We are often asked by clients whether it is worth their while to take action when their landlord isn’t doing what they should be.

We know there are many professional landlords who do comply with the rules, but we still have tenants who contact us who fear, ‘My landlord will just ignore me if I challenge him. What can I do about it?’

The law applies to everybody and as a Shelter Scotland housing adviser I try to show my clients that the legal system can be your friend.  My job, is to help you navigate the system so you can uphold your legal rights, and hold your landlord to account.  All the useful information about your housing rights on Shelter Scotland’s Get Advice pages comes from Scottish legislation and case law that underpins it.

Recently a case was heard at Edinburgh Sheriff Court involving a landlord who may have thought she would get away with breaching the rules so long as she complied eventually.  The Sheriff thought otherwise and found in the tenants’ favour.

The tenants were students in a flatshare with a joint short assured tenancy.  The tenancy ran from 1st September 2015 until 31st July 2016.

On 16th May 2015, ahead of the tenancy starting, they paid a total of £1550 deposit to the landlord.

However the landlord failed to place the money in one of the three tenancy deposit schemes.  Under the Tenancy Deposit Schemes (Scotland) Regulations 2011 she was legally required to this within 30 working days of the start of the tenancy.

The tenants took advice and the landlord was repeatedly advised of her legal obligations.  She eventually placed the deposit into a scheme on 28th May 2016 – over a year after the tenants had given her their money-  and this was only after the tenants raised legal action (with the assistance of the very helpful CHAI project in Edinburgh).

The case was heard at court on 12th September 2016.  The landlord admitted breaching the regulations but in mitigation advised that the money had since been placed into the scheme and the deposit had been returned to the tenants in full at the end of their tenancy.  On the face of it, it could be considered a case of ‘no harm done’, since the money was eventually protected by the scheme.

However, the regulations are clear.  The landlord is in breach (and therefore may be subject to a financial penalty) if the money is not placed into the scheme within 30 working days of the start of the tenancy. Not when it is convenient for the landlord.  Not ‘eventually’.

Whilst the Sheriff appears to have accepted that the landlord’s failure may have been down to laziness (he used the term ‘dilatory’) rather than ‘wilful defiance of the regulations’ he found in the tenants’ favour and ruled that the landlord must pay the tenants a penalty of £1853.  She also had to pay court expenses of around £300 plus whatever her own solicitor charged for representing her, a likely not insubstantial sum.

You can read the full judgement here, including the interesting formula the Sheriff used to calculate what the landlord should pay.

Tenants continue to raise successful cases against landlords who breach the regulations and this case serves as a reminder to tenants that the law can be your friend.

For advice on Tenancy Deposits, including downloadable template letters, see our Get Advice Pages.