Monday, July 06, 2009

Possible scam with tenants' deposit money

Note - the Landlord Law Blog has now moved to


There has been quite a bit of publicity over the last few months about agents and the unjust charges they impose on both tenants and also the landlords they represent. The CAB did a report on this which I wrote about here. I have now been contacted by a tenant telling me about what he suspects may be another scam by agents (and potentially also landlords), although it is not something he can prove. I copy his email below:

I recently quit a tenancy in Bath and moved to London. The deposit on the Bath flat was held by the DPS [Deposit Protection Service]. I couldn't remember how much the deposit was, but I had the DPS letter saying it was £1050.

While clearing out some boxes, I found some more paperwork: the receipt from the letting agent that showed I'd paid £1575 deposit. I keep my bank statements, and these confirmed the deposit was £1575. The letting agent had placed £1050 with the DPS and kept £525.

A percentage of tenants - especially after a long tenancy - are going to forget the amount of the deposit and / or lose their original paperwork. At the end of their tenancy, they ring the DPS, establish themselves as entitled to the deposit and are told how much was lodged with the DPS. If the letting agent or landlord only lodged part of the deposit with the DPS, the letting agent / landlord get to keep the rest. If the tenant knows how much the deposit was and can prove it, they just apologise and agree to return it.

In my case, the letting agent accepted immediately what had happened, said they'd made a mistake and apologised.

I think it would be hard to detect this happening. I can't prove it wasn't a mistake. I should have checked the DPS letter when it arrived but even if I had, the letting agent would have apologised and placed the correct amount with the DPS.

The scam only works when the tenant forgets the amount and in that situation, they don't even know they've been robbed. The landlord / letting agent get to keep a percentage of deposits they handle. This can be a lot of money if only a small proportion of tenants "forget".
If nothing else this story emphasises the point that tenants must check everything so as to protect their position (and I would add that the correct amount of the deposit should be set out in the tenancy agreement). The agent in this case could have made a genuine mistake of course, but did they? Have any other tenants experienced this?

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Anonymous said...

I am a landlord and my agent said he took a deposit for my tenant and put it in a deposit scheme. I didn't have the details of this myself. Since then the agent has gone bust. The tenants have no idea where their deposit is and so far the schemes I have contacted have no evidence of the deposit in their systems. It looks like the agent did a runner with all the deposits. My tenants are pensioners - they will not be pursuing the agent in court. I should have taken all the details at the time obviously. But aside from my lack of attention to detail at the time I believe this is scandalous.

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