Has the new Tenancy Deposit Scheme really improved things for tenants? One of our members shares his negative experiences.
I was moving to Scotland from the United States with my wife and child in August 2012 and I was facing a few different challenges. However housing turned out to be the most difficult one.
First, with someone like myself with above average credit score in the United States and a non-existing one in the UK it was quite difficult to rent a flat through an agency. What was even more shocking was that seeing a flat and renting it on the day of or in the next few days was absolutely impossible. It seemed all letting agencies were in no hurry whatsoever to rent the flat to us or at least to assist us with finding accommodation faster. All agencies required at least 10 days to two weeks to obtain what they called “reference checks”. A few agencies requested an upfront payment for 6 months of rent running into thousands of pounds before I had even seen the keys to the flat.
Having to deal with the situation on my feet and with an infant child – staying at a hotel any longer was not feasible. We turned to Gumtree and started calling private landlords. We ended up seeing a few sub-par flats and finally settled for one of the better ones offered on Easter Road in Leith. The upside was the landlord was eager to sign the contract the next day and we could move in immediately. Having thoroughly researched the housing system in Scotland online beforehand (or so I thought) gave me confidence that I knew what I’m doing. I requested and checked the landlord’s registration number, thoroughly read the Short Assured Tenancy Agreement and insisted the landlord transfer my safety deposit to Safe Deposit Scotland. I was quite optimistic about having my deposit held by a not-for-profit third party. There are no such organizations in the United States and as far as I understand none in England. I was feeling much safer and comfortable knowing that an impartial third party will step in in case a dispute with my landlord arises for whatever reason. Sadly things did not turn out as I expected.
Initially there were no issues with the landlord. This was most likely due to the fact that we always paid our rent and all bills on or before the due date. Once our tenancy agreement was coming to an end we started looking for a nicer flat and found one in a quiet, more-suburban-like area.
I informed the landlord 30 days in advance as agreed in the tenancy agreement. He wasn’t eager on us moving out and even asked a few questions as to why we were moving out which I can only deem as a bit too intrusive.
Nevertheless, having secured my new lease through a major letting agency and preparing to shortly move, I was confident we were done with the flat on Easter Road and leaving things with the landlord on “good terms”. Things proved to be not exactly so.
The first thing that should have tipped me off is that the landlord all of a sudden was too busy or unavailable to come down to the flat to meet me so I can hand over the keys to him and we can go over the flat inventory together. I offered 3 different days and different times throughout the day and they were all “no good” for him. When he suggested that I just leave the keys on the kitchen table and close the door behind me I (quite naively) agreed assuming that this was easier for everyone.
Here I would like to interject that we spent considerable time cleaning the flat after we moved our belongings out. And while it was not a commercial quality cleaning – the flat was in a cleaner state than when we moved in initially. We had broken one dinner plate and I bought a set of 4 dinner plates to replace it. They were the same color but bigger – it was the closest match I could find. Assured that the flat was clean and any property damaged was replaced I was looking forward to receiving my deposit back in full. Considering we had paid everything on time I was not foreseeing any issues whatsoever. I even had the good manners to thank the landlord for a pleasant landlord-tenant relationship in the email informing him that I had left the keys on the kitchen table as per his request. He replied he will return our deposit to us.
To my surprise, in another two days I received another email from him stating two outrageous points:
1 .In his opinion there were missing kitchen items, including:
One bowl, one chopping board, 4 egg cups, 2 small glasses, 1 mug, 1 side plate and 8 dinner plates and one tea towel. At total cost of £13.83.
2. He said they have also seen fit to have the flat professionally cleaned by a company at the cost of £90 which was to be withheld from my deposit. I replied insisting that all the kitchen items are accounted for and offered to contract a cleaner on my own expense at market value which was no more than £50. Landlord replied stating that they have already been invoiced by their cleaner and cannot cancel the service. Later that proved to be incorrect as the date on the invoice he provided was two days AFTER his message stating they have been already invoiced. At that point it was beyond obvious that the landlord is bending backwards to withhold £90 for cleaning and not to accept the flat being cleaned by any other company.
According to the Company House there is no registered cleaning company under that name in Scotland. A thorough investigation of said “company” revealed that their website is under construction, no one answered the phone, they had no listed mailing address and it was impossible for a member of the public to order any service with said “company”. Today, almost 9 months after said events this “company’s” web site is still under construction – clearly not a functioning business. Further investigation revealed that there was only a VAT registration to the name of a person affiliated with the landlord. I had proof that “their cleaner” is not a legitimate company and they were using a fraudulent invoice to justify withholding money from our deposit. Furthermore I contacted the new tenants at Easter Road asking about the condition of the flat they moved into. They confirmed my suspicions that the flat was never professionally cleaned before they moved in.
Fairly confident I’m right and armed with all the information above I started a dispute with Safe Deposit Scotland. My statement included five .pdf attachments totaling over 10MB including copies of correspondence with the landlord, the fraudulent invoice, the Company House inquiry and a written statement by the new tenants confirming the place was never professionally cleaned before they moved in. After a few long weeks I received a three-page decision from Safe Deposit Scotland that ultimately stated the following: “In the circumstances and in order to reach a reasonable compromise I regard an award of £50.00 to be appropriate.”
After their ludicrous decision I went to the police and informed them about the fraudulent document I’ve been given to justify withholding money from my deposit. They said they were unable to contact the owner of said “cleaning company” (no surprise there) and they said that under the circumstances they cannot determine whether or not this is a fraudulent document, but they will note my complaint and if another complaint against said “company” is filed they will start a criminal investigation in regards to issuing fraudulent invoices. A minor victory there, but at least someone might be able to put dishonest people in their place. Hopefully it can be the police, as Safe Deposit Scotland could not and did not investigate the case to be able to make an informed decision before ultimately declaring that I should give £50, a day’s wage for some people, to a dishonest landlord just because he politely requested it.
This is the concise account of my overall negative experience with the Safe Deposit Scotland scheme. I hope my unfortunate experience will at least inform others and hopefully prevent further abuse of this scheme.
Edinburgh, United Kingdom
October 8th, 2013