District Judge Burn at Bromley County Court has ordered a landlord to pay 3 times the deposit and to return of the initial deposit paid to his former tenants due to his failure to lodge the deposit with an authorised tenancy deposit.
In the recent case of Da Costa v Pinter the claimants were assured shorthold tenants whose tenancy had come to an end. The tenancy agreement required the rent of £1,950.00 a month and a payment initially of £4,200.00. A dispute arose with regards to the Deposit and the tenants issued court papers in order to recover the deposit amount. The court papers were then subsequently amended by the tenants for a further claim of £6,750.00 representing 3 times the initial deposit amount under the Housing Act (HA) 2004 section 214 (4). After proceedings were issued the deposit was then placed in an authorised tenancy deposit scheme.
The judge confirmed that she was happy that the £4,200.00 included a deposit of £2,250.00 and that the agent had described it as such. There was a clear breach of section 213 of the HA 2004 since the deposit was not paid into a scheme within 14 days of receipt. The judge was satisfied that the ‘initial requirements’ of a tenancy deposit scheme were not met and that the remedies of ss 213 and 214 therefore applied, that is the return of the deposit and an award of 3 times of the deposit. Undoubtedly, the judge was assisted in her decision by the fact that the tenancy had actually come to an end prior to the deposit being protected.
This case illustrates the ongoing problems both landlords and agents are having with the tenancy deposit schemes. The case law surrounding this area is mostly unreported however having viewed some judgements there does appear to be some uncertainty over whether the ‘initial requirement’ is to both lodge the deposit with a scheme within 14 days and to provide the prescribed information within the same period or whether lodging the deposit alone is enough. This uncertainty will no doubt continue until a court of record (High Court or above) is asked to rule on the point. Until such a time agents and landlords are warned that judges will decide each case as they see fit given that the decisions of the lower courts are not binding on other lower courts.
In order to assist with the uncertainty The Dispute service (TDS) has amended its rules and now confirm that its initial requirements are that the deposit be registered with the scheme within 14 days of receipt and that the prescribed information must be provided within the same 14 days. Consequently members that miss the 14 day deadline will automatically find themselves in breach of the initial requirements of the TDS and risk being ordered to pay 3 times the deposit.
In the case of Universal Estates v Tiensia MyDeposits have also been held to have similar ‘initial requirements’ to the TDS.
It is also vital that agents are particularly careful when landlords are registering the deposit themselves. Section 212 (9) (a) of the HA Act states:
References to a landlord or landlords in relation to any shorthold tenancy or tenancies include references to a person or persons acting on his or their behalf in relation to the tenancy or tenancies.
This is of course open to interpretation but from an initial reading it seems that where the landlord fails to lodge the deposit the tenant may have a claim against the agent for the landlord’s failure to register. County Courts appear to support this position and agents may, therefore, wish to consider including a indemnity in their terms of business protecting them from the landlords failure. It may be prudent for the agent to seek confirmation that the landlord has registered with a scheme prior to sending the deposit to him or in the case of the custodial scheme that is Deposit Protection Service (DPS), sending the deposit to them directly. However this does not deal with the issue of relying on the landlord to ensure that the prescribed information is also provided to the tenant within the 14 day deadline. For a more ‘belt and braces’ approach, agents may wish to consider insisting on registering the deposit themselves through their own scheme membership.
The purpose behind the HA 2004 is to secure deposits and to return them quickly to tenants in the event of no dispute or to refer the matter to adjudication where there is, without the need for court. Landlords that do not secure the deposit within 14 days of receipt and then attempt to deduct monies upon the expiry of the tenancy are seen to be flouting the sprit of the legislation and agents need to ensure that they are not seen in the same light.