Tenants' security deposits and legal responsibilities

When moving into new accommodation, both landlords and tenants are legally responsible for a number of very important things that, if not followed in accordance with the law or the contract, can land them in hot water. To make sure you're well aware of both your and the landlord's responsibilities, take a look through this guide and get clued up – the knowledge could save you a heap of cash when your tenancy comes to a close.

Rental deposits

Practically every tenant in the UK will have to pay a deposit to their landlord in order to cover the cost of any damage to the property, unpaid rent, or any other charges levied at the end of the tenancy. While the deposit can be as large or as small as the landlord wishes, it must be held in a government-backed tenancy deposit protection scheme (TDP).

TDPs in the UK include the Deposit Protection Service and Tenancy Deposit Scheme; in Scotland, Letting Protection Scotland; and in Northern Ireland, Tenancy Deposit Scheme Northern Ireland.

These schemes protect your deposit throughout the life of the tenancy, and ensure that all of the money you are legally owed will be returned to you when you move out. When you hand over the deposit to your landlord, they should send you information regarding the address, deposit amount, protection type, the particular TDP's contact details, the landlord's details, instructions on how to get the deposit back and how to handle disputes, and information detailing why part or all of the deposit might be kept from you.

If you do not receive this information, or don't know who your deposit is being kept with, you can contact any of the TDP services to find out if you are protected. If you discover that you are not, you can choose to take legal action against the landlord - in this situation, they will have to pay you the deposit back, and may be instructed to pay up to three times the stated amount as punishment.

At the end of your tenancy, your landlord will let you know if they have subtracted any funds from your deposit after they have surveyed the property. If you disagree with the charges and find yourself at an impasse with your landlord, your TDP scheme may be able to help in the resolution of the dispute – all you need to do to begin the process is to contact them. After the dispute is resolved, your deposit must be returned to you within ten days.

Tenants' responsibilities

When renting, there are a number of things that tenants are often contractually, and always legally, obliged to take care of themselves.

Of these obligations, paying the rent is the most obvious, as is the need to keep the home occupied. Sub-letting the property – when a tenant is paid rent by someone else living in the home – is only allowed if stipulated in the contract.

If you receive housing benefit, your claim must be kept up to date so as to ensure you don't fall behind on payments, and you must also keep on top of all bills being delivered to the property such as council tax, the TV licence, and utilities. A common stipulation in rental contracts states that if you, your family, or your friends damage the property in any way that doesn't constitute "fair wear and tear", you will have to repair it, or pay for it to be repaired. However, this is not a legal requirement. Always check your contract before repairing something though: in the best case scenario your landlord might be responsible for that particular aspect of the home.

Other contract-dependent tenant responsibilities can include minor maintenance concerns that often include checking that the smoke alarms are working, changing light bulbs, or replacing broken furnishings – always keep the receipt, just in case there's a dispute later on. Finally, you will likely be asked by the landlord to heat the property during winter, so as to reduce the chance of pipes bursting and damp setting into the property.