Landlords are most likely to have a dust up with tenants over cleaning their homes when they leave than any other topic, according to new data.

Leaving a rented home in a poor state tops the reasons for disputes over landlords keeping deposits in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, says the Tenancy Deposit Scheme (TDS), which runs tenancy deposit schemes in each country.

Although the number of disputes dropped slightly in the year to March 31, cleaning when vacating a private rented home triggered the most arguments between tenants and landlords.

In total, TDS handled 34,993 disputes in the year – down from 35,513 in the previous 12 months, according to the organisation’s annual report for 2019-20.

Although the number seems high, disputes represent only 0.84% of the 4.1 million deposits on protection.

Average deposit falls

The amount of money on deposit stands at £4.3 billion as the number of rented homes in England and Wales increased from 2.2 million in 2001 to 5 million in 2018.

The average deposit paid by a tenant is £1,040 – down from £1,108 the year before.

TDS published data for tenancy deposit disputes since 2012 with cleaning heading the lists closely followed by claims for damage each year in England and Wales:

Dispute 2012-13 2013-14 2014-15 2015-16 2016-17 2017-18 2018-19 2019-20
Cleaning 56% 53% 58% 57% 56% 54% 53% 42%
Damage 43% 46% 51% 51% 51% 49% 49% 41%
Decorating 30% 29% 31% 32% 28% 31% 30% 39%
Gardening 13% 14% 17% 16% 16% 16% 15% 23%
Rent arrears 17% 16% 19% 19% 20% 20% 18% 14%

Source: TDS disputes data

Although the number of cleaning and damage disputes have fallen, arguments over keeping gardens in order and decorating have risen.

Tenants make most complaints

Unsurprisingly, tenants trigger the most disputes over the return of deposits with landlords making 7% of complaints and letting agents originating 19% – the rest (74%) arise from tenants.

The firm’s CEO Steve Harriott said: “While the report highlights broad differences between the constituent countries of the UK, it hides more local disparities. For example, the average deposit value in England and Wales does not reflect the difference between Central London and areas with lower average deposits.

“The report does, however, demonstrate that the private rented sector is continuing to grow, with an increase in the number of deposits protected and their value across the UK.

“There are, of course, a number of reasons behind the growth, but, as the sector expands, we continue to see the numbers of deposits protected increasing.”

What is wear-and-tear?

Tenant law says a rented home should be left in the same condition as recorded on the inventory when moving in, considering reasonable wear-and-tear during the rental period.

Wear-and-tear describes the gradual damage a landlord would expect to see in a rented home over time.

The rule covers scuffs to paintwork, wear to carpets and general bumps and scrapes.

The degree of wear-and-tear expected depends on who lives in the home. For instance, s family with young children or a pet dog are likely to cause more wear-and-tear than a single pensioner.

Claiming wear-and-tear costs from tenants

To keep money from a tenant deposit for cleaning or damage, a landlord must prove the condition is beyond what would be expected from general wear-and-tear.

The best way to do this is to have a accurate record of the state of the property at the start and end of the tenancy.

This means:

  • Taking a full inventory with photographs signed by the tenant at the start of the rental. A tape measure showing the extent of any wear is useful in any images
  • Keep receipts for any items in the property
  • Support a claim with invoices or estimates from tradesmen completing any work to put right any wear at the end of the tenancy

A tenant deposit arbitrator will also expect to see this evidence and will agree any compensation based on them.

Useful links

We have an article about fair wear and tear here.

Also, read more about wear-and-tear claims for landlords here.

Information about deposits and deposit schemes is available for England or Wales.