Dirty dealing: a guide to protecting your rental deposit in Dublin

On August 1st, I hung the keys on the nail by the door and walked out of my building in Donnybrook for the last time.  Rather than a sense of relief that I was closing this chapter of my life and moving on to a new and exciting one in another country, I had one question repeating in my mind: would I get my deposit back?

My introduction to renting in Dublin was like walking into a screen door; it caught me totally off-guard and kind of hurt.  I had come to the city in 2016 for graduate school as a 30-year-old with dreams of renting an affordable studio.  Arriving a month before my program began, I envisioned myself finding a suitable place within a week and using the rest of my free time to get settled and look for part-time work.

It was clear to me right away that these expectations were not only unattainable but actually laughable.  Day after day of receiving no reply to the mountain of messages I sent in response to rental ads, I started to get desperate.  I told myself I would take the first thing that came along.  I managed to secure a time to meet with one of the housemates for a room in a four bedroom house close to UCD, where I would be studying.  The meet-and-greet was more like a job interview; I felt sweat beads forming as she threw question after question at me.  Apparently, I passed her test and was offered the room.

That first rental process was unlike any I had ever experienced.  There was no contract, no initial walk-through checklist.  I paid my deposit to the girl who was moving out and the roommate who had interviewed me gave me a handwritten note proclaiming I had paid the 500 euros.  Aside from problems with damp, I lived in my room for 9 months without much incident.  At the end of May, after finishing my university coursework and securing full-time work, I began my housing search again hoping to be closer to the city center.

This time around was just as difficult but for different reasons: I had brought my dog from the US and Dublin, I learned, is NOT pet-friendly.  Finally, I found a place that allowed dogs just slightly above my price range in Donnybrook.  The flat was small and not worth the price but the location was great.  I was among 9 other people viewing it that day but miraculously was offered the flat.

To get my first deposit back, my roommate, who was the main point of contact for the landlady/owner, convinced her that I was a good tenant and hadn’t damaged the flat.  She hesitantly agreed and told her to give me the deposit of the new tenant.  Without my roommate’s help, I’m not sure it would have been as easy.

For this new flat, I felt more confident about the rental process as soon as I was presented with a printed contract.  After signing it, paying my deposit, and moving in, I received a letter from the Residential Tenancies Board (RTB) declaring I had been registered as a tenant.  Everything seemed legit and I was happy.

I was so relieved, in fact, that all the things I had previously done in rental properties went out the window.  I noticed mold on the bed frame and some other broken and/or malfunctioning items in the flat but didn’t take pictures (mistake #1) or notify the landlord to document that I had not caused the damage (mistake #2).  I felt lucky to have the place and decided to keep quiet rather than contact them.

WRONG.  Don’t be like me.

So how do you avoid getting scammed?  Here is what you should know:

Common mistake #1: Do your research

This was my downfall.  I didn’t do the proper research beforehand as to my rights and responsibilities as a tenant.  In Ireland, this is complex and can be used against you should you fail to adhere to the strict rules.  Along with the points I cover, make sure to check out the links at the end of this article.

Common mistake #2: Photograph EVERYTHING

Try to get into the mind of a sneaky landlord.  What could they possibly claim that you’ve damaged?  Even if it seems small, like marks on a wall or nail holes, photograph it.  Send these photographs to your landlord as proof of existing damage.

Common mistake #3: Take an inventory of broken items or things not functioning properly and send them to the landlord

If damage cannot be conveyed through a photograph (a broken faucet or light fixture), write down exactly what is broken and send the list to your landlord.  If s/he does not want to fix them, at least you have a record.

Common mistake #4: Make sure you are giving the proper amount of notice

Come from a country where one month’s notice is standard?  Even if your lease says 30 days, the actual amount of time you’ve lived in the property dictates how much notice you have to give.  Think this is confusing?  You’re not alone.  Below is the chart provided by the RTB that details how much time you actually have to give your landlord:

Duration of a tenancy Tenant’s notice periods
Less than 6 months 28 days
6+ months, but less than 1 year 35 days
1+ year, but less than 2 years 42 days
2+ years but less than 4 years 56 days
4+ years but less than 8 years 84 days
8+ years 112 days

**Remember, day one of this time period is counted from the day AFTER serving notice!

I gave my landlady 35 days notice, thinking 30 was the minimum as per the lease, via email.  She did not respond.  Two days later, I sent her a Whatsapp message asking for confirmation that she had received my email.  She read the text that day but did not respond.  Several days later, I called.  No answer, voicemail full.  NINE days later she finally responds to my email saying I owe her 36 days.  This apparently is not even correct according to the above chart.

Common mistake #5: Make sure you are giving notice in the proper way

We’re living in the 21st century.  Nearly everyone uses email as a primary, valid form of communication, especially in the business world.  Apparently not in Ireland.  If you send notice to end tenancy through email, text, or over the phone, it is considered legally invalid.

You must write and send a letter (yes, snail mail) to your landlord.  This makes absolutely no sense to me for several reasons, the most concerning being your shady landlord can just claim they never received your letter and you have no proof of sending it.  To avoid this and make sure you cover all your bases, send your notice letter via registered post.  This way, you have proof it was sent AND received.

After I realized this on the RTB website, I used a template letter from Threshold and explaining the notice period snafu and sent it via registered post.  According to the law, even if your landlord does not accept the amount of notice you give them, it is not grounds for them to keep your deposit.

Common mistake #6: At the end of your tenancy, wait the proper amount of time for the return of your deposit before making a claim with the RTB

Threshold advises tenants to give the landlord 14 days to return a deposit at the end of a tenancy.  This is considered an appropriate amount of time for them to close out the flat, have repairs made, and deduct from the deposit as necessary.  Given how fast rooms and flats are flipped in Dublin, it should be considerably faster, but I digress…

In my case, after 15 days of no response from my move-out email on the 31st of July, I sent an email stating I had given them the appropriate amount of time to return my deposit and that they had failed to do so.  Because of this, I would be filing a formal complaint with the RTB if they did not provide receipts to justify why my deposit was being withheld.

She answered my email the same day (lightning fast considering her previous inability to make timely responses) claiming I had not cleaned the flat and had damaged the already crappy mattresses (which I didn’t even use during my tenancy).  To quote her directly, because of this, my deposit was “in place.”  Taking that strange and ambiguous phrasing to mean it was being completely withheld, I told her I would need proper documentation or else would seek legal action.

Common mistake #7: Don’t forget to demand receipts and documentation to justify why part or all of your deposit has not been returned

Legally, your landlord MUST provide documentation to explain why your deposit has been partially or fully retained.  This is when you call their bluff.  If they claim X, Y, and Z had to be replaced or cleaned, they need to show proof that the work was carried out and paid for.

I’ll admit, I made a lot of mistakes.  I didn’t do proper research and trusted that my landlord would be fair.  I can’t claim ignorance as a defense, but can say that I believe this information isn’t as clear or advertised as it should be.  Now I know and want to help others avoid falling into the same traps that I did.

Know your rights.  Make sure your landlord knows that you know your rights.  Don’t be afraid to file a formal complaint if your landlord will not work with you to resolve issues.

I believe that because I quoted housing law and remained calm and professional, they decided to give me the majority of my deposit back.  Rather than fight the bogus claims of why they withheld 238 euros of my 950 euro deposit, I took my money and thankfully was rid of them for good.  I did not have the ironclad case I needed due to my aforementioned mistakes so rather than risk a bitter fight, I cut my losses.

Don’t let yourself become a victim of Ireland’s housing crisis.  Greed trumps truth and basic human decency in the current market.  Until better laws protecting tenants are introduced, you must be as careful as possible to avoid being scammed by one of the many Dublin slumlords.

Lastly and of note: I had the advantage of being an immigrant who is a native English speaker.  I think this helped tremendously.  Shady landlords WILL seek to take advantage of non-native English speakers.  This boils my blood more than anything else.  If you need help writing an email or letter to a landlord, please do not hesitate to contact me and I will try to assist you the best I can.

Helpful links

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