Paying a tenancy deposit

Private landlords and letting agents can ask for up to 2 months' rent as a deposit. Usually they must pay your deposit into a deposit protection scheme. They’re not allowed to charge you other fees, like a holding fee or key money.

What a deposit is used for

A deposit is a sum of money kept aside in case:

  • you damage the property

  • the landlord has to pay for cleaning bills if you leave the property in poor condition

  • there are unpaid bills, like energy or phone bills, when you leave

  • you leave with unpaid rent

Your landlord cannot take money from your deposit during your tenancy, and it cannot be used to pay for normal wear and tear. This includes worn carpets and furniture.

Check Property Mark’s guide to what counts as fair wear and tear

Check your inventory

When you move in, your landlord should give you an inventory so that you have a record of:

  • what furniture and fittings are provided

  • what condition everything's in

If your landlord does not give you an inventory, you can make one yourself, take photos, and ask them to sign it. This will make it easier to get your deposit back when you move out.

Download a sample inventory (pdf, 217 kb)

Unlawful fees

If your landlord or letting agent asks you to pay any money to secure a tenancy, ask them if the money is refundable. This means it will be given back to you even if you do not get the tenancy, or it can go towards your deposit or first month’s rent.

If you’re told the money is not refundable, this is an unlawful fee. These are sometimes also called:

  • a premium

  • a holding fee or deposit

  • key money

If you decide to pay this money to get the tenancy, you should then ask for it to be refunded. Use our letter template to help you get back unlawful fees.

If you do not get the refund you can:

A fee may be lawful if it's not connected to starting or renewing a tenancy. For example, a letting agent may charge a reasonable fee for a reference at the end of a tenancy.

Protecting your deposit

Most private landlords, letting agents and student accommodation providers have to protect your deposit in a tenancy deposit scheme.

Make sure to get a receipt from your landlord when you pay a deposit.

Deposits that do not need to be protected

Your deposit does not need to be put in a scheme if you:

  • live with your landlord

  • rent from a family member, not including cousins

  • live in a holiday home

  • live in a property used by a religious organisation

  • stay in supported accommodation

  • have an agricultural or crofting tenancy

If your deposit needs to be protected

Your landlord must do this within 30 working days of your tenancy starting.

They must tell you:

  • the date they got your deposit

  • the date it was protected with the deposit scheme

  • which scheme it was protected with and the contact details

The tenancy deposit scheme should get in touch with you directly to confirm that the landlord has done this.

There are only 3 schemes your landlord can use. If you do not know where your deposit is protected, contact each one to see if they have it:

You can also use our letter template to ask your landlord if your deposit is protected.

Compensation if your deposit is not protected

If your deposit is not protected within 30 working days of your tenancy starting, you can apply to the First-tier Tribunal (Housing and Property Chamber). The tribunal can order your landlord to pay you compensation up to 3 times the amount of your deposit.

Check our guidance on getting compensation if your deposit was not protected.

Last updated: 12 September 2023

Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.

This content applies to Scotland only.

Get advice if you're in England