Throughout this document, reference is made to the landlord. In most cases you’ll be dealing with an agent of some kind. For the purposes of this discussion, the terms “landlord” and “agent” are used interchangeably.

When moving in, be clear on if the property is furnished, semi-furnished or unfurnished. If there are any of the landlord’s furnishings in the place, get an inventory. Ideally check it off with the landlord when moving in, but in most cases that won’t be possible. Instead, check it as soon as possible and highlight any missing or damaged items, getting written confirmation that the previous tenant (or whoever) is responsible for the loss or damage, not you.

Even if the property is unfurnished, take pictures of the property on moving in. Pay especial attention to any existing stains, damaged fixings, etc. Use a daily newspaper included in shot to provide proof of date – timestamps on digital pictures can be tampered with, newspapers are irrefutable. But keep the newspaper safe in case refutation is tried!

Care of the property is obviously the key to getting the money back. A spray of multi-surface cleaner is your friend here; something like the purple Mr. Muscle that works on everything from carpets to cookers is a cheap and convenient solution. Spills and stains should be dealt with as soon as caused, though when is an objective choice. Hobs should not be cleaned while they’re still hot for safety reasons. Carpet stains, such as red wine or coffee, should be dealt with promptly if the cause is a clumsy friend who’s missed the table with a glass or coffee cup.

Any problems with the property that you encounter during your tenancy, like bath panels that come away, or plaster that cracks – make sure you report it to your landlord promptly, taking photographic evidence as described above. If you report it, do it preferably in writing as you can then keep a copy as evidence should this later turn into a dispute about whether you are responsible due to the fact you failed to report it.

The same is true of minor damage, scuffed walls or similar. T-Cut (available from Halfords and other fine motoring accessory stores) can remove most minor marks. If they prove stubborn, get a tester pot of a matching paint colour and paint over them. A few pounds invested here is a wise investment.

Breakages are best dealt with using a tube of super glue, as soon as possible after the breakage before any of the fragments are lost. Even a delay of a few days gives time for the pieces to inexplicably disappear (as they always seem to). If this isn’t possible for whatever reason, start looking around for a suitable replacement.

Moving out is the critical time. Use the pictures taken when moving in to ensure that everything is back in the original positions. Take a matching set of pictures, with a current newspaper, to prove this. The most common dodge is to claim dirt or damage for which the deposit must be used to make repairs.

Try and get the landlord to come round and sign off on the property when you move out. If there’s an inventory of items then insist that the landlord accompanies you on a walk round of the property, checking off the items as you go. Once this is done, get a signature that he’s happy and try for the deposit then and there. It’s fairly unlikely but he might be shocked enough to put his hand in his pocket – normally the proverbial cheque will be in the proverbial post. Pester until received, threatening with the Small Claims court if necessary. Often the mere threat is effective, but even if your bluff is called it’s a cheap and simple process. The courts are often willing to award costs against landlords, especially if it’s not their first time, making it free!