Deposit protection during the Coronavirus crisis – your questions answered

The Coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live and work for the foreseeable future. It’s also affecting a range of activities relating to tenancies, deposit protection, and disputes. We’ve gathered together the top questions you’ve been asking and shared our answers below.

 

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Frequently asked questions from landlords and letting agents

My tenant is having problems paying their rent. Can they use the deposit to pay it before the tenancy ends?

No. If your tenants are having problems paying rent, we recommend you speak to them to discuss their options.

My tenant has decided to leave the property before the end of the tenancy. Can I claim the deposit for rent in lieu of notice?

If you’re sure that the tenant has left permanently and has no intention to return, then you can submit your claim and provide supporting evidence as usual.

 

I can’t perform an inventory and check-in report because of lock-down or self-isolation.

From 13 May, moving house is now permitted in England. This means check-in reports can now be completed but the inventory clerk or letting agent will need to follow the guidelines on social distancing and working in other people’s homes. Guidance from the Welsh Government has not changed and says that residents in Wales should only be moving property if it’s essential.

The government guidance to letting agents recommends that inventory appointments for check-ins should be arranged while the property is vacant, just before the tenants move in.

You should still give your tenants the opportunity to review the inventory and request any changes they feel should be made. Send them a copy of the inventory, along with any photographs taken, by email or post and ask them to review it within seven days. Make sure you keep a copy of the email you send to the tenants, or proof of posting, so you have a record if a dispute arises. What makes a good inventory?

 

I can't complete the check-out report because of lockdown or self-isolation. Will this cause difficulties if I have a dispute over the deposit repayment?

From 13 May, moving house is now permitted in England.  This means check-out reports can now be completed but the inventory clerk or letting agent will need to follow the guidelines on social distancing and working in other people’s homesIf a tenant is self-isolating, they should only move out of the property once the recommended time has passed and they're free of any symptoms.

In Wales where the Government guidance is unchanged, you should make arrangements for the check-out report to take place as soon as possible after the lock-down period or end of self-isolation to minimise the risk of doubt about the tenant’s responsibility for any damages. You should also consider asking the tenant to record their own timestamped photographic or video evidence of the property condition when they move out to help verify the check-out report and avoid a dispute.

We recognise that there may be cases where due to the introduction of lockdown from mid-March, check-out reports have been completed well after the end of the tenancy. We will deal with these on a case-by-case basis to reach a fair outcome. The important thing to remember is to keep a clear record of what has happened and when.

It's also important to give your tenants the opportunity to agree or disagree with the check-out report. Make sure you keep in touch by phone, text or email throughout the process and keep records of any communication you have with your tenants. In the event of a deposit dispute, you’ll need to explain to the adjudicator why the check-out was delayed, and what steps you’ve taken to reach an agreement with the tenant.

 

My tenants are moving out. Is there a time limit on starting the repayment process?

No. There’s no time-limit on starting the repayment process.

 

My incoming tenant wants a professional deep clean to be carried out before they move in because of coronavirus. Can I charge my outgoing tenant for this?

Your outgoing tenant can't be expected to leave the property in a better condition than when they moved in. If a full professional deep clean wasn't carried out before they moved in, they will not be required to have one carried out when they leave.

Guidance issued on 13 May does suggest that landlords may need to carry out cleaning between tenancies to minimise potential spread of the virus before a new tenant moves in. In this situation, the outgoing tenant will not be liable to pay the cost.

 

I need to submit a Statutory Declaration as the tenant hasn’t responded to my claim but I can’t get my Declaration witnessed because of the lockdown. Will you accept my Statutory Declaration without a witness?

The Statutory Declaration process is defined by law and we can’t make changes to this unless instructed to do so by the Government.

Unfortunately, we haven’t received any guidance from the Government allowing us to change the process during the lockdown, so we can’t accept unwitnessed Statutory Declarations for the time being.

 

I need to get quotes from contractors before I submit a claim, but they’re not operating due to lockdown.

The government guidance in place from 13 May states that contractors in England will be able to work as long as they follow guidelines on social distancing and working in other people’s homes. This means it's now possible for invoices, estimates, quotations and receipts to be obtained. 

For situations where this isn't possible, such as self isolation or in Wales where guidance on working in other people's homes hasn't changed, you should estimate costs for repairs or other remedial work to allow the repayment process to progress. You may be able to ask a contractor to provide an estimate on the basis of photographs if they can’t visit the property.

It may also be possible to reference costs from publicly available information, for example the replacement cost of an appliance, fixtures and fittings etc. It’s important to remember that any costs claimed for replacements should reflect the residual value of the item. Adjudicators will take the age and condition of the item at check-in into account when making their decision. Read more on how Adjudicators make their decisions.

 

My gas/electrical safety check is due. Can I still complete this?

The guidance issued on 13 May by the government is clear that landlords should make every effort to keep these checks and inspections up to date. However, if a tenant has symptoms of coronavirus, or is self-isolating or shielding, the inspection should not take place. The landlord (or their contractors) can't enter the property if the tenant does not agree to it. If a tenant doesn't allow an inspection to take place, the guidance states that a landlord will not be in breach of their obligations if they can demonstrate that they have taken reasonable steps to comply with their legal requirement to have the check carried out, but that the tenant did not allow it to take place.

 

I’m unable to comply with dispute evidence deadlines.

Let us know as soon as possible if you’re having difficulties collating your evidence because of lock-down. We will try and agree a new deadline for the submission of evidence. We’ll let you and your tenants know if we have agreed an extension to any deadlines. 

 

I am reducing my tenants' rent or offering a payment holiday. Can I claim any arrears from the deposit when the tenancy ends?

Landlords and agents should be clear that any reduced payment which is offered doesn’t remove the obligation to pay rent, but just defers the payment date. Normal contractual rules still apply. A landlord therefore needs to make sure that if any payment holiday is offered, it's backed up by a very clear email spelling out that the deferred payment is still to be made when the crisis is over. 

 

I protected a tenancy deposit but the tenant didn’t move in due to coronavirus. I want to repay the deposit to them but it’s currently locked due to anti money laundering regulations.

If you have a genuine reason to request deposit repayment within the restricted period, you’ll need to provide us with a copy of the tenancy agreement or other proof of the tenancy. We can remove the restriction if your evidence confirms the tenancy is genuine.

 

Frequently asked questions from Tenants

I’m having problems paying my rent. Can I use my deposit to pay rent before the tenancy ends, or to cover the last month’s rent before I move out?

No. If you’re having problems paying your rent, we recommend you speak to your landlord or letting agent and discuss your options.

I’ve received an email about coronavirus that says it’s from The DPS. Is this genuine?

We’ve recently emailed all our registered letting agents, landlords and tenants to remind them that they can still manage their deposits through our online service during the coronavirus lockdown.

Read our blog on how to spot scam emails to learn more about fake emails.

 

Did these answer your questions? Take a look at our learning centre for more information on deposit protection or get in touch.