What to do when your landlord refuses to return your rental deposit
More and more expats have difficulties getting their deposits back after the end of their lease. Particularly small private landlords seem to have discovered that they can refuse to return deposits, because tenants, especially those who don’t know their rights and are abroad, don’t take action. Landlords often claim cleaning costs and damages long after the tenant has moved out. Mr. Berendsen explains what you can do to avoid losing your rental deposit.
So, what can you do in such a case and what should you pay attention to when you sign a new rental contract?
It is important to check whether a check-in report has been drawn up. The landlord and tenant normally sign a check-in report at the beginning of the lease. In the report, the condition of the rented property is recorded. Is there no such report? Then the law is on the side of the tenant: it is then assumed that the tenant has received the rented property in the condition it is in at the end of the contract. The landlord must prove the contrary.
In most cases, there is a check-in report. If there are no photos and the condition of the rented property is merely described using terms such as good, fair and poor, it does not constitute a proper check-in report, because those terms are open to interpretation. Again: the burden of proof lies with the landlord. You need to inspect the rental like you would a rental car: make sure that all defects are clearly documented so that you won’t be liable for repairs at the end of the lease. Take pictures and add them to the report.
One thing that landlords often forget to record is a pre-checkout inspection report. This is not the check-out report, but the report two to four weeks before the check-out. The idea behind a pre-checkout inspection is to allow the tenant ample time to remedy any defaults prior to moving out. In other words: the tenant must be given a reasonable opportunity to do work themselves. Should the landlord have genuine issues at the time of the final inspection while a pre-checkout inspection was not done, it may limit them in their claims.
Some rental contracts state that the tenant must schedule a pre-checkout inspection appointment with the landlord. But even if the contract doesn’t mention such pre-checkout inspection, it seems reasonable that the tenant takes an active role by trying to schedule a pre-checkout inspection.
So, a checkout report is the basis of claims the landlord may raise with the tenant. That’s why you should only sign if you agree to its contents. In case you do not agree completely, you can agree to identify the points of contention, write them down in the same report and take pictures of those issues and then sign the report.
Be aware that a tenant cannot be held liable for deterioration of the leased property due to normal wear and tear and ageing (so discolouration of walls or floors by (lack of) sunlight is generally not considered a defect for which the tenant is liable).
The landlord usually takes photos for the purpose of the checkout report. However, it would be a good idea to take photographs and a video of the rented property at the end of the lease yourself as well, especially of items of which you fear the landlord may raise a claim, and try to have those added to the final report.
A tenant may be liable for defaults discovered after the final inspection, when the landlord proves that they could reasonably not have been discovered during the final inspection and that the tenant must have been aware of them during or prior to the inspection.
Does your landlord refuse to pay back (part of) your deposit? Do not hesitate to contact Mr. Berendsen Advocaten. They specialise in recovering rental deposits in an efficient manner. If you are not eligible for subsidised legal aid, you could make use of their all-in rate of 750 euros, including VAT (without legal proceedings) or 1.250 euros including VAT (but exclusive of disbursements).