're suing on a debt owed to you) online.

You mention some vandalism - if you were jointly and severally liable with your flatmate then its possible that your landlord can legitimately withhold some of your deposit. Again, an advisor will be able to give you specific guidance.
posted by patricio at 12:00 PM on June 6, 2007

I had a problem with a landlord not returning a deposit when I first moved here and I got most of my advice from the Citizen's Advice Bureau, as mentioned above. They also have on online advice guide with FAQ's for common complaints. I think this should defo be your first course of action. They may be able to advise you on whether you should take it to small claims court, though it is probably obviously best to avoid this if at all possible. If you do have to go to small claims court, the landlord will have to pay all of your legal fees if you are successful in your claim. If you are not, you will have to pay their costs.
posted by triggerfinger at 12:30 PM on June 6, 2007

Short answer: pop into a legal advice centre

I'm not sure what the difference is between a legal advice centre and a CAB, or even if they're the same thing. But I do know that CABs have a LOT of experience with the kind of thing you're describing. I would definitely visit a CAB first.

Incidentally, don't be concerned that they won't help you if you're not British. They'll help anybody. Indeed, that's kinda one of the reasons they exist.
posted by humblepigeon at 12:35 PM on June 6, 2007

"If you do have to go to small claims court, the landlord will have to pay all of your legal fees if you are successful in your claim. If you are not, you will have to pay their costs."

This is not correct. Costs are generally not awarded in the small claims court. See e.g. this guide at the site triggerfinger linked above.
posted by patricio at 12:37 PM on June 6, 2007

humblepigeon: legal advice centres specialise in legal problems (e.g. housing, immigration and consumer law) rather than other problems, such as debt problems. In most cases they will help you see your dispute through initial claim, follow up and can help you draft claim forms if it comes to that. I tend to recomend them for things like this because whereas CABs are massively overstretched, advice centres are only very overstretched.
posted by patricio at 12:41 PM on June 6, 2007

This is not correct. Costs are generally not awarded in the small claims court.

Sorry, my fault. I recently helped a friend claim back bank charges in small claims court and was under the impression from my research that, if the claim was successful, costs would be paid by the defendant i.e., court costs (to file the claim). However, this is not the same as "legal fees" as I stated and I should have checked my facts before posting.
posted by triggerfinger at 1:01 PM on June 6, 2007

The small claim court worked for me when this happened although you should be aware that getting a judgement in your favour and actually securing the money from the landlord may not follow on from each other.

In your case it sounds like it does not apply but if your landlord happens to be an agent for a property owner then a direct appeal to the owner might help.
posted by rongorongo at 1:05 PM on June 6, 2007

Thanks everyone for your help; I will definitely seek out the Citizens Advice Bureau and the Legal Advice Centre. FYI, I moved in to the place before the new deposit scheme kicked in, so I'm afraid I'm rather out of luck there. At least I'm covered in my current place!
posted by war wrath of wraith at 3:03 PM on June 6, 2007

Take a copy of your lease when you visit them. It contains important information like what your deposit was, what portion of it (if any) is refundable, what constitutes grounds for withholding it, how long he has to notify you or cough up a check, etc.. "Subsequent break-ins and vandalism by said housemate" might be sufficient reason to keep your deposit, but unless your lease and/or local law say otherwise, you should still get a written accounting, on paper (not email or SMS).

If there was only a verbal lease, I wouldn't anticipate ever getting that money back, even if you go to court.
posted by ilsa at 3:40 PM on June 6, 2007

Small piece of advice - if you're going to the CAB then find out what time the place opens and get there an hour before that time. These places are always enormously over-subscribed and an hour early is better than a three hour wait.
posted by Jofus at 2:21 AM on June 7, 2007

You didn't mention, but was formal 'inventory' done at check-in and check-out? When I rented houses in the UK, we always had to do this, and frankly, it proved helpful. Landlords can't complain much when you have the independant inventory clerk stating that the place was in fine order. I suspect that landlords that don't use this service are on the shady side.
posted by Goofyy at 4:05 AM on June 7, 2007

Getting advice from the CAB sounds good. You might want to do some preparation in advance, such as writing a final letter to the landlord and then preparing a court claim so that the CAB can check it over for you.

I'm currently in the middle of a small claims process right now in England right now. First, there is no "small claims court." There is the County Court where the judge will decide whether your case should be allocated to the small claims track or not. This is an important distinction because if the judge decides your case is too complicated to be a small claim (unlikely), or your case is struck out before hearing (only likely if you do a really poor job of explaining your case), you might be on the hook for your opponents' legal representation costs.

It costs GBP 30 to file a small claim. If you prevail you can expect your award to include this amount. If you lose, you should not expect to pay out additional costs unless you have been "unreasonable" at the discretion of the judge.

If your particulars of claim are short (less than ~1050 characters) you can file online. I filed in person, and the court staff were very friendly and helpful.

In order to eminently demonstrate your reasonableness, and also increase the chances of dislodging the money without the hassle and bureaucracy of court. Follow the directions for pre-action behavior Send a letter by registered post (Royal Mail "Signed For," about GBP 1), not e-mail. Mark it "LETTER BEFORE ACTION." At the end say that you will issue proceedings in County Court if you are not paid within xxx days. It says there that a month may be a reasonable response time for many claims, but you may be able to get away with giving them less time (like 14 days).

Your other problems with the flat seem to be irrelevant. If they are relevant, explain why better. If not, leave them out.

Just so you know how long to expect if you file a court claim, HMCS has a target date of resolving small claims disputes within 15 weeks of the claim.
posted by grouse at 5:24 AM on June 7, 2007

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