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When you rent privately, you will usually be expected to pay the landlord a security deposit. This is normally the equivalent of a month's rent. You can't usually withhold your last month's rent instead of getting your deposit back.
Most landlords will ask you to pay a deposit when you move in. A deposit gives the landlord security in case you cause damage to the property or don't pay rent. The deposit belongs to you and you should get it back when you move out if there is no damage or rent owed.
There is no limit on the amount of money a landlord can ask for as a deposit if you are renting privately. Most landlords will ask you for a month's rent as a deposit before you move in. Your landlord may ask you for more than a month's rent. Make sure you get a receipt for your deposit.
If you can't afford to pay a deposit, you may have to try negotiating with the landlord to see if you can pay the deposit off in installments. The landlord does not have to agree to this kind of arrangement. Smartmove NI is an organisation based in Northern Ireland which will often allow tenants to pay just half the deposit upfront and pay off the remainder over an agreed period of time.
Your landlord usually keeps your deposit. Landlords don't have to keep your money in a separate account. However, it is good practice for landlords to keep the deposit in a separate account. Your landlord can then return your deposit with the interest it earned during the tenancy.
In the coming years, deposits for new tenancies may have to be registered with an independent organisation, but this is not yet the case in Northern Ireland.
Your landlord should give you back your deposit at the end of your tenancy, usually within 28 days of the tenancy ending. Your landlord should only deduct money from your deposit if:
There are several things you can do make sure you get your deposit back.
After you move out your landlord will need time to:
The landlord or letting agency should not hold back your deposit because of general wear and tear that could reasonably be expected to occur. You may be able to get your deposit back if your landlord is withholding it unfairly.
You're not legally allowed to withhold your last month's rent in lieu of getting your deposit back, unless you have agreed this with your landlord. Check your tenancy agreement if you are unsure whether you have agreed this or not. If your landlord allows you to use the deposit to cover the last month's rent, make sure you have this consent in writing.
From early 2013 a Tenancy Deposit Scheme should be in place for Northern Ireland. This will require that all landlords place the deposit for new tenancies with an independent body who will be responsible for holding the money during the tenancy and deciding who gets what when the tenancy ends. The body holding the deposit will also provide a free mediation service in the event of there being a dispute over the return of the deposit.
If you fail to protect your tenants' deposits or to comply with the regulations you could be issued with a fixed penalty.
The Department for Social Development is currently tendering for organisations to provide this service.
You can find out more about the scheme on the DSD's site.