Jessica says her house was charged for problems she had previously asked to be fixed
More needs to be done to combat homeowners who are unfairly targeting students with deposit deductions at the end of their contracts, the National Students Union (NUS) said. For some renters, the values can total hundreds of pounds.
"I think the owners look at us and we think it's just these dumb kids who don't know what we're doing," Jessica Hickey told the BBC's Victoria Derbyshire show. "It's not fair, it's not good."
Lincoln University graduate has been challenging his deposit deduction – worth £ 1,600 among four housemates – for two months.
Strictly speaking, landlords and rental agents can only make deductions up to the full amount of a tenant's deposit, but Jessica has added an additional £ 400 to the £ 1,200 they have withheld.
"They have decided that we do not leave the property in a proper state," says Jessica. "Even being there for two years, they do not allow wear.
"We were charged for weeding, apparently leaving the garden in an unsuitable state, even if the next door neighbor came with his lawnmower."
Jessica says they were also charged for problems that they themselves reported to the landlord at the beginning of the lease, asking them to be fixed.
She says that not having her deposits returned had a serious impact on some of her housemates. One was counting on the money to go to the warehouse of a house he was buying. Another was unable to make an advance on a car.
"The £ 300 was a springboard to leave university … and everything was suspended," she says.
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There are legitimate reasons for owners to allow agents to deduct deposits – such as unpaid rent or direct property damage – but the Victoria Derbyshire program has heard dozens of students who say they are being penalized further.
The Tenant Fees Act was introduced earlier this year to protect renters from unfair agency fees, but does not cover the issue of deposit deductions.
Owners are required to deposit deposits with the government-backed rental deposit scheme at the beginning of a lease, which helps resolve any future disputes.
But students say that this requirement is often ignored or that the procedure for contesting a decision leads to a long delay – during which the entire deposit is withheld – and many challenges end with the loss anyway.
Benjamin McNeil spent two months contesting his deposit deduction
Benjamin McNeil in Cardiff also has a battle to recover his deposit.
His dispatchers deducted £ 900 from his warehouse and his housemates.
- £ 150 for cleaning the property, however, he says: "It was much cleaner when we left than when (we) moved"
- £ 30 for trash removal, though, he says, they made sure nothing was left behind
- £ 100 'essentially to paint on mold' in one of the rooms, which he said housemates repeatedly asked tax collectors throughout the rental period.
The case has already been settled, with housemates getting £ 500 of the disputed amount – but Benjamin says it caused unnecessary stress.
"After you graduate, you don't want to spend the next two months competing to recover every penny," he says.
NUS's Eva Crossan Jory wants tightening of legislation
According to the NUS Homes Fit For Study 2019 report, only 61% of surveyed students who paid a deposit said they received it back in full at the end of their rental:
- 27% said they formally disputed the deductions but ended up paying them anyway
- 24% said they did not formally contest the deductions, but disagreed with them.
The NUS is now demanding stricter legislation in this area.
"What we're seeing more and more are unfair contracts," says Eva Crossan Jory, vice president of the organization, "landlords who charge for things that are the result of attrition or where students have complained about something that isn't working, the owner does not repair it and, at the end of the lease, tries to charge them for the breakdown of said device.
"The government should do more to penalize landlords when they break the law."
Currently, the government advises tenants to check their deposit:
- rent not exceeding five weeks
- paid on rental deposit scheme
Meera Chindoory of the National Association of Homeowners told the BBC: "Most homeowners do not receive unreasonable deductions from deposits, with a NUS survey last year showing that most students (61%) who pay a deposit returned it in full.
"It's important for students to understand their responsibilities in caring for the property – and that if they disagree with the owner, they can raise a dispute."
Natasha Hopewell has created a website where students in Lincoln can rate their accommodation provider.
Some students are now fighting back.
In Lincoln, Natasha Hopewell graduate has been threatened with deductions worth almost all of her deposit and is now creating a forum for city students to warn others about bad practices.
"We came together and created a website where students can review their student accommodation providers," says the founder of CribAdviser.
"It's all anonymous, but it means students can warn each other about agents who are hard to leave and take control of our own location by making an informed decision."
For those who feel mistreated, such as Jessica and Benjamin, these initiatives can be a welcome start.
"It seems to be part of the process that homeowners will try to take money from you because they know most people won't struggle with it," says Benjamin.