How quickly will I get my deposit back?

For the past couple of weeks I have been trying to get my deposit back from a house which Mrs M and I rented for the last year in Whitefield. Despite endless problems during the tenancy with the house alarm (which never worked) and particularly the boiler, we left the property in a much better condition than we first found it in on day 1.

We sold our house in Salford in December 2013, with an original plan to bank the equity, rent and save up for about 2 years and then buy again in the Whitefield/Unsworth area where I grew up and went to school. After 8 months of boiler problems, we decided to buy a new house much earlier than planned and found a wonderful house in Unsworth, which we moved into at the beginning of October 2014.

Despite being told we absolutely could not end the tenancy agreement early (even with all the problems), I wrote to the Bolton-based letting agent and gave our notice. Suddenly, ending the agreement early was not a problem and the agent wanted to immediately start viewings. The agent even promised a partial refund of rent if a new tenant could be found. Considering the potential savings on offer, how could we refuse?

Following a weekend of block viewings, a new tenant was found and the agent indicated the new people would be moving in at the end of November. We arranged a date for handing over the keys, which was easy enough, however ‘checkout’ was a little more problematic. The agent made a point of telling me what they ‘normally’ did or did not do. Apparently, allowing the outgoing tenant to be present at checkout was not something they ‘normally’ did. Not really caring what they normally did, I indicated I wanted to be present at checkout so that final condition could be agreed. The agent specified a single day and time slot, with no other option for checkout – and as I was working that day, that was out of the question.

At handover of keys, I was told by the agent they ‘normally’ did not confirm end of tenancy in writing, however I managed to get them to sign a letter confirming return of keys. After a week, I had heard nothing and the new tenants have moved into our old house. I telephoned the agent to ask if there was any reason why they had not returned my deposit yet to be told the landlord ‘might’ want to make a deduction from the deposit for gardening (this is despite the garden being recently tended to and it being the middle of winter!). A few more days went by and I heard nothing more from the agent (and no return of deposit either). I called them again.

This time the agent specified there would be a deduction for gardening, but when asked they did not know how much and said they were having trouble getting hold of the landlord for a decision. It’s been over two weeks since the new tenants moved in, no gardening appears to have been done by landlord, agent or the new tenants – it’s exactly as we left it!

My only recourse now is to raise a dispute with the deposit protection scheme and wait for probably 2-3 months (which I have now done).

And that promised partial refund? Yeah, I won’t hold my breath.