My landlord charged me £100 to replace a lightbulb... and then another £50 to clean it

How many landlords does it take to change a lightbulb? It might sound like another variation on the classic joke format, but it's a genuine question my four flatmates and I were left asking last year after our landlord at the time tried to take £150 from our deposit to replace and clean just ONE lightbulb.

When I mentioned this in the office, my colleagues couldn't believe it, even though they're battle-hardened consumer rights campaigners. They encouraged me to share it as a warning to others, and also as a bit of inspiration for how to fight unlikely claims on what are generally very large tenancy deposits. So here goes...

What happened? 

It all came about last year when my flatmates and I moved out of our flat in Edinburgh. Of course, the city's famous for its Festival Fringe when it's filled each year with some of the best comedians the world has to offer - but for sheer risque-ness and deadpan delivery, I'd argue none could come close to my landlord's brazen attempt.

In Scotland, all tenancy deposits go in to one of three tenancy deposit schemes, and at the end of your tenancy, your landlord has to make a claim to them if they want to withhold some or all of your money. 

So a few weeks after moving out - and leaving the flat in quite frankly a better state than it was when we arrived - we received this almost embarrassed email from our letting agent:

What lightbulb costs £100?

It's quite hard to describe the reaction one has to an email like this. I was angry at having to go through the process of appealing and submitting evidence to counter the claim (obviously we weren't paying it), but at the time I almost admired the audacity.

I suppose a good place to start is by acknowledging that a lightbulb, even a slightly larger than normal one, does not cost £100. And even allowing for the labour involved in replacing it... well, £100 seems pretty steep.

But what was really strange was the attempt to charge for both replacing AND cleaning a lightbulb, as we definitely only had one light in our kitchen. 

It was unclear from the email whether the landlord intended to clean the new bulb or the old one, and sadly I'll never be able to ask, as I don't maintain contact with him. Either way though, the logic doesn't work. If he intended to clean the old bulb, this is strange, as it was being thrown away and didn't need to be clean any more. If he intended to clean the new bulb - well, as far as I am aware new bulbs usually (maybe even always) arrive clean. 

As for removing the 'items from the locked room' (coats left there due to a misunderstanding on our part). Well, let's assume it took the landlord a maximum of one minute to complete the task. That's 25 seconds from entering the house to reach them, 25 seconds back, a generous seven seconds to pick the coats up and maybe another three to cuss at us tenants while doing so.

That works out at £100 for one minute, £6,000 an hour - more than three times the rumoured wage of Manchester United's World Cup-winning midfielder Paul Pogba. I won't identify the landlord in this piece but I'm happy to confirm he is definitely not Paul Pogba - nor to the best of my knowledge, has he won any World Cups. 

How we challenged the decision 

Of course, we challenged the decision, and in the end instead of the £390 claimed had to pay a grand total of £85 for the lot, after submitting evidence. That included £50 for the window handle (fair enough), and £35 combined for the lightbulb and cleaning of the cooker extractor hood. 

We completed the whole process in Scotland, but the system is generally similar in England and Wales. If you rent your property as an assured shorthold tenancy - which the vast majority of rentals fall under - your money must go into a Government-backed tenancy deposit scheme.

Here are my tips to ensure you get you get a fair amount of your deposit back: 

  1. Take photos when you arrive and before you leave as proof you've left it in good order. When you arrive, it's worth taking your own photos, to then use as a comparison point at the end of the tenancy. That way, if your landlord tells you that you've left your cooker unclean, and you haven't, you can bring out the arrival photo to compare to the leaving photo.

  2. If there's an inventory, fill it in accurately. When you move in, you'll usually be given an inventory to check. Check this thoroughly - don't skim it. If it says there's a dining table in 'good condition', check it's actually in good condition, and flag it at the time, as this will be used as a reference point at the end of the tenancy.

  3. Have a proper deep-clean. Get a scrupulous friend or family member to check the place over to check there's nothing you've missed, and remove all rubbish, as this is a really simple way to lose money. See the Save zillions on cleaning products forum thread for tips to help.

For full help and lots more things to watch out for see our Renting Tips guide.