Hi all looking for some advice. I rented a property via a letting agent June 2021 and used the Zero Deposit scheme paying nearly £400 to them without (lesson learnd) really looking into what they were about. I thought the money paid to them was a deposit with a small administrative charge and the money would be returned at the end of the tenancy.
Long story short - within a few weeks into the tenancy we started to get strong cigarette smoke coming into the flat which turned out to be from the neighbour. The smell was coming through a bathroom adjoining their living room. We complained to the letting agents for months to get this looked at (so many calls and emails back and forth even from the solicitor we asked to help us), they sent a contractor who said he wasn't qualified to comment on these issues. After asking a solicitor what to do (the smell was spreading through the flat) we were told to call out an engineer ourselves as it was a health issue - we gave notice to the letting agent we were going to do this and would deduct the cost from the rent.
The engineer's report was sent to letting agent and the landlord - who latter said she agreed in principle to the findings but wanted to get a quote from the engineer for further work. The lettings agency acknowledged in an email to our solicitor that there was an issue and it now needed to be fixed. The engineer didn't respond and the landlord who then started to chase us for the engineer cost. I questioned why the landlord was now chasing for the costs after agreeing "in priciple" and she served us with a section 6A (was essentially door-stepped by the ageny who turned up camera in hand). I believe it was a retalliatory eviction as I was forwarded an email when we were moving out in which the landlord and agency were discussing having us leave but not make it look like a retalliatory eviction.
When we moved out on the last day at the property, a shutter (which was never used in the year we were there) was closed blocking access to the carpark. We couldn't get the last of our items out easily because the lifts led straight down to the carpark but this was no longer an option. After letting the letting agency know immediately by phone and email we were told they'd try and get someone to open it up (it needs keyfob). I made it clear we would not be able to return the keys to the property on time due to this as some of our things were still to be brought out, they didn't seem at all bothered (the agency was of no help at all with much anyway). After a couple of days of chasing with no response we removed the last of our stuff via the front (there was brick work going on at the front so not ideal but had no choice). I tried to return the keys to the letting agency during office hours but there was nobody in the office. I dropped them an email and just before closing time someone replied they had been out and to drop the keys off. By this time we had left for the new place we were moving so wouldn't have made it back in time. I could have dropped the keys off through the letter box wanted to hand them in to someone in person. The keys should have been handed back on a Friday but they were returned on a Monday. Because of the these problems we did not get a proper chance to clean the property.
We were contacted by the lettings agency saying the landlord wanted to charge for 4 days extra rent (because we were in possession of the keys they said), nearly £300 for a clean, damage to a bathroom item and the money for the engineer called out. No invoices or receipts were provided showing what the costs were based on. I said I'd pay towards the clean and the bathroom item broken to meet half way, but wasn't paying for the engineer callout. The issue went to TDS (allegedly an "independant" party used by Zero Deposit). I sent them heaps of evidence to support why I shouldn't pay for the engineer cost and late return of keys. A month later they upheld all costs claimed by the landlord. They didn't even consider the evidence regarding the ventilation engineer callout to investigate cigarette smoke - their response was I "took it upon myself to call out an engineer", when in actual fact, I asked the lettings agent to investigate for months and finally called out an engineer when the cigarette smoke got worse and my solicitor said call someone out as it was a health hazard.
I complained to Zero Deposit stating there's no way someone had reviewed my evidence as it was not mentioned or challenged. Zero Deposit asked me to raise a complaint online which I did. They lost this apparently and asked me to email it in directly. They took a while themselves to look at the evidence and basically upheld TDS. They deducted nothing from the landlord's claim. I was told they had a guarantee with landlords to pay their claims. I said this is a biased business model. They can't pay what a landlord asks for and expect to claim it from a tenant I also discovered the money I gave them was not returned - it's not a deposit. I was told to "think of it as insurance" - but with insurance you pay a premium so you're not charged if something is damaged. In this case I had to pay a premium as well as the damages??
Zero Deposit are chasing me for all damages claimed by the landlord, not wiling to negotiate and provided no receipts or invoices from the landlord. They said I had to pay all or nothing. I've already started a complaint to the Ombudsman and will also need to take some sort of action against the lettings agency (especially around the leaked email which read a lot like a retalliatory eviction). I was hoping someone on here may have some advice on how to proceed with Zero Deposit or have any experience with them. If you've read this far I thank you. I've summarised a year's worth of events into a few paragraphs.