When you rent privately, you will usually be expected to pay the landlord a security deposit. This is normally the equivalent of a month's rent. You can't usually withhold your last month's rent instead of getting your deposit back. If you pay a deposit to a landlord or agent on or after 1 April 2013 your landlord must protect this deposit in an authorised tenancy deposit protection scheme run by one of 3 companies who have been approved to administer this scheme.
Most landlords will ask you to pay a deposit when you move in. A deposit gives the landlord security in case you cause damage to the property or don't pay rent. The deposit belongs to you and you should get it back when you move out if there is no damage or rent owed.
How much can a landlord ask for as a deposit?
There is no limit on the amount of money a landlord can ask for as a deposit if you are renting privately. Most landlords will ask you for a month's rent as a deposit before you move in. Your landlord may ask you for more than a month's rent. Make sure you get a receipt for your deposit.
If you can't afford to pay a deposit, you may have to try negotiating with the landlord to see if you can pay the deposit off in installments. The landlord does not have to agree to this kind of arrangement. If you can't afford to pay a full deposit upfront, you might want to look sign up with Smartmove Housing. Smartmove Housing is an organisation that helps people find affordable rented tenancies in Northern Ireland. They will usually ask you to pay a certain amount of your deposit before you move in, but will let you pay the rest off over time. Unlike other agencies, if you take up a private tenancy with Smartmove you'll be removed from the waiting list for social housing.
What should I do when I pay my deposit?
Your landlord, or any agent who is managing the property has to protect the deposit in an authorised schemes run by one of the 3 approved scheme administrators within 14 days of receiving the money from you. This only applies if your deposit was paid on or after 1 April 2013. Your landlord also has to serve you with a list of specific information, including information on where your money is being held, within 28 days of the tenancy starting.
If you paid your deposit before this date you should have been given a receipt. You need to keep this in case there is a dispute at the end of the tenancy. Your tenancy agreement should explain what the deposit can be used for and when it will be returned.
Who holds the deposit?
Any deposit paid on or after 1 April 2013 must be protected in an authorised tenancy deposit protection scheme run by one of 3 companies who have been approved to use this scheme. There are 2 types of scheme; an insurance scheme and a custodial scheme. If your landlord protects your deposit in an insurance scheme he or she holds the money but has to give the scheme administrator information about the deposit and the tenancy. If your landlord protects your deposit in a custodial scheme he or she must pay the full deposit over to the scheme administrator.
Whatever schene your landlord chooses to use, the landlord must provide you with certain information within 28 days of you paying the deposit over.
If you paid your deposit before the 1 April 2013 your landlord is probably holding this money, although it may be with the agent. It's best for landlords to keep deposits in a separate account but landlords don't have to do this. If you're not sure who is holding your deposit, ask your agent. If the agent says the money has been transferred to the landlord, ask them to provide you with proof of this and keep this evidence somewhere safe. You may need this when you move out of the property. You should also make sure that you have your landlord's address if he or she is holding your deposit money.
How long will my landlord keep my deposit?
If your deposit was paid on or after 1 April 2013 it had to be protected in an authorised scheme. What happens at the end of the tenancy depends on what type of scheme your landlord used. You should have been given information about the scheme and how to get your money back within 28 days of handing the deposit over to your landlord.
If your deposit was paid before 1 April 2013 your landlord should give it back to you at the end of your tenancy, usually within 28 days of the tenancy ending. Your landlord should only deduct money from your deposit if:
- the property has been damaged
- the rent has not been paid
- items are missing from the house
- the landlord has to clean the house because you left it in a dirty or untidy state.
There are several things you can do make sure you get your deposit back.
- Make sure you have a signed inventory.
- Ensure that your responsibilities about cleaning and upkeep are explained in the tenancy agreement so you know what you have to do.
- Try and take good care of the property while you're living there and clean the place thoroughly before you move out.
- If anything gets broken or damaged, report it immediately in writing to your landlord or agent. Keep a copy of the letter.
After you move out your landlord will need time to:
- inspect the property
- check whether anything has been damaged
- ensure that you haven't left any outstanding bills or rent arrears.
The landlord or letting agency should not hold back your deposit because of general wear and tear that could reasonably be expected to occur. You may be able to get your deposit back if your landlord is withholding it unfairly.
Can I use my deposit to cover my last month's rent?
You're not legally allowed to withhold your last month's rent in lieu of getting your deposit back, unless you have agreed this with your landlord. Check your tenancy agreement if you are unsure whether you have agreed this or not. If your landlord allows you to use the deposit to cover the last month's rent, make sure you have this consent in writing.