Partners and Suppliers Suzy Hershman 14/11/2023

Three common winter tenancy disputes and how to prevent them

Dubbed ‘the worst summer ever’ by many, this year’s warm but wet summer might have provided ideal conditions for the UK’s wine producers but as the recent flash floods have shown, our weather’s increasing unpredictability comes with unexpected and additional challenges for property.

As we move into winter, it’s vital that landlords carry out a property inspection to make sure nothing obvious needs attention, making sure the outside, as well as the inside of the property, is given the once over to protect your investment.

To help you prepare for winter and prevent seasonal disputes, NRLA deposit protection provider, mydeposits, has put together this timely guide on the most common winter deposit disputes and how to avoid them.

The guide will draw on the expertise of Suzy Hershman, Resolution Department Lead at mydeposits and Steve Barnes, Head of Broking at NRLA insurance partner, Total Landlord

Focusing on three of the most common winter deposit disputes, with case studies relating to each scenario, this guide will cover: 

  • claims
  • the tenant and agent/landlord commentary 
  • how evidence assists the adjudicator in their decision-making  
  • prevention expert opinion  

#1: Frozen pipes  

Burst pipes can cause damage and disruption not only to your property, but also to your tenants and potentially to neighbouring properties too. Left unchecked, even a small pipe fracture can release huge volumes of water, leading to expensive insurance claims and repair bills amounting to thousands of pounds for water damage to buildings and contents.

Several factors can cause a pipe to burst, but the most common reason by far is  water freezing inside the pipes. And as you’d expect in the UK this is most likely to occur in winter when the weather is colder. 

The following case study spells out the tenant’s responsibilities during cold weather and what can happen if they do not fulfil their obligations.

Case study

What happened? 

The tenant went away over Christmas. They had initially intended to be away for 10 days, but fell ill and the stay was extended to   three weeks. While the property was empty, a pipe froze and then burst, flooding the property, causing damage to the carpet and flooring, and irreparably damaging the washing machine.

For making good the damage (labour, draining and drying out the property), and to replace items, as well as paying for the labour and draining and drying out the property, £569 was claimed from the £1,125 deposit.  

The tenant 

The tenant explained that due to getting the flu, they were away longer than planned, and they’d received no communication from the agent about turning off the water. They claimed that the damage was due to the weather and not their actions. 

The agent’s response 

The agent had sent a letter and an email to the tenant, which was time and date stamped, asking them to shut off the stop cock and explaining how to do this. The tenant was also told to leave the heating on a low setting if they were going away for the holidays. 

The evidence provided 

Tenancy agreement, dated emails, photographs, invoices, check-in report, check-out report. 

The decision 

The adjudicator found that the tenant had fallen short of their ‘duty to take reasonable care to safeguard the property from damage’ and that they were in breach of the tenancy agreement.

The emails clearly showed the advice given and the photos and invoices showed the extent of the damage and the work required. The claim, which made an allowance for reasonable wear and tear, was awarded in full. 

Could this have been avoided? 

Yes. If the tenant had done what the agent requested and shut off the water.

This would have reduced the chances of the pipe bursting, although water already inside the pipes can still freeze and burst, so action to minimise possibilities of this happening can help. In addition, lagging any colder pipework and the tenant allowing warm air to circulate throughout the property with the central heating system set at no lower than 13°C, could also have helped. 

An expert view 

“Carrying out regular maintenance and repairs, particularly in preparation for the colder winter months, is key to being a responsible landlord and preventing burst pipes. But it’s just as important to communicate with your tenants to make sure they know what to do to reduce the risks and that they let you know immediately if they spot any problems.

Most landlord insurance policies, including ours, require tenants to inform their landlord if the property is going to be vacant for an extended period and you should make sure this is indicated in the tenancy agreement.

It’s also a good idea to include a clause which advises tenants of their responsibility to either leave the heating on a constant setting at a minimum of 13°C, or to have the system fully drained if the property is to be left unoccupied.” 

Steve Barnes, Head of Broking at Total Landlord 

Total Landlord’s NRLA guide to preventing burst pipes in your rental property offers more helpful tips.  

#2: Damp and mould  

A cold home – particularly if it’s not ventilated properly – can suffer from damp and mould. And it can quickly escalate if left untreated. As well as being unsightly, it can damage the fabric and decor of the property, furniture and furnishings and your tenant’s possessions. Worst of all it could lead to respiratory issues for your tenant.  

The case study below highlights the need for good two-way communication and reporting.

Case Study

What happened? 

The property had a pre-existing but minor mould issue in the bathroom at the start of the tenancy, which was recorded in the check-in report and again at the mid-term visit by the agent. This worsened significantly during the tenancy and was recorded at the check-out inspection, at which time mould and damp patches were also identified and recorded on the bedroom walls. £550 was claimed, on the landlord’s behalf as a contribution towards removing the mould, repainting the bathroom and redecorating the bedroom. 

The tenant 

The bathroom mould was already there when they moved in and was reported to the agent who advised them to keep wiping it down, but this didn’t solve the issue. They did their best to air the bathroom despite the extractor fan not working. 

The agent’s response 

The agent said that the bathroom mould had significantly worsened during the tenancy and that the tenant had not reported the mould and damp in the bedroom. 

The evidence provided 

Tenancy agreement, check-in and check-out reports with photographs, mid-term inspection reports, quote. 

The decision 

The adjudicator was satisfied that the bathroom ceiling was left in worse condition than at the start of the tenancy. However, this was to be expected from unattended mould spores and normal use of the bathroom. The evidence showed that the extractor fan had been reported as not working and it was never fixed meaning the mould problem could not be resolved and was, on balance, going to continue getting worse. As this was the landlord’s responsibility, the tenant could not be held responsible, and no award was made. 

In the bedroom the reports clearly showed the unreported deterioration, but it was clear that the walls had a level of wear at the start. On balance, the adjudicator decided that the tenant had allowed the issue to escalate. This increased the costs to remedy the situation and compensation of 45% (£112) towards redecorating was awarded to the landlord.   

Could this have been avoided? 

It could. The key here is communication. The landlord or agent should remind the tenant, from the start, that they should report any issues as soon as they spot them so they can be dealt with before they escalate.

Equally, when the agent or landlord is made aware of a problem, they need to address the problem as quickly as possible to fix it.  

An expert’s view 

“Any issues highlighted on check-in, or at any point in the tenancy, should be investigated and addressed by the landlord as soon as possible. Mid-term property visits are a great way to spot anything out of the ordinary, that should have been reported and is affecting the property.

With an issue like mould, it puts a greater responsibility on the landlord to show it was caused by something the tenant did or didn’t do. It often will require a surveyor’s report to support any claim as adjudicators are not qualified to assess the likely root cause.” 

Suzy Hershman, Resolution Department Lead at mydeposits. 

Note: There is a free damp and mould checklist for tenants here and damp and mould ‘identification and prevention’ guide for landlords here. Feelings run high on this topic and the Government issued guidance for landlords in September 2023 explicitly stating that tenants should not be blamed for damp and mould and that it is the responsibility of landlords to identify and address the underlying causes of the problem. 

#3: Storm damage 

Extreme weather events are becoming more commonplace globally and this includes in the UK. Although thunderstorms often occur in summer, it is during the winter months, and February in particular, when storms reach their peak in the UK. Heavy rainfall has caused flash flooding in many parts of the UK through October and November, so it is critical that properties are maintained to reduce the potential for damage and water ingress.

This should include checking roofs for missing or broken tiles, clearing leaves and debris from guttering and drains, checking the seals on downpipes and assessing trees for stability; cutting back any problem branches. Read more about how to protect your property from flooding.  

The average claim amount reported by Total Landlord following storms Dudley and Eunice that hit the UK in February 2022 was £4,156, with one settled claim coming in at over £93,000, when a fir tree fell onto the property causing substantial damage. 

It can be difficult to make emergency preparations for a rental property, particularly if you don’t live nearby. So, make sure you carry out preventative measures in advance so that it is adequately protected in the event of a sudden storm.  

The final case study covers tenant and landlord responsibilities and how seemingly grey areas can be adjudicated on more easily through good paperwork and third-party insight.

Case study

What happened? 

During the check-out inspection at the end of the tenancy, two garden items were found damaged. A shed window was broken, and a bench was in pieces in a corner of the garden. The landlord was claiming £210 - £60 for the window replacement and £150 for the bench.   

The tenant 

The tenant had no knowledge of the broken window but suggested it could have been caused by a stone during recent storms. The bench, which was already in poor condition, had been blown over by the storm, and they had reported this to the agent the next day. 

The agent’s response 

The tenant had not reported the damaged window but from the photographs, it was clear that the damage was from a large object. The bench, while in poor condition at the start of the tenancy, was now unusable. The agent also said they thought the tenant should have taken more precautions to prevent damage during the storms.  

The evidence provided 

Tenancy agreement, check-in and check-out reports with photographs, reports, quote. 

The decision 

The check-in report showed that the shed was in good condition at the tenancy start, and the tenant had reported no damage. A contractor who fixed the window reported that the damage appeared to have been caused by a heavy impact. As a result, the tenant was found responsible for the £60 claimed towards replacing the window.  

The check-in report comment was that the bench ‘does not appear stable to sit on’. On balance, the adjudicator decided that due to its original poor condition, the storm damaged it beyond repair, and this has been reported. The tenant, in this case, was not responsible for any costs and no award was made. 

Could this have been avoided? 

Maybe. Tenants should be encouraged to report issues when they happen. This was the situation with the bench but not the window. For their part, the landlord or agent should carry out periodic inspections to check for damage – especially after any events such as a bad storm.  

An expert’s view 

“This case shows the importance of regular inspections and reports, for both landlords and tenants. In addition, contractor reports can be useful in all situations where responsibility is unclear.

"It also recognises that damage and any negotiation for costs must always make an allowance for fair wear and tear.”  

Suzy Hershman, Resolution Department Lead at mydeposits. 

For further reading see mydeposits NRLA guide, Wear and tear: what is fair? 

Tip: Your landlord insurance can help to cover the cost of any repair work, or replacing irreparably damaged or broken items, following a storm or other weather events. Check that your insurance covers you for all weather-related incidents. If your property is affected by storms, it's best to contact your insurer as soon as possible after the event as delaying may impact your claim. 

Read Total Landlord’s NRLA guide to protecting your rental property from storms here. 


Simply put, there are more potential hazards during the winter months that can cause problems for your tenant, you and your property. Some are due to weather and are no one’s fault, which is why it’s essential to have the appropriate level of landlord insurance cover as well as deposit protection.

Read mydeposits’ article on how deposits can protect you financially from damage to your property over winter, for more advice on specific winter related deposit issues

Tip: it’s advisable to carry out a property inspection just before or at the start of the winter to make sure nothing obvious needs attention, taking a good look at the outside of the property as well as the interior.  

The good news is, there are plenty of preventative measures you can take to protect both your property and your tenants against winter weather.  

For a round-up of the potential threats to look out for in winter and the steps you can take to make sure your rental is ready to withstand anything winter weather throws at it, read Total Landlord’s guide, ‘Get your property winter ready’. 

Tip: If your tenant hasn’t rented or lived outside the family home before, it’s worth having a conversation with them to make sure they understand how to keep the property safe and secure over the winter period, as this can save both of you a lot of money and hassle!

The cost of living link to unintentional damage 

While tenants cannot be responsible for the impact of winter weather, they can unintentionally cause damage during the winter simply through using the property differently. Some events such as flooding the bathroom are due to carelessness and are more easily proven, whether due to wear or the tenant’s actions. There are other forces at play too when it comes to unintentional damage.  

The ongoing cost of living increases and the higher buy to let mortgage rates are undoubtedly having an impact on landlords, many of whom have needed to raise their tenants’ rents in response. Tenants are also facing similar financial pressures as we move into winter. As energy usage naturally increases, there will be some who will restrict which parts of the property they heat.

This, combined with closing windows to conserve warmth which reduces ventilation, creates the perfect environment for damp, mould and condensation.   

Following the Government's EPC proposal reversal, landlords are now not legally required to take any further action to improve energy ratings beyond mandated minimums. With a potential change of government within the next year, it’s impossible to know if this will be reinstated, but to protect your investment it would seem to be in any landlord’s – and their tenant’s - best interests to make the property more energy efficient. 

This can be achieved through inexpensive and quick measures such as making sure the property’s insulation is as good as can be (especially in any roof space), and when the boiler has its annual service, for any radiators to be checked and drained if required to improve efficiency and to keep your tenant’s energy bills as manageable as possible. 

In addition to good paperwork, mid-term inspections and timely maintenance, the best way to protect your property during winter and avoid the need for deposit negotiations is to maintain good channels of communication with your tenant. Make them aware of their responsibilities to maintain the property and encourage them to always report any issues they soon as they are aware of them.  

NRLA members get a 30% discount on the deposit protection fee when they protect a deposit with the mydeposits insurance-based scheme in England and Wales.