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Monday, July 25, 2011

Tips On Tenancy Deposit Disputes 51: The 4th Tenant Defence

Tip 51: Standard Tenant Defences #4

The third standard tenant defence is: We agreed that verbally

I have a certain amount of sympathy for tenants claiming that they had a verbal agreement with their landlords to do something for which they are subsequently charged. Of course, there are those tenants who claim verbal agreements fraudulently, and I have no sympathy for them, but I know very well from making verbal agreements myself that people often have a very different perspective on exactly what was agreed.

As an example, a tenant moves into a property which is let with a certain amount of furniture. The tenant has a wardrobe of his own and wishes to remove the landlord’s wardrobe from the bedroom. The tenant calls the landlord and suggests storing the extra wardrobe in the garage for the duration of the tenancy. The landlord thinks this is fine and answers that it is an old item of little value and she doesn’t mind what the tenant does with it. The tenant realises that there won’t be enough room to keep his car in the garage with the wardrobe in there and recalls that the landlord doesn’t mind what is done with the wardrobe, as it is of little value to her. The tenant takes the wardrobe to the tip in the belief that the landlord has given her consent. The landlord thinks the wardrobe is in the garage.

At the end of the tenancy the landlord is surprised to find she no longer has a wardrobe and wants to retain some of the deposit to compensate for the loss. The tenant’s claim states that they agreed verbally that the tenant could dispose of the wardrobe. The landlord accepts that the conversation took place, but has a different perspective on what was agreed.

As an adjudicator, it is very difficult to be sure who is in the right in situations like this, after all, we all forget what we have said from time to time. Where there is doubt, the adjudicator asks whether the landlord has proved their case? Because the deposit was the tenant’s money to begin with, it is the landlord’s problem to positively prove that they deserve to win. Where the landlord cannot, the money goes to the tenant.

To avoid this happening to you, don’t agree things purely verbally. If you do make an agreement with the tenant, once you get back to the office, drop them an email:

“Dear Tenant,
Further to our conversation today, I would like to confirm that I am happy for you to store the wardrobe in the garage for the duration of the tenancy.

This way, each of you has a permanent record of what was said, and when, which will help you to avoid disputes and win the disputes you cannot avoid.

Tom Derrett is the Principal of Deposit Claim, an ex-adjudicator and an expert on the Deposit Protection Schemes. Tom helps landlords to claim money through the deposit protection schemes.

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