Knowing what the terms and phrases used in adjudication mean can make all the difference in a deposit dispute.

In our quest to help you have more successful disputes, or to avoid them altogether, we’ve been throwing a spotlight on where landlords and letting agents can improve their claims. Over the last year, we’ve been challenging you to test your knowledge of several deposit protection terms in our Understanding Terms quiz. Almost 4,000 of you took part scoring on average a promising 70%, though only 3% of quizzers gained full marks. So where did most people get it wrong?

Don’t let me be misunderstood! The top five terms agents and landlords get wrong. 

Proving the point

Q: Who has the burden of proof in a dispute?
A: The Landlord.

Over a quarter of respondents got this wrong. In a dispute, the landlord must provide evidence to support their claim. It’s important to remember the deposit belongs to the tenant and is only held for safekeeping by us. If the landlord wishes to retain some or all of the deposit and the tenant disagrees, the dispute resolution process will start. The landlord then needs to persuade the adjudicator with evidence that they’re entitled to the claim. If the evidence isn’t strong enough to prove the claim, the adjudicator has no choice but to award the deposit to the tenant.

Diminishing responsibility

Q: When is the tenant no longer responsible for the property?
A: From the date that the tenancy ends

This proved tricky for many of you, with only about half of respondents answering correctly.  A full third of people thought that the tenant was no longer responsible for the property once they had moved out. The true answer is that tenants are no longer responsible only after the tenancy ends. But what does this actually mean? It’s normally when possession of the property is returned to the landlord, but could be a later point if the tenancy agreement has not come to a lawful end.  For example, if a tenant moves out without notice or stays on after the end date on the tenancy agreement, they’re still liable for the property.

Cleaned up or cleaned out?

Q: What constitutes a “professional standard of cleaning”?
A: A very high standard of cleanliness

A lot of tenancy agreements refer to a “professional standard of clean” but what does that actually mean? Just over half of you knew that “professional standard” simply means a very high standard. It’s absolutely possible for tenants to clean to this high standard themselves and even if the landlord has paid a “professional”, they might not be up to scratch. It’s also important to note that the tenant cannot be expected to clean the property to a higher standard than it was when they moved in. We’ll talk more about this in the next point.

You get what you pay for

Q: What is “betterment”?
A: Claiming for new/expensive fixtures and fittings to replace old/cheap ones

Only 39% of people understood this term. Betterment is when the landlord is claiming the costs of making the property better than when the tenants originally moved in. Adjudicators cannot award claims for this. It includes the example above of expecting tenants to return the property cleaner than when they moved in, as well as for replacing old goods, fixtures or fittings with new or better equivalents, or redecorating the property to a higher standard than at the start of the tenancy. Adjudicators take residual lifespan into account, so tenants aren’t left with the full cost of replacing 20-year-old furniture if they’ve only used it for a couple of years. Instead they’ll award an appropriate portion towards the cost of replacement.

Decision making, investigating or mediating?

Q: What is “adjudication”?
A: An online assessment of the evidence provided by both parties in a dispute determining whether a landlord's claim is justifiable.

The number one question that people taking the test got wrong was “What is adjudication?”. Most thought that dispute adjudication is mediation. In fact, this isn’t the case. The role of an adjudicator is to decide, using the proof provided by landlords and tenants, whether the tenancy agreement has been breached and if what is being claimed to put this breach right is appropriate. Adjudicators will never visit the property so it’s the landlord’s responsibility to give an accurate picture of what has happened, and how they want to remedy it, if their claim is going to succeed (See Burden of Proof).

Landlords and letting agents regularly tell us that dealing with disputes is by far the most frustrating part of deposit protection. Naturally we want to make it as easy as possible for you to have successful outcomes, or if possible, help you avoid disputes altogether. The limits on what adjudicators can award for are based in law, and common to all deposit schemes. Knowing the correct meanings to these terms, and the restrictions that guide adjudicators’ decisions, can make all the difference between winning and losing a dispute.

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