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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.

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

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!

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.

cumfy Tue 11-Dec-12 15:07:06

You didn't keep spare keys ?

cumfy Tue 11-Dec-12 15:05:16

Ouch!

If this was still ongoing I would say the whole arrangement was contingent; that the 2 rentals were inter-linked and that she couldn't stitch you up like this, and get immediate legal advice.

But the sneaky bitch has got you out; it all seems pre-planned to me.
And you're now fighting too many fires.

Personally I would just break into her place.grin

anice Mon 10-Dec-12 16:47:03

Not sure if someone else has said this or not, but the rule about putting a deposit into a scheme is that the landlord has to do it and failure to do so carries huge penalties that the landlord has to pay the tenant.

However, if the landlord fails to do it, then the tenant has to raise a claim before the tenancy ends. But if the landlord finds out that the tenant has raised a valid claim, then all he has to do is put the money into a scheme quickly before the case progresses.

So, unfortunately, its too late for you on this one.

I'm not legally qualified but I think this is how this works since a court ruling in 2010 basically took away the "teeth" from this law.

LIZS Mon 10-Dec-12 12:11:19

I thought she had already returned the rent for first month of her own home ?

Collaborate Mon 10-Dec-12 11:08:31

Get alternative accomodation sorted, costed, (don't go overboard) and having identified your loss you know what to persue her for. The only problem is that court hearings will be in the UK.

ChunkyPickle Mon 10-Dec-12 09:50:41

As the amounts are relatively small, you could even go the small claims route - costs about 35 quid to file online, and is really very easy - bit of a problem given she's going to be in australia for a couple of months though possibly

mycatlikestwiglets Mon 10-Dec-12 09:35:59

^^ what Collaborate said. OP, there are two things you can do which should put the wind right up the landlady (and I'd recommend you do them asap to catch her before she goes abroad):

1. Make a claim in relation to the deposit - as others have mentioned, due to her failure to put it in a registered scheme, you can claim what she owes you plus the court has the power to impose a significant fine on her.

2. You have a contractual claim for her breach of your new housing agreement (the legal terminology for that agreement isn't really important - the main point is that you have written evidence of a contractual agreement for you to live in her house for 2 months). Your claim is for the return of any money you have paid to her in relation to that (I think you mentioned upthread you'd paid a month in advance), plus the amount you will incur over and above what you were going to pay her for finding elsewhere to live for the relevant period. The aim of the claim is to put you in the same place financially as you would have been had she honoured the original agreement.

Good luck OP, she must be a complete loon and heartless bitch to put you in this position so close to Christmas.

Collaborate Mon 10-Dec-12 01:28:00

A license is just a contract. If you have a contract that you can live at her house for 2 months and she breached it you are entitled to recover your financial loss.

Luxnuova Sun 09-Dec-12 21:35:46

Hi all, thanks again for the replies. Collaborate - you mentioned that we had a 'license to occupy', but from what I've read so far online, I think that also means that she could terminate this license without notice. I think that it's excluded from the Protection from Eviction act, because it's actually her principal home. This is all I can gather anyway. Were you aware of anything different about this?

fergoose Sun 09-Dec-12 17:51:14

and legally you should have 2 months notice to leave - if she has given 3 weeks notice that is illegal too.

sicutlilium Sun 09-Dec-12 17:45:58

OP: if you think that your landlady is avoiding tax due on rental income, you can report her here: www.hmrc.gov.uk/tax-evasion/hotline.htm

mercibucket Sun 09-Dec-12 17:32:10

You can very easily put in a claim via the small claims court for the deposit plus 3 times the amount as she did not put the deposit into a scheme. Cab can help you with this or you can do it yourself

mercibucket Sun 09-Dec-12 17:32:10

You can very easily put in a claim via the small claims court for the deposit plus 3 times the amount as she did not put the deposit into a scheme. Cab can help you with this or you can do it yourself

Luxnuova Sun 09-Dec-12 17:23:56

Hi Lizs - she did have a gas safety check done, but I very much doubt she paid any tax on our rent. Our tenancy was actually conducted without an agent - as we knew her privately. However, because she's leaving the country over Christmas and was desperate to get new tenants in on a higher rent, she has now gone through a letting agency for the new tenants, which is why we dropped the keys off there, etc. I'm sure they'll be ensuring this tenancy is above board in this way, though I may check with them, and let them know what she did. We warned the incoming tenants about what had happened. I'm still seething. She can basically get around this by simply returning our deposit - but there is no real recompense for what was tantamount to evicting a young family with no notice period three weeks before Christmas. I'm still seething. I guess we should just count our blessings that we're all okay, and the worst we've suffered is being shaken up... I dread to think what we would have done if hadn't had friends in the city, or some savings.

LIZS Sun 09-Dec-12 17:13:23

It also means she cannot make deductions over time to supplement rent as you have suggested. She should have notified you of the details of the scheme it was in within a fixed period of the tenancy beginning. Maybe she cut other corners too - Gas Safety Check, Income Tax etc ? The agency is culpable too, if they claim to be members of NAEA or ARLA they may have breached the code of conduct.

Luxnuova Sun 09-Dec-12 17:01:29

Thanks everyone - the advice about the deposit is great. I had no idea this was required by law, and have emails that state she has it in a regular bank account. The only problem is that we shipped most of our non-essential documents back to NZ via shippers, and we included our rental agreement in there. Stupidly. Didn't think this would ever be an issue.

I actually don't think she'll try to withhold the deposit - she is probably trying to wash her hands of the issue and won't want any foothold for proceedings.

The main thing I want is some sort of recognition on her part that she has acted wrongly, and cruelly. I kind of want to give her a scare, and a legal-ish letter might do that. I've contacted Camden Council to see if they can give me any other info, and will contact Shelter tomorrow. One detail I never mentioned was that we've always been great tenants - we've painted at our own expense, replaced garden compost heap and planted roses, etc. It's just been a shock. Thanks again for advice.

Collaborate Sun 09-Dec-12 16:57:44

If you have an agreement to have her home for 2 months you have either a tenancy or a license to occupy. If she is in breach you could sue her (in the small claims court) for damages, being the difference between what you'll have to pay elsewhere for the2 months and what you would have paid her.

fergoose Sun 09-Dec-12 14:16:24

She has acted illegally by not putting your deposit into a Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme, she's broken the law and is not allowed to do this.

Just had a quick search and this is the first thing came up here extract set out below.

What happens if my landlord doesn’t protect a deposit I have provided?
If your landlord fails to protect a deposit or fails to tell you what scheme they are using you can take them to court. The courts can fine a landlord up to the value of three times the deposit amount you have provided and order them to safeguard your deposit with a scheme provider.

Suffice to say, it's illegala nd you can get your money back plus extra.

Hope you work it out OP

LadyMaryChristmas Sun 09-Dec-12 13:56:46

LIZS is right, she needs reporting. angry

I hope all goes well for you, best of luck with the move.

LIZS Sun 09-Dec-12 13:53:29

The ll and agent have acted illegally by not putting it in a protected scheme. Report them !

Luxnuova Sun 09-Dec-12 13:51:23

Thanks for the advice on Shelter. I thought we'd also contact Camden Housing Advice. The tricky thing is we have effectively moved out. We were due to leave on Tuesday, as we'd shipped everything to NZ, and new tenants had signed up and were due to move in on Saturday. We stored our bags in there (that we would have taken over to her place), and removed everything finally on Thursday. Now I realise we should have just stayed, but we didn't have anything, not even a bed! Luckily we've managed to arrange a short-term lease from Gumtree, and have found another interim place too. Our bond deposit is not in a tenancy deposit scheme - she has kept it herself, and had actually been withdrawing £50 per month from it in the last year, as she changed her mind about the rent when she put it up last time. We are still owed £1200, though, and not sure whether we will get it back. She returned the month's rent that would have paid for her place - she just wrote a check and left it at the estate agent, who gave it to us when we returned the keys.

I'm not really interested in mediation - we have covered our immediate crisis. But, I do want to know if she's acted illegally. I'm not usually someone who gets angry, but I am livid about this, and that she's acted to endanger my daughter.

Thanks to both of you for your advice.

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