Almost £1 million in deposits stolen by landlords and agents so far this year

Tenants have lost almost a million pounds to rogue landlords so far this year, figures reveal.

Crooked landlords and letting agents have been convicted of illegally pocketing over £900,000 of tenant’s cash in the past seven months alone.

That’s according to zero deposit firm Dlighted, which has revealed the latest figures in its stolen deposit totaliser.

It found seven landlords and letting agents have been convicted of taking deposits in 2018, at an average theft of £13,199.

Recent convictions took the running total of lost deposits to £911,391 – close to the £1,162,037 recorded over the course of 2017, suggesting a 14% rise in thefts year-on-year.

Rachel Cefai of Rugby, was jailed for two-and-a-half years for diverting more than £105,582 of tenant’s money into her own bank account – a judge said her "dishonesty seems to know no bounds".

Rhian Falvey of Swansea, was also jailed for two years after paying more than £30,000 of tenant money into her own bank account and creating false invoices and credit notes on her employer’s electronic systems to cover her tracks.

Ajay Jagota, who is running the #ditchthedeposithcampaign, is now seeking Government backing to scrap deposits for a replacement insurance that will allow the £4.2billion of renter’s cash to be transformed into savings plans, such as Help to Buy ISAs while also eliminating deposit theft.

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"Cases of deposit theft are clearly and demonstrably becoming more and more common and my worry is that the coming Tenant Fee ban will make things even worse," Jagota said.

"The government’s own impact assessment suggests that letting agents are going to be hundreds of millions of pounds out of pocket, forcing many firms out of business. With billions of pounds of renter’s money just sitting there, the temptation to use that money to bail our struggling businesses could become too great for many agents.

"It doesn’t have to be this way. Deposit replacement insurance gives landlords and letting agents significantly superior protection against rent arrears, property damage and legal costs while allowing them to let properties longer and faster."

How to protect your deposit

Whether you’re renting through an agent or a landlord, it pays to know your rights. Here are four things you can do to protect your cash.

1. Place it in a scheme

Deposit Protection Schemes exist to protect your money – so use them.

More importantly, for some landlords, they’re a legal requirement. If your tenancy agreement is an AST (Assured Shorthold Tenancy) then your agent or landlords, must by law, place any money you pay into a scheme.

SpareRoom director Matt Hutchinson explains: "Your landlord must, by law, tell you which scheme they’re using, how to claim your deposit back, what you need to do if there’s a dispute and what the landlord is entitled to make deductions for.

"They have 30 days to do so. If they don’t, they can be ordered to pay you up to three times the deposit."

In England and Wales your deposit can be registered with Deposit Protection Service , MyDeposits and Tenancy Deposit Scheme . There are separate TDP schemes in Scotland and Northern Ireland .

These schemes mean your landlord cannot touch the money without your consent, nor can they try to claim any of it back without good reason at the end of your contract. To release the money, you’ll both have to agree to it.

If your landlord hasn’t used a TDP scheme when they should have done, you can take them to court to claim compensation instead. It’s best to wait until your tenancy has ended to do this, so you don’t put yourself at risk of being evicted .

2. Be aware you cannot be billed for wear and tear

As with anything, it pays to know your rights, and the fact that your landlord cannot deduct money from your deposit for general wear and tear, is an important one to know.

Citizens Advice housing expert Martin Coates explains: "When you leave a rented property, money should only be deducted from a deposit if the property has been damaged, something has been broken or if you have fallen behind on rent. Money can’t be taken off for general wear and tear.

"A landlord cannot request money if something is simply worn out."

This includes minor signs of use such as worn carpets, minor scrapes and scuffs on the walls and faded curtains.

"If your landlord tries to charge you for this, you can contact your tenancy deposit protection (TDP) scheme who will put you in touch with their alternative dispute resolution (ADR) service," Coates adds.

3. Don’t hand over cash – or make on the spot transfers

If you’re house of flat hunting, experts say you should always think twice before making any spontaneous transfers – regardless of how comfortable you feel.

"If something feels odd, or the room seems too perfect and it leaves you saying ‘what’s the catch?’ chances are that’s the case," explains SpareRoom’s Hutchinson.

"You should definitely avoid handing over money for any property you haven’t had a chance to visit, even if the landlord gives you seemingly legitimate reasons for why you can’t see it.

"The first red flag should be if anything seems too good to be true. You should also be wary if you’re ever asked to pay money up front before seeing the property.

"If you have any doubts about a property you see advertised, give the website a call or email them to ask them to look at it for you," he adds

If you’ve viewed the property but still have doubts, you can ask to speak with the previous tenants about any issues they had with the property – your letting agent should be well equipped to advise you on this too.

4. Have evidence of everything

It’s really important to keep track of any documents, information and correspondence around your tenancy during your lease and until your deposit is returned.

Here’s a full list of what StudentTenant suggest you should keep hold of until the day your deposit is returned:

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