The Mysterious Case of the Purple Toilet Seat

News at Howland Jones | 16/01/2017

In the world of residential lettings it is standard practice for a tenant to provide a security deposit at the start of their tenancy. If at the end of the tenancy there is damage or cleaning work (etc.) required to the property (beyond fair wear and tear) the landlord can choose to make a claim from the deposit for the cost of the work required, but, what happens when a landlord and tenant do not agree on the deductions from the deposit?

Did you know? By law the deposit belongs to the tenant and should be returned to them in full unless the landlord can prove otherwise.

It is a legal requirement for a deposit to be registered with a government approved, third party deposit scheme. Here, at Howland Jones we work with the Deposit Protection Service (DPS) who will adjudicate on deposit disputes at the end of a tenancy, if landlord and tenant are unable to come to an agreement over the deposit disbursement.

Adjudication consists of the DPS comparing the evidence as to the condition of the property at the start, and end of tenancy in order to establish if any damage has occurred during the course of the tenancy and is attributable to the Tenant.

We have been working with landlords and tenants since 2001 and during this time it has become clear that an inventory is paramount when dealing with deposit disputes.

Our Inventory & Schedule of condition recently proved invaluable to a landlord who was seeking to claim the full deposit from a tenant for a number of issues including carpet cleaning, redecoration and an oven clean. We submitted evidence to the DPS on behalf of the landlord who in their report confirmed:

‘The Agent has provided a check in inventory which has been signed by the Tenant. I therefore find that it is a true and agreed record of the condition of the property at the tenancy start.’

The Evidence

The signed inventory stated that:

  • The carpets were fitted brand new two years prior to the start of the tenancy
  • The entire property (including the oven) was professionally cleaned prior to the start of the tenancy

The Outcome

The Landlord claim succeeds!

The DPS adjudicator confirmed: ‘I have compared the check in and check out evidence and I find that the property including carpets and oven do require cleaning at the tenancy end to return them to the same condition as at the tenancy start.’

Very occasionally we are surprised by the decision made by the DPS adjudicators. As an independent letting agent we are able to monitor the unusual decisions and if possible change a process to try to prevent the outcome from happening again – though very rarely do we find that is it something that could have been prevented.

For example, not so long ago, a landlord sought to claim for a new toilet seat. At the beginning of the tenancy the bathroom contained a brand new white plastic toilet seat and both a signed inventory and dated photograph provided evidence to this effect. The tenants left the property with a purple glitter toilet seat in place, the landlord thought this may be off-putting to future potential tenants and put forward a reasonable claim for a new white plastic seat.

The DPS adjudicator did not award the claim to the landlord. It was deemed that the colour scheme was unimportant and the fact that the tenants had left a clean, working toilet seat was sufficient.

To avoid this issue in future we have added a clause to our standard inventory which states that; if a tenant does decide to replace an item in the property without permission it must be in keeping with the original colour scheme. If not, they will be charged to replace the item.

Similarly, a landlord who has recently brought his property to us to manage recounted an experience he had several years ago. He let the property to a friend of a friend and created his own inventory which was signed. The property was presented to a high standard at the start of the tenancy and had been professionally cleaned. At the end of the tenancy the property was returned in need of a clean throughout, the exiting tenants disagreed and the dispute was put to the DPS adjudicators to resolve. Unfortunately, the landlord’s claim was unsuccessful, whilst the inventory stated the property was cleaned prior to the start of the tenancy it did not state that it had been done professionally and the adjudicator felt that the property was cleaned to a domestic standard.

Since then this landlord has enlisted the help of Howland Jones as a managing agent to ensure the condition of his property is accurately recorded in a signed inventory at the beginning of each tenancy. This includes differentiating between a domestic and professional clean and ensuring the age of items and decor are included – particularly important when an item is brand new.

If you would like to know more about the important role that inventories play in deposit disputes then please feel free to contact our team on 01530 271313 or email us at