Deposit disputes between Edinburgh tenants and landlords double over 4 years

DEPOSIT disputes between tenants and landlords at the end of a lease have nearly doubled in the Capital over the last four years, new figures show.

The value disputed last year with Safe Deposits Scotland stood at almost £280,000, compared to just over £145,000 in 2014/2015.

Adjudicators put the rise down to greater awareness while campaigners pointed to a three-fold increase in decisions in favour of landlords as potentially “exposing tension.”

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Paula Guthrie, Safe Deposits Scotland’s Adjudication Account Manager, said: “If you’re a tenant, check the inventories and if you see something, say something.

£280,000 was argued over last year alone

“Give the landlord the opportunity to fix it and don’t make any assumptions. Don’t go ahead and decorate or get that animal. And give the correct notice to leave.”

More than a quarter (26 percent) of disputes lodged with Safe Deposits Scotland, one of three such bodies, last year were in Edinburgh post codes - amounting to 845 in total.

The value disputed stood at £279,869, with more than half (59 percent) of adjudications split between tenant and landlord.

Almost a third (31 percent) were found in favour of the landlord and ten per cent siding with the tenant.

Ms Guthrie said such findings in favour of one side or the other are frequently down to the other party failing to engage with the adjudication process.

For example, an adjudication going in favour of a landlord in its entirety might be because foreign student tenants have returned home.

The figures shed little light on the exact reasons deposit deductions are imposed but cleaning is known to be high on the list.

There can be confusion between the parties with tenants claiming to have cleaned a property but landlords expecting the oven to be cleaned, said Ms Guthrie.

And she stressed more than a third (35 percent) of such disputes are resolved at the mediation stage.

“My advice for a tenant is to speak to the landlord before choosing to reject the quote so you have that information. If you’re still not happy, you don’t have to stick with it,” added Ms Guthrie.

In 2016-17, there were 679 disputes in Edinburgh post codes- accounting for 24 percent of the national total.

Those disputes amounted to £215,759, with 55 percent split between tenant and landlord or agent, 31 percent in favour of the landlord or agent and 14 percent to the tenant.

The 633 disputes in 2015-16 amounted to £187,123, with 53 percent split, 22 percent to the landlord and 25 percent to tenants.

Of the 466 disputes in 2014-15 worth £145,693, 54 percent were split, 17 percent to landlords and 29 percent to tenants.

Ms Guthrie put the rise in disputes down to more landlords signing up to schemes and greater awareness among tenants of their rights.

“What you’ll find is that a student who changes property every year, so second, third or fourth time, who were not aware they didn’t have to accept the deduction are now more likely to say ‘no’,” she added.

Before Scotland’s three deposit protection schemes were set up eight years ago, any disgruntled party had to pursue the other through the small claim courts - a hassle few could be bothered with.

Deposits have to be lodged with the schemes by a landlord or letting agent within 30 working days of the beginning of the tenancy.

In any dispute, both parties are asked to submit evidence, such as proof of payment if rent is disputed or images of damage, before an independent adjudicator makes a decision.

If either party is still dissatisfied then they can request a review of the decision.

“If you decorate, get permission from the letting agent or landlord first or if you want to get a pet - make sure you understand how the property should be returned,” said Ms Guthrie.

Her colleagues undertake outreach work to try and ensure tenants and landlords are aware of their obligations and rights.

And she said that one common misconception is that tenants can withhold rent until repairs are carried out - when they have no legal right to do so.

City Green councillor, Susan Rae, welcomed the near doubling of disputes as a good thing and argued the changing outcomes as the key issue.

“When tenancy deposit protection was introduced to Scotland eight years ago it was after decades of tenants being ripped off by landlords and agents withholding thousands of pounds in deposits for often flimsy reasons,” said Cllr Rae.

“So, in one sense the figures show the system is working – tenants are becoming increasingly confident about challenging landlords and agents who want to withhold deposits. This is as true in the Edinburgh area as for Scotland as a whole.

“However, there is also the hint of a worrying trend emerging. Most deposit disputes end in a split decision, some money to tenant, some to landlord.

“But for those decisions awarded wholly to one or other party it seems that it is now three times more likely to go in a landlord’s favour, compared to three years ago.

“That may expose a tension in that the choice of which tenancy scheme to use is the landlord’s not the tenant’s and so schemes which find in landlord’s favour more often, might be chosen above others.

“Tenants need to be 100 percent confident they will get a fair hearing whichever scheme is used.” [email protected]