TDS: It’s Worth Referring the Matter

Post length: 3,191 words, just over 14 minutes.

In July 2016 we completed the purchase of our first home and moved out of a property we rented via Greenwood & Company. During the checkout process the agent attempted to retain some of the deposit for alleged cleaning oversights. We challenged the claim ultimately opening a Deposit Dispute with the Tenancy Deposit Scheme, resulting in us getting all every penny of our money back. This is how it played out for us. (If you want to just read the case we presented to the TDS — a summary of the dispute — rather than what went on in the lead up, jump down to here.)

We moved into the rented property back in 2013. When we’d first seen the property advertised the price was beyond what we were willing to pay so looked on despite thinking that it would suit us. A week or so later we noticed the price had been reduced and decided to view it. We viewed, offered and our offer was accepted. We moved in a couple of weeks after that. By this time the property had been empty for a number of weeks — it was empty when we viewed and remained so while we went through the usual credit and ID checks. When we moved in we set to cleaning the whole property from top to bottom — it wasn’t dirty but it was obvious it had been left untouched for a little while.

In the days following our check in Greenwood & Co sent us the check in report for our records. While it went into detail regarding damage and contents, the reference to the cleanliness of the property was brief consisting of 5 broad categories — carpets, windows, blinds, kitchen and bathroom — and a phrase next to each to describe the state of it — each “clean” except windows marked as “clean inside” (understandable for a 1st/2nd floor property). Of course at the time we didn’t think anything of it: the property wasn’t spotless, after all it had been sitting empty for a while, but it wasn’t dirty (except the windows, which had clearly not been cleaned on the outside).

Three years later, when it came to leaving the property, we set about cleaning. With everything out of the house we spent a day cleaning the place from top to bottom. We steam cleaned the kitchen and bathroom, washed the carpets and laminates, cleaned the windows and ran over everything we could see with a cloth. We knew the blinds had got a bit dirty in the second bedroom and paid special attention to those. We even put things back together which had not been in in one piece when we moved into the property. We were placed with the outcome when we finally locked the door for the final time — the place was sparkling.

A couple of days afterwards I attended the check out with the 3rd party check out clerk. We went around, she made some notes on her copy of the check in report and took some photos. When we’d finished I asked “how did we do?” to which she responded along the lines of “the blinds are a bit dusty, but nothing major. I’d be surprised if they didn’t give you the full deposit back.” Understandably I was happy with this, signed the form to say the check out had been completed and went on my way. Sadly what she had written on her copy of the check in report was a little more complex than she had lead me to believe.

The next day we received the check out report from the agent with the note “Please see attached checkout report from the inventory clerk. I will write again regarding your deposit return.” We started to sense a problem. Why would it take time to get back to us about the deposit if it was as simple as I had been told? As it turns out the check out report’s notes on cleanliness were considerably more comprehensive than those given on the check in report. The same 5 broad categories were still there but there were 2 further pages of notes accompanying it.

There were two differences in the summary: windows had changed from “clean inside” to “clean” while curtains had changed from “clean” to “slightly dusty”. Even though we’d concentrated on the blinds we were willing to concede that we might not have managed to get every spec of dust off them and we were pleased to see that the improvement in the condition of the windows was noted given the effort we’d gone to in order to clean them outside. In direct comparison with the check in report this seemed the same as the clerk had said — there would be no reason not to get the full deposit back. It seems, however, that the agents didn’t agree.

Five days later we got an email informing us that they “proposed” retaining £72 of our deposit for “cleaning oversights”. While the email called the deduction proposed, there was no offer in the email of discussion around it and it wasn’t long before the deposit appeared back in our bank account less the £72. A little miffed, we responded:

Can you please forward details of how you reached the proposed deduction figure including indicating the consideration given for improved elements of cleaning in comparison to the state we received the property, such as the external cleaning of the windows and repair of the blind in the kitchen.

The next day we got a response “For the cleaning I sent the checkout report to our cleaners and they quoted as per the report.” The agent also offered to forward a copy of the email from the cleaners containing the quote.

A little miffed we took them up on their offer along with asking again “If you could also highlight the consideration given for the additional cleaning and repairs undertaken at our own time and expense — windows and blinds (as noted previously), kitchen bulbs, bath panel, etc. — which are improvements over the state we received the property in three years ago.” Sure enough they sent through a quote from their cleaners “with reference to the report” quoting £60 + VAT, £72, “to cover the oversights”. This is where our quibble lay. The checkout report was much more thorough than the check in report, and given our recollection (and common sense) said that the property wasn’t immaculate when we moved in, it seemed unfair for the agent to have obtained a quote based on this one single document without a point of reference.

With this in mind, and to give the agent the benefit of the doubt, we requested to see the evidence they were working off to argue that every item noted in the check out report was different to at check in time: “I wonder if you could also forward a detailed breakdown of the state of cleaning from when we moved into the property. In my records the only reference I can find to the cleanliness is the summary on which the differences are the blinds and windows.” Perhaps predictably the only document forwarded was the same one we already held — the summary sheet.

At this point it was clear that they didn’t have any evidence and were just trying to retain our money on the hope we wouldn’t argue. It seemed they weren’t going to even consider they might be in the wrong, so we decided it was time to put a foot down and assert our rights:

As I’m sure you are aware I am trying to ascertain if the state we returned the property in is any worse than the state we received it in. Given the check in report does document that the blinds were clean and the checkout report documents that they were slightly dusty I do not dispute this point and would be happy with a deduction for dusting the blinds. On the other points however, as your records will show, the property had been empty for a while before we moved in and, during that time, dust had collected as one would expect.

You will be aware that the Tenancy Agreement states that we are not expected to return the property in any cleaner condition than we received it. Given that so far I have not seen any documentary evidence to suggest that the condition is any worse than at check in (for the other items mentioned and quoted on by your cleaners) I am inclined to dispute a deduction derived from a cleaning quote based on aspects not documented at the start of the Agreement.

Therefore in order to resolve this as quickly as possible I would request that you please either: (a) forward the evidence you have that the specific items mentioned in the check out report, on which the cleaning quote was obtained, were in a better condition of cleanliness at our check in; or if such evidence does not exist (b) obtain a quotation for the dusting of the blinds only and adjust your proposed deduction accordingly.

At this point the agent either refused to accept the premise of our complaint or missed the point:

I’m sorry that you feel this is unreasonable; the landlord would of course expect to pay for further dusting/cleaning if a property is empty for some time but in this case the oversights were noted at the checkout on 23rd June by the inventory clerk.

They also reiterated that the only documentation they had was the check in and check out reports we had already seen and told us “these are the standard documents” as well as pointing out that obtaining a quote based on the check out report “would be the normal procedure.” To be honest I’m not sure what point they were trying to make. I can see three possibilities: they were trying once again to make us give up pursuing it because that’s how it always works; that the agent we were in contact with was covering her own back — she’d just followed procedure; or … By way of closing her email, and to me trying to draw a line under the whole affair, she said “It is of course your prerogative to refer the matter to the TDS so if this is what you decided to do I will wait to hear from them.”

We decided it was worth one more go directly. In the last email we took two approaches: firstly to correct the agent’s possible mistake in what we were claiming and secondly to offer once again the olive branch that we were willing to compromise:

I’m not disputing when the checkout report highlighted the alleged oversights, they were of course noted during the checkout on the 23rd June 2016. What I am disputing is your apparent claim that the property was, on that date, in a worse state than when we received it.

Given the property was vacant for a period before we moved in there was certainly dust on surfaces such as door panels and other protrusions on the 10th May 20013. In order to confirm if your claims (if I understand correctly: that the property was entirely dust free at check in) or my recollection (that there were some dusting issues at check in) I was seeking the basis of your claim. I assumed, if you made claims that the property was in a worse condition on the 23rd June 2016, you would have evidence to this end.

I am disappointed that you feel you can charge for the claimed oversights without having any evidence that these items were in no way dusty at the start of the tenancy. I am also disappointed that you appear to outright reject the notion that when a property is empty dust has a tendency to settle and that, based on the period of time the property was empty before we moved in, it would be in the same state is if it had been dusted throughout the day before.

Finally, as you can see from our previous communication: where you have presented evidence that the state of the dusting differed on the 23rd June 2016 to that of 10th May 2013 I am happy to cover those costs. Indeed I asked you to get a quote to cover these matters alone without any suggestion as to what I might consider a reasonable cost for this work. My appeal to you was that, given the lack of evidence for the other matters and my recollection of the property on the day we moved in, it was unfair to charge for the other items as we are not required to cover costs to return the property in a better condition than we received it.

An acknowledgement that you do not have evidence to support the majority of your claim and a consideration of this in the costs you are passing on to us would go a long way to resolving this matter quickly, easily and without resorting to arbitration. As it stands — as long as you are unable to offer any evidence to support your claim and refuse to offer any concession on the basis of our arguments — we will seriously consider our position with regards to passing the matter on to the TDS for adjudication.

We didn’t expect a reply.

The next step was to take the matter to the TDS. We figured, having got our ducks in a row over the proceeding couple of emails, it would be pretty simple to put together a case — it would be a matter of rehashing the arguments we had put forward directly. We did a little bit of research to find out what format the TDS wanted things in and what information they were looking for before sitting down to write the complaint. And then waiting.

The reasons for the dispute are:

We were informed that, following the end of the tenancy, there would be a deduction of £60 + VAT (£72) for “cleaning oversights” as noted on the checkout report. We were informed that the deduction was the direct passing-on of a quote obtained by sending the checkout report to a cleaning company. We believe that the majority of the items listed on the checkout report are not in any worse state of cleanliness than at check in and therefore using this report for the basis of a quote and passing this full cost on to us is unfair.

The items on the check-out report for which the agents are attempting to charge us are generally noted as “dusty” or “not freshly cleaned”. (Given the property was cleaned only two days before check out, we assume that the term “freshly cleaned” refers to cleaning having taken place more recently than two days prior.) These items are protrusions such as the doorbell receiver and door panels. In the tenancy agreement, of which the relevant extract is attached, clause 9.1 states that the property is to be returned in the same condition as it was at the start of the tenancy. As we moved into the property following a period of at least a few weeks of it being empty — the agent’s documentation should be able to confirm this timeline — there was an understandable build-up of dust in areas one might expect, such as on protrusions, and it certainly had not been cleaned within a few days of our collection of the keys. We feel that the property was returned in at least as good clean order as we received it in line with the tenancy agreement, and it is unfair for the agent to make a deduction in order that the property be in a better condition than it was when we received it.

When asked as part of our discussions prior to referring this dispute, the agent was unable to provide further evidence to support their claim that the property was entirely dust free and recently cleaned at the start of the tenancy. The only document provided was the summary page from the check in report which does not make mention of any of the items now in dispute. This leads us to believe that our recollection of the state of the property is not incorrect or unfair.

Please note: we do not dispute the two differences – one slightly worse, one improvement – on the summary page and asked the agent to re-obtain a cleaning quotation on the basis of this item alone. They were unwilling to do so.

In summary:

  • The property had been empty for at least a few weeks before we took the keys.
  • During this time dust had built up on items such as door panels and light switches.
  • The check in report does not indicate the cleanliness of any of the items being disputed. Indeed, it does not make anything other than vague reference to cleanliness of any items.
  • The agents are claiming an incorrect and undocumented level of cleanliness of the property during check in order to determine differences between check in and check out.
  • Our tenancy agreement states that the property should be returned in the same condition as it was received, not a better condition.
  • On this basis using the check-out report to obtain a quotation and passing this full cost on to us is unfair.

What steps have been taken to resolve the matter so far?

We have been in email communication with the Agent with regard to this dispute over the period of a couple of weeks. We have asked for evidence of basis of the amount retained, as well as attempting to come to a compromise agreement as to how much of the deposit should be retained.

As we were unable to reach agreement, the agent has informed us that they feel there is no option now but for us to open a dispute.

We submitted the dispute on the 11th July and received a response on the 22nd. The response, despite previous communication from the agent that they would send the disputed amount to the TDS and allow them to adjudicate, was simple:

The agent has advised that they will be returning the disputed deposit of £72.00 to you therefore it is not necessary for us to adjudicate.

Case closed.

So what on earth was going on? Why did Greenwood & Company so fiercely fight their corner with us and then when we took it to the TDS just give up and hand the money back? Did they know they were fighting a losing battle with no evidence to support their case? Did the lady we were in contact with over-step the mark? Were they just trying it on in the hope we wouldn’t take the case any further? Whatever the reason they passed on the chance to reach compromise and ended up not only wasting their own time, but giving us the full deposit back.

Less determined (stubborn?) people might have just given up. Don’t. If you know you have a case then the TDS is worth that little bit of extra effort. After all: you don’t actually have anything to lose!

Posted on Monday 22nd August, 2016 at 10:33 am in Home.
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