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Ben Reeve Lewis reviews ‘How to Win Deposit Disputes’

Ben on a chairA review of How to Win Deposit Disputes by Tom Derrett.

Tenancy deposits – the ideal and the reality

The relationship between landlord and tenant should be a basic, business/fiscal one.

Both parties understand what they want from each other. The landlord provides a home for the tenant and in return they just want the rent paid on time and for the tenant not to annoy the neighbours.

Unfortunately, 100 years of legal history has grown up around this most basic of relationships. Driven by landlords-from-hell and nightmare-tenants.

The unlucky recipients of all this protective legislation are the vast majority of decent folk who just want to get on, inheriting the laws brought in to deal with their shadow versions.

Introducing the tenancy deposit regulations

There has long been an underground industry in tenancy deposit disputes. So much so, that the government looked to the Australian model of deposit protection to resolve home grown problems of unfairly withheld deposits.

The law was drafted and introduced in April 2007 but it was written so poorly that it left both landlords and tenants even more confused than they were before and simply fell to pieces when subjected to High Court scrutiny.

Even when understood as a point of principle the reality of the procedures mean that few landlords actually found official adjudication fell their way.

Why landlords keep losing

The reason being that the adjudicators looked to standard county court procedures as a template.

The problem is, Landlords are not lawyers. They failed to understand this and as a result only a tiny proportion of cases were found in their favour, leaving a bad taste in people’s mouths and a feeling that the law was all biased towards the tenant, which hasn’t helped anyone. Landlords often avoid deposit protection because they have heard the rumours.

Tom Derrett’s book and Your Law Store

Enter Tom Derrit’s excellent book written for Tessa’s Your Law Store.

Your Law Store is a brilliant initiative to help lay people negotiate the arcane world of housing lawyers. If projected cuts to legal aid mean that ordinary, non-trained people are going to have to represent themselves in court then Your Law Store couldn’t be timelier.

Tessa sent me Tom’s book. Bear in mind I am hardly considered the landlord’s friend, my job being to prosecute them for harassment and unlawful eviction but I read it with great interest and thought it was a gem. Not only for landlords but advice workers like myself who have to work closely with landlords and tenants.

Tom clearly sets out what a landlord needs to provide for an adjudication team to do their job efficiently. I see lots of products, blogs and online services which aim to clarify the daily ins and out of landlording but few with the pragmatic, non-lawyer speak of this publication.

It is one of those rare things that could literally save landlords thousands of pounds when they are in it for the long haul.

For my part, as an enforcement officer, it would save me a lot of hassle explaining the legalities over and over again, and would probably result in more deposits actually being protected if landlords understood the principles of how it works.

How to win deposit disputesI was lucky enough to get a free review copy, which I guard jealously in my bottom draw. I will use it comprehensively when advising landlords and make myself look more knowledgeable than I really am.

If you are interested in Tom’s book, you will find more information >> here. (Note that Ben’s bottom draw is a metaphorical one as the book is an ebook!)

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Important note. If you are reading an old post, remember that the law may have changed since it was written.

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About the post author:

Ben Reeve-Lewis

Ben is an enforcement officer for a London Local Authority, a housing law trainer, an author on housing law who writes for the Guardian & occasionally pops up wittering away on TV. He also runs Easy Law Training with Tessa & Graeme. Occasionally he sleeps. Find him on Google, and Journalisted. Any opinions expressed are Ben's personal views & don't reflect those of any organisations he may refer to.

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Tessa is an English lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law.

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