I read a news items on the Deposit Protection Service website today which reported a survey showing that 62% of private landlords are flouting the tenancy deposit rules, and not protecting their tenants deposits.
If this report is true, and I suspect it probably is, or at least very near the truth, then this means that only letting agents and the better landlords are complying – meaning that those the scheme is really aimed at are ignoring it.
One probable reason for this is that the penalties (in particular the provision for the tenant to be awarded a ‘fine’ of three times the deposit money) appear in reality to be difficult to enforce. This is partly because the legislation is unclear. Upon careful reading it does not actually say that the fine is automatic if the landlord fails to protect within the time limits (although they do appear to indicate that it might be if the landlord is in breach of his schemes rules – there may be grounds for a test case there).
I am only aware of one case where the tenant succeeded. This was reported in Legal Action Magazine (June 2008) and was where the tenant had actually vacated in response to a section 21 notice served on her. Here the landlord was unable to remedy the position (ie by protecting the deposit out of time) and the Judge reluctantly made the order. However if the tenant had still been in possession, no doubt the landlord would hastily have arranged for the deposit to be protected, and the Judge would then have refused to make the order. The Legal Action report made it clear that the Judge only awarded the fine with reluctance and because the legislation gave him no alternative. (NB I would be very interested to hear of any other cases.)
[Note – since this post was written in July 2008, there have been considerably more cases reported, see the other posts on this blog on tenancy deposits to find them]
What is doubtless happening is that many landlords are taking the view that they will not protect deposits unless tenants threaten court action. However most tenants do not do this. Many will be wholly unaware of the tenancy deposit protection provisions, particularly, for example, if they have only recently come to this country and English is not their first language.
However, even if they are articulate British nationals, most people, even if they have a vague sort of idea that the landlord ought to do something about the deposit, will just assume that either he has done it or that the rules no longer apply. Ordinary people do not go around assuming that their landlords are breaking the law, or threatening court action. Generally people are unfamiliar with the courts and find the very thought of bringing a court claim scary.
One answer I suppose, is to do more to make people aware of the tenancy deposit scheme. Maybe it ought to feature in one of the soaps, there is probably a storyline in there somewhere. The other is to amend the rules to make it clear that if the landlord has not protected the deposit within the time limits, he cannot prevent the tenants succeeding, in a claim for the ‘fine’, by protecting the deposit out of time.
[Note – there a many questions from landlords and tenants in the comments, most of which I have answered (although comments on this post are now closed). Please bear in mind that new cases (and interpretations of the rules) have come along since my answers were given. Note that there are many other more recent posts also on tenancy deposits which you can read via this link.]
[Note 2 – see my post here one year on : Tenancy deposit protction – now only 30% failure]