This is supposed to be a lengthy article but if you would like the abridged version it can be summarised as this: don’t break stuff. Follow this rule and you’ll probably be fine. But seriously, this is more or less the best advice we can give – just don’t give your landlord or university any reasons to take your deposit. Be respectful to your living environment and you should, generally, be all right.
Your immediate surroundings in your accommodation are your stuff! For the year, at least, so it’s a good idea not to break it. And that’s a Coursefindr life lesson (patent pending) – don’t break your own stuff.
Sometimes, though, your landlord will try to get their hands on your deposit whether you’ve done anything wrong or not. In this case, there’s a few precautions you can take to try to ensure that you don’t lose your hard-earned cash. First and foremost, take pictures of your room before you move in, and make sure to email them to your landlord as soon as possible. In this case, you can make sure that any damage or wearing to the room that was already there won’t end up being put on you in a year’s time.
In the same way, try to document everything that’s even slightly broken in your entire residence before you begin living there. That includes kitchen equipment, furniture, electrical equipment – anything that isn’t yours from when you’ve moved in. It’s not enough to just document it, though – try to get an email from your landlord acknowledging that all of these things have happened before you moved in. If it comes to it (which is unlikely, not every landlord is a robber, and it’s not a good idea to assume your landlord is) you can call on the exchange as proof that the damage wasn’t you. Perhaps even send the list, which we shall name the ‘itinerary’, in a dated letter (keep a copy) and keep proof of postage.
If you do break something whilst you’re living somewhere (and it can happen – living somewhere generally means breaking some stuff somewhere down the line), make sure to let your landlord know and see if you can pay for the damage then and there, if it’s likely to be less than the deposit. For one thing, everyone will respect your honesty, and for another it will simply end up costing you less money. Besides, as we said, not every landlord is out to get you and some will just accept it as general wear-and-tear and won’t bother charging you.
Whatever you do, try not to just fix the damage yourself – we don’t care how you worked as a carpenter once for a week or did art at GCSE – you won’t be able to fix it properly and without your landlord noticing. It’s as simple as that, really – it’s just not going to happen; it’s their house and they will notice if you try to cover something up. And then they’ll charge you as much as they can do for trying to trick them – if you want to pay through the nose for damages, there’s no surer way of doing that then trying to do the repairs yourself. No offence, but you’re not as good at DIY as you think you are.
Make sure to read over your contract thoroughly, and check if there’s a ‘wear and tear’ clause somewhere in there. Quite frankly, there should be – if there isn’t then ask your landlord why there isn’t. It takes a fair bit of confidence to approach your landlord about this kind of stuff, we know (you are living in their house, after all) but this stuff matters and you should approach him or her together as a house to discuss this sort of thing. If you’re unlucky and your landlord is out to squeeze as much money out of you as possible, then you should make sure they know you’re not a pushover. And the way to do that is to ask about things like a wear and tear clause. By the by, in case you haven’t realised already this covers smaller damages that anyone could’ve done and aren’t really anyone’s fault. It’s important to have this one, or you could lose your deposit on something painfully trivial if you’re not careful.
Although, yes, you should make sure your landlord knows you’re not a pushover, you should also endeavour to be respectful and generally friendly to him/her. You’ll get a much better working relationship with them (and it is a working relationship – you’re paying for a service, namely living in their house) if you’re friendly and generally approachable, and it’s a very good idea to not anger the person who decides whether or not you get hot water this week.
If everything does go south, and you end up in the awful situation of having a bad house with a bad landlord and not being able to move out because you’ve signed a year’s contract, then there will be people at your university who should be able to help you out. Often though, landlords will know when they’re being out of line (it is their profession, after all) and will back off a little if you mention taking legal counsel or anything serious along those lines. And just FYI, don’t seek legal counsel – lawyers cost a lot more than student houses and your university will probably be able to help you out a lot more.
So, to summarise, if you want to hang on to your accommodation deposit then be respectful (until you have to be rude), try not to break anything (for your benefit, as well as your landlord’s) and try to make sure there’s a bit of leeway on what counts as ‘breaking something’ (there is a limit, though – a house fire, for example, can never be wear and tear). Do all of this, and you should, generally, be all right. And if that doesn’t work out, talk to the accommodation experts at your university – they probably know a lot more than us. You’re welcome.