How to actually avoid being screwed over by your landlord

‘Some students live like animals’

Let’s face it, students are easy meat for dodgy landlords. Coming out of halls, you’re thrown in at the deep end with barely any student loan left. Your priorities are avoiding homelessness, and hopefully getting the biggest room.

It’s only at the end of the year you realise your goals might have been short-sighted, when suddenly getting your deposit back seems a distant and unlikely prospect.

If you’re currently panicking over getting your last few pennies back, this is a survival guide. We spoke to a housing expert from Shelter, and a real life actual letting agency, who explained the basics of not getting royally fucked over.

Heed their words.

Protect your deposit at all costs

A spokesperson for 4Lets letting agency, who are not connected to any of the examples below, reassured us: “Landlords have to place your deposit in a government backed scheme. They simply cannot touch the money.”

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Freya Barnes from Shelter UK, told us more. She said: “Landlords have to protect your deposit within 30 days of getting it from you.

“They have to give you full details of which government scheme is protecting your deposit. Shelter have got a handy ‘deposit checker tool’ you can use, to make sure that your deposit is protected.”

If you’ve lost your deposit entirely, all is not lost – you can dispute it in court. If your landlord didn’t put your deposit into a protective government scheme, you can win up to three times the amount of the original deposit anyway – result.

Make an inventory

Freya advised to agree to a list of contents in the property when you move in.

She added: “But to avoid later disputes as well, the best thing to do is point out damage to furniture and walls by previous tenants. It really makes life easier.”

If they did a terrible job of cleaning the place, don't let them charge you for it. Take photos!

Take note: take notes

A 4Lets spokesperson said: “I think the best advice for students I can give is the same advice I gave my son: make a note of everything and take photos of everything when you’re doing the inventory with the agent or landlord.

“It just means that communication between the two groups is so much easier, and big arguments over misunderstandings are avoided.”

Be tidy

4Lets told us students lose deposits because of the ungodly mess they create.


They explained: “The majority of deposits are lost, in my experience, through really basic cleaning costs. Even something like cleaning the bathroom every now and then does a whole lot of good.

“If something is broken slightly, for example, try and repair the damage yourself – it’s not your property, it is someone else’s.

“I’ve heard from a landlord that she arrived at her tenant’s flat, to find the banisters kicked in, the furniture broken – and this is all in the name of fun and parties. Some students live like animals. But these are the worst case scenarios of course.”

Don't take the piss - keep it tidy: like this place.

Don’t take the piss – keep it tidy: like this place.

Shelter’s Freya said student tenants often forget their obligations to neighbours too.

“If you’re renting someone’s property, you’ve got to be respectful of the neighbours. You’ve also got to pay the rent on time.

“Sometimes landlords include odd things that tenants have to do, like cut the grass every now and then, so keep an eye on that.”

Avoid pests

Georgie, a student at Bristol, told a particularly harrowing tale of how pest control sent in by their landlord failed to control a rat problem that went on for two months.

Unfortunate Georgie said: “The rats were still there, and they never followed up the issue. We even found out after a while that rats had been an issue in the house for thee years. But we didn’t know that when we took the house.”

When the students explained they wanted compensation and took their landlord to court, they received a paltry two weeks rent back.

Bank it.

Take photos of everything

Letting agencies like Bristol-based 4Lets emphasise taking photos of every damaged wall, dirty sink and chipped furniture is really important.

They said: “You’ve got to make a note of absolutely everything when you arrive. The best way is just by taking photos. So when you go around the property with the agent or landlord, make sure you take a photo of everything you see.

“It sounds quite pernickety, but it’ll save you so much bother in the future.”

Shelter agrees taking lots of snaps saves a lot of hassle.

Freya said: “If you want to save your deposit, the property needs to be clean and have any damaged furniture or walls repaired or replaced. If you arrive to find damaged stuff, take a photo of it to ensure you don’t get into trouble later on.”


Fergus, a student at Reading, learned to take photos the hard way. He lost some of his deposit so the landlord could have the property professionally cleaned.

He moaned: “It was to remove things like mould from the walls. But we left the house in a better state than when we moved in. One of my mates hired a cleaner to come and do it when we left, so he was basically trying to grab as much of our cash as possible.

“The bathroom was disgusting when we moved in – there were old toothbrushes everywhere, used crap all over the floor, dirty shelves. We cleaned it before we left, but he still tried to charge us.

“The gardens were overgrown when we moved in, but when we left I mowed the lawn – there were some brambles left but that was all. He made us pay to have the garden cleared and cut.”

Unlucky Fergus added: “One thing I learnt from the experience was to take pictures of absolutely everything when I moved in.”