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Landlady meltdown - what are our rights?

(28 Posts)
Luxnuova Sun 09-Dec-12 12:14:06

I was going to post this in AIBU, but thought I probably also need some legal advice. Apologies in advance for an epic post, but want to give some background to avoid drip feeding. Hope someone can help.

We've been living in a flat in London for three years, rented from a woman who is also an acquaintance (mother of a one-time work colleague of DH). It's been fine, and the relationship chiefly agreeable. The background is that we've had it at slightly below market value - as she wanted people she knew, and as we'd agreed to do some work on the place when we moved in. We loved it and worked hard to convince her! Since moving in, we've had one rent increase of 100 pounds per month. She was understanding when I was pregnant, and allowed us to stay on for another year without raising rent, when it was up for review last September. We were paying £1300 pcm, for a two-bedroom place near Hampstead Heath. This is definitely below market rates, but not, like, utterly unheard of. This Sept, she said she couldn't keep it below market value and wanted to readvertise. We were fine with this, as we'd been planning to return to NZ in early 2013 anyway, as we told her. She wanted to advertise before Christmas, and as we weren't leaving until February 13, we talked about possibilities. She herself came up with the solution that we rent her home for 2 months, ie Dec and January, as she would be in Australia with family.

This seemed ideal - we would have a base for two months, which would allow us to ship our things, and we'd agreed by email to keep paying the same rent (£1300 pcm) for her place (though it's far nicer). She would get a housesitter over xmas, and got a bit of money (she's obviously asset rich - two houses in London -but doesn't have a huge amount of cashflow).

To cut to the chase. Last Friday I was over at her place, and she was showing me around, how to use the washing machine etc, friendly and nice. On Monday our international shippers come, all like clockwork. We'd scheduled our flat inspection on Tuesday midday, as we'd arranged to go into a B&B for two nights to allow her access to the flat. She was leaving the same day we were going into her place (Dec 7). Monday night we're manically cleaning. Tuesday morning, we're nearly there. She arrives at midday and we're not quite ready for the inspection. Basically, all of our stuff is out, and it's pretty clean, but we're still packing for the two-day trip for B&B, so there are a few things strewn around, rubbish bags waiting to go out, etc. We were admittedly less organised than we'd meant to be, but with a 1 year old DD, who'd just been sick, we were a bit behind schedule. (When we returned on Thurs to complete this pack-up, it took 2 hours from start to finish - so, we were precisely 2 hours' behind schedule of the midday inspection).

In spite of knowing us for three years, in an almost social relationship, she basically had a meltdown. There was a disagreement also about whether we should pay to replace a 10-year-old rug she'd had in the flat that had been moth damaged (we'd stored in our bedroom cupboard, and unbeknownst to us, it had been moth-ridden). We simply stated that we weren't really liable to buy a brand new rug, as it was quite old. Looking back, that was a mistake - but we knew she'd taken previous tenants for a ride on their deposit, and she was also rather hostile already at that point, so we were afraid that she'd keep our deposit in exchange for a really old rug.

Then she ultimately said she wasn't happy for us to rent her place after all. We'd paid one month in advance already, and had had long email discussions about timings, arrangements. We'd been over there twice to discuss baby proofing for our daughter. So, with two days' notice, we have been rendered completely homeless, right before Christmas.

Do we have any legal rights in this matter at all? There was no formal contract, but clear email agreements, and we'd paid the money. We'd continued our direct deposit, as the rent was the same for her place.

We have been lucky that friends have let us stay, but it's hard to communicate the desperation of being suddenly homeless with a one-year-old. This has been one of the hardest things we've coped with (we're pretty lucky that that's the case), and I confess I am just getting angrier and angrier with someone who could do this to us (when the week before she'd been showing us where the lightswitches in her house were).

Any advice would be gratefully received.

Luxnuova Tue 11-Dec-12 15:44:47

Thanks for further advice and thoughts. Just to clarify: she returned the payment for one month's rent in advance, but as of last night, still no sign of deposit. We returned the keys for our flat, and she hadn't given us her home keys yet. The more I think about it, the more it does seem like it was pre-planned, Cumfy.

Thing is, I don't know if there's much to be gained in taking her to small claims. Of course if she doesn't return the deposit within a few more days, I'll start action on that, but on the breach of contract the only thing we can get back is expenses incurred above what we would have paid. And luckily we have had friends step into the breach, so haven't been out of pocket, really. She is pretty wealthy, and quite well connected (used to have her own film management company), so I would be fairly certain she'd counter sue and step everything up. I don't want to expend a huge amount of time and effort on her - she's not worth it. But the desire to name and shame is still strong. I don't want to do anything I'll regret later, or that'll reflect poorly on me. But, considering we have a few contacts of hers, I'm sorely tempted to send an email to a few of them. I may also flag her to HMRC, though I can't guarantee she hasn't been paying tax on our rent. It may just be one of those things where we're glad we're out of her life now, and will move on. Just relieved we have sorted a short-term let for Christmas. She is a horrible piece of work. Thanks everyone for laying out our options. Will post again if we take these.

holidaysarenice Thu 13-Dec-12 02:33:54

Be careful with the deposit, depending on when u moved in and where u are in the country it may not be an issue. Some older contracts won't have needed it, nor scotland until last month!

TinyDiamond Fri 21-Dec-12 21:03:37

just read the whole thread and I am livid for you! hope you got it sorted and can enjoy Christmas now. come back and give us an update

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