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Being sued! Please help

(57 Posts)
evansthebread Thu 21-Mar-13 23:21:42

Please help - I'm frantic. It's a long story, for which I apologise, but apart from wanting to post ALL the FACTS, I think I need to get this off my chest. I haven't slept for a week now and my nerves are at breaking point. I'd appreciate any help or support.

I put my house up to let last November and with that intention had the gas appliance (fire and back boiler) serviced and checked. It was issued with a safety certificate by a Gas Safe registered engineer. There was an advisory on it saying that the flue was not within current standards but was still safe to use.

Tenants moved in on 3rd January. They only wanted the property for a short time as they were waiting for their new build to be completed, but they couldn't give me a date that they would be leaving so they signed a 6 month AST.

A few days after they moved in their CO monitor went off at about 10pm so he texted me to let me know and they all went down to the hospital. They were checked out and were found to have levels of 6 and 7 in their blood (not sure who had those levels, them or their children). I freaked out and called the engineer who was there at 9am the following morning, waiting for me to let him in.

I was shocked at what I found - so was he from an engineers point of view. The place looked like one of those hoarding programs on telly. Furniture and boxes stacked up virtually to the ceilings in every room.

Anyway, the engineer carried out checks on the boiler, fire and flu and found nothing. The first thing he did was check the air to see that it was safe to enter. His "snooper" detected zero CO in the room, despite it being left with the windows closed. He pulled the whole thing to bits and could find no evidence of sooting or anything else that would indicate a CO leak. He left an hour a half later having found no fault. He did, however, point out that their furniture and carrier bags full of stuff were blocking the vent to the room and that they had also clearly been burning a large candle in the room. He said I should ask them to ensure the vent was clear.

I arranged for engineer to return in a few days to extend the flue to current regs which he did.

As he was leaving, a British Gas van pulled up. Apparently tenants assumed our engineer was "dodgy" and called them, too. They took out a plan and told me I had to pay the call out of £99 (which in panic, I agreed). BG man (and apprentice) pulled fire and boiler apart again, also checked out flue, stating that I "should" have the flue extended a few hundred mm to make it to current standards.

While he was there, the tenant's CO monitor went off so he held his "snooper against" it but it read zero. He proclaimed it to be clearly faulty and took it outside to break open to prevent further use. He did a final check of the boiler and just as he was about to close it up, having found nothing wrong, the pressure valve flickered so he said he'd change it "just in case" which he did.

Both my engineer and the BG man stated that there had been "unusual atmospheric conditions" that night which may have caused a "blow back puff" that was apparently quite common, but I think we were all satisfied that the boiler/fire was safe so they came back and carried on living there.

The next day I had a text complaining that the rooms were not getting warm. I'm not surprised as every single rad had stuff leaning against them. Tenant was adamant that rads needed bleeding and that he would do them himself. He was still complaining, but his wife told me separately that they were fine. I think she must have told him as I heard nothing else about it.

Less than a fortnight later, I had another late night text telling me they'd booked into a hotel as their new Kidde CO monitor had gone off. I freaked out again and told them I'd call my engineer out but they said they'd call BG in which they did. An engineer was promised by lunch time but he didn't turn up so I gave them oil-filled rads to use. He turned up after dark and said he was unable to do anything as it was too dark to check the smoke coming out of the chimney. He left a fan heater and tenants stayed at property.

Next day a different BG man turned up. Checked the place out, could find nothing wrong and no CO. He checked their new Kidde monitor which the wife had said was bleeping "intermittently" (her husband had previously stated it was going off continuously!)but the readings were zero. He told them it must be faulty and nailed a BG monitor to the wall for them.

Again, I just thought it was a run of bad luck with faulty monitors and thought nothing else about it. Then we had the cooker ring saga - but that's another story if any of you are interested.

So, fast forward to today and I find a solicitor's letter in the post claiming £20,000 pain and suffering! I also had a letter from tenant last night telling me that he'd reported me to HSE and the council for not having a gas certificate! I gave him a copy before he moved in along with the EPC and the electrical safety certificate. I've sent a copy by email to the council guy and spoken to him by phone. He says he's satisfied and will be taking no action. I'm waiting for HSE to call back.

Tenant is actually moving out this week and has only paid rent up to today. He's also taken out £99 from his rent for the BG call out, despite me writing to him asking him not to as I'd noticed damage to the door when I went in and would offset it against the repair cost at the end of the tenancy.

Estate agent did a viewing last Thursday and called to say that the prospective tenants had been "frightened off" by current tenant who interfered throughout the viewing, telling them the house was unsafe. He also has a CO monitor bleeping in every room which the EA said was very off-putting.

So, I am in the kind of situation I never thought I'd find myself in and am not doing very well. I suffer with severe anxiety and depression and didn't cope very well, with the cooker ring situation and all tenants nasty texts (but a BIG thank you to all those who supported me through that. It is very much appreciated). I can feel myself starting to "give up" with this already.

I am hoping for any advice I can get regarding these issues: am I liable to have to pay out? Are those CO levels high (as I have no idea where they could have been poisoned from - I'm pretty sure that all/any of the engineers would have shut the system down if it had been the cause)? They reverse their cars up against the vent and front door - could that have contributed? Can I claim the rest of the rent he owes even though he's moving out? Can I ask for the £99 back? Who is responsible for utilities if he moves out but still is within his contract date? It's too cold to leave the house without heat without risking burst pipe damage. Can I go in to make sure it's being heated? A few months rent and £99 won't go far towards £20,000, but it might help me pay my solicitor's bill!

To top it all, I asked before they signed if they had pets. They said two outdoor dogs that they were "getting rid of" (which they have). I noticed cats trying to get in when I attended the property - I have a cat and cat flea allergy that causes me to have severe asthma attacks. Tenant told me they were his cats, but they were outdoor cats and never come inside (they looked like they were pretty used to being let in when I was there!). I'd had the place professionally cleaned before they moved in and now will not be able to risk going in again until it's sanitised properly again. Can I bill them for it? They said they would leave the property clean but I'm afraid to go in and perform a check-out with them now. How do I go about this?

A BIG thank you in advance for any help/suggestions/support.

Kormachameleon Thu 21-Mar-13 23:30:52

You must do a detailed check out procedure with them there and preferably an agent

Take photos of any damage, however slight

They have zero chance of suing you btw, I would laugh in their faces

You have gone above and beyond, I would have told them to fuck off re British gas

Retain the 99 pounds from their deposit if they have underpaid the rent

cumfy Fri 22-Mar-13 01:15:37

Yikes this is tough.

CO kills.

It is the problem with gas.
They have said they have significant levels measured in their blood.
This is extremely serious.

I would ask for that medical documentation.

All the issues regarding engineers giving opinions and obtaining nil readings is pretty much redundant. Unfortunately CO can reach dangerous levels and dissipate over a number of minutes.

CO alarms can give false positive and false negative readings.
Proper CO detectors cost 20x than a retail alarm, because they do the job properly.

On the other hand you appear to have done everything that can be reasonably expected of you, and outwith you being negligent they seem unlikely to have any case.

Basically, CO can be a nightmare.
I would not blame the tenants. (unless it's a scam).

I am most concerned that their children and they are safe.

Whereisthesnow Fri 22-Mar-13 01:26:19

Do you have landlords insurance? You need to notify them ASAP and they will take over handling of claim.
Smokers have a certain level of CO in their bloodstream so that may explain the apparent readings - but that is something your insurers can request.
CO alarms also seem to be quite temperamental in terms of false alarms etc due to where they are placed etc.
The solicitors letter is likely to be all bluff and bluster - please don't worry. Do send this all onto your insurers ASAP - you wouldn't want a penalty for late notification as well!

Selks Fri 22-Mar-13 01:30:25

Sounds scam-like to me. £20,000 compensation! Yeah riiiight!!

evansthebread Fri 22-Mar-13 01:51:42

Tenants have been a nightmare - really unpleasant people.

Their bullying made me self-harm a few weeks ago. One of the hob rings packed in on a Friday. At 5.45pm he was texting me asking for an emergency electrician. He was still texting me at 10.55 pm telling me to sort it by tomorrow. I live next door and offered him my stand alone induction hob but he wanted a camping gas stove (which I refused). He wanted OH to go in on the Sunday evening to take it apart which he refused as even if they'd taken it apart, there was no new ring to go in. They had their own microwave which I suggested he use to cook veggies in when he texted me telling me they were starting to wean their 3 month old that weekend. He replied that microwaving changes the water molecule so he wouldn't use it. WTF? Why have one then?

He demanded I pay for his takeaways as he couldn't possibly manage on the other 3 rings. His stirfrys were turning into "midnight feasts" and his son needed soft food as he'd had a new brace.

I eventually got it fixed - electrician couldn't come until the Tuesday and the part didn't arrive til the following week. I was having constant "update wanted" texts and after the new ring was fitted he demanded to speak to the electrician to make sure I hadn't "conned" him (have no idea what I could have conned him about).

Council guy didn't want to be quoted but told me they were obviously just after money. Their solicitor has put a letter in saying they applied for insurance in able to make the claim.

Tenants were renting as they'd sold their house and were waiting for their new one to be built. He gleefully told me (after signing!) that he'd drained every drop of heating oil from his tank in order to leave the new owners and their young children with no heating. Nice guy.

I'm convinced it IS a scam. I take CO very seriously and made sure that everything was okay before they moved in. I had a horrible letter off him telling me that he was taking action against me because he took the house on with the hob working. I was astounded. He is a very lucky guy if he's NEVER had anything break down on him before.

Thanks for the replies so far. I still can't sleep so if anyone's still up and reading, I'd appreciate any more advice/support.

SergeantSnarky Fri 22-Mar-13 01:53:13

Oh Christ - I feel for you I really do.

You sound like you have a good log of all the events: Get them typed up along with the dates and times and copies of reports and invoices along with copies of your annual gas check(s)

Asa landlord you should have landlord's house insurance which includes public liability insurance - mine covers up to a million incl death. They will need copies of all of the above to deal with it but make it clear that you have had no official medical
documentation and the blocking of vents etc

Having legal access to fix the problem on first visit I would have taken photos of the set up as it was being used as storage as well as dwelling. I would see if all the engineers who visited could make written statements/be namechecked.

Please please tell me your tenants' deposit is in the official deposit scheme...if not you are screwed (he can claim 3x the amount back if not held properly in scheme):If yes then take photos of the door, damage/probs by the cats (any proof as otherwise your word against his) and submit the cleaning invoice against the deposit.

He cannot withhold rent but nor can it come out the deposit - it is a small claims court situation I think but he was in the wrong. I personally might suck that up just to be rid of the fecker but depends how much in arrears by

SergeantSnarky Fri 22-Mar-13 02:05:46

Okay - he is moving out - hoe much notice has he given you. What contract was he on?
When is he giving you keys back?

You need utilities out the day he is moving to take the meter readings officially...and photos too by the sound of it. Plus photos of state house left in and counter signed report/inventory.

If you have allergy can DH do all this?
Alternatively I would consider using a letting agent from now onwards and asking them if they would mind doing the walk through in return for gaining you as a new client -no harm in asking.

SergeantSnarky Fri 22-Mar-13 02:11:44

Council tax people will need to know date he left - sadly I think you are liable for empty property now so if he has left without proper notice then this needs a small claim as he should still be liable.

Until he gives you the keys you have no immediate right of entry.

You need to have the heating on agreed but I would have the meter readings done and dusted before having it on ambient temp - it all depends if he has officially gone or not or if he is trying to trade off deposit he knows he might lose against rent (not on)

evansthebread Fri 22-Mar-13 02:13:40

He's left as of yesterday - keys through the door. He paid his final rent up to yesterday, less the £99 he's charged me for calling BG out after my engineer had been. The TA is signed until 2/6/13.

I didn't take a deposit as I knew they'd be leaving for their new home (so wasn't expecting hassle at them going) and, wait for it, they seemed like lovely people. I actually felt like I was doing them a favour as they were desperate to get somewhere to live or their buyer would pull out. I think that's why they were so spiteful about the heating oil.

I was so shocked I took photos of all the rooms - except the one the appliances were in - I was simply too embarrassed to take pics in front of my engineer because he was so shocked at the state of the place.

They're claiming I didn't have a safety cert even though I gave them copies of that and the electrical and EPC. He pushed the EPC back through my letterbox but kept the others.

He also claims that they opened the windows before they left. They didn't. I went outside to look at the chimney (have no idea why) after I got their text. All the windows were still closed. I thought it strange as it was the first house I'd had with gas and was a bit afraid of it at first - the first thing I did when I moved in was service the boiler and ask questions and was told with any gas incident to open windows/not flick switches. I remember a flash of annoyance as I'd explained to them that as it was an old, single wall construction, they'd need to air the house regularly and keep it warm/not dry clothes on rads etc., or mould would grow. I'd lived there for a decade with no problem, and didn't want it starting then.

The windows in that room are pretty high. I can't reach them without moving furniture and getting a stool. He's shorter than me so he either stood on his leather sofa or moved it all and then put it back before leaving.

The pics I have of the other rooms show that they're so crammed, it would be virtually impossible to open them as there was so much stuff in the way or items directly in front of the windows. He also had the cheek to complain the house wasn't warm when every rad had something leaning up against it.

The more I'm stressing, the more annoyed I am that I'm being taken for a ride like this.

Thanks for getting back so late SS.

TheFutureMrsB Fri 22-Mar-13 02:16:49

Dont loose sleep over them, he sounds like a right pain in the arse!! I bet hes the type to ask you to replace a blown bulb! X

Selks Fri 22-Mar-13 02:18:55

Can you get legal advice yourself. Might put your mind at ease - solicitor might say they have no chance.

evansthebread Fri 22-Mar-13 02:23:04

He's only returned one set of keys. I'm ringing the EA in the morning to see if she has other set, I'll also be ringing all the utilities to check if he's informed them he's leaving. He gave me a letter signed only by him and not his wife who was joint tenant stating his intention to leave yesterday. He's also informed EA he's moved into his new house. Large removals van was there most of Monday. Is this evidence enough that he's gone?

I put a 24 hour notice letter through door this evening stating EA is doing a viewing again on Saturday, but I don't think he's been back. He hasn't stayed overnight since Sunday, but every day the gas meter box has been opened.

He's left rubbish in the garden - least of my worries - and electricals in the bin that I know the council won't take. He'd left a downstairs window open on Monday so I went around and pushed it shut, but it's still clearly unlatched.

Yes, I've been naive and stupid regarding them, but I haven't been negligent or unreasonable about the safety of the property. I made sure I complied to regs and took the advice of a Gas Safe engineer. And I'm still in this nightmare. :-(

evansthebread Fri 22-Mar-13 02:25:59

Future MrsB - he's probably taken all the bulbs!

Having said that, I did a through inventory and had it witnessed as tenants were always "too busy" to attend a proper check in. Then they said they wouldn't sign photos and notes hadn't been taken in front of them!

I hate myself for getting into this!!

evansthebread Fri 22-Mar-13 02:32:46

Selks - am getting one tomorrow. I have legal insurance but they've just sent a form to see if I qualify!

I can't go another weekend in limbo.

SergeantSnarky Fri 22-Mar-13 02:35:08

Okay. I am angry on your behalf but also worried for you, as you have no leverage.

He has left without notice - three months in advance of a six month assured shorthold tenancy?

Was the agreement verbal or a legit contract even if a downloaded template?

If verbal I would have to let it go and suck it up/chalk it up to experience. If written - you have to weigh up the cost and stress of going after the b*stard. If you can now get new tenant in that solves the rent from now to June, the council tax responsibility and the cold spell - whatever insurance you do have will be void if noone living there after a certain time period.

If you have been letting without telling your own insurers or mortgage then you are not covered. If you have no liability element then you need to get lawyered up sharpish - possibly you can get a free half hour consult with someone initially.

If you have the keys then you had better get meters read asap and notify the facilities of the date tenant left so he doesn't deny or change dates.

brew flowers hugs x

SergeantSnarky Fri 22-Mar-13 02:42:00

x-posts

what do the estate agent do for you other than advertise the property?

do you have a contact no. or forwarding address for this douche?

you need wife's signature - unless you want to hold her accountable as current tenant - and her keys back straight away.

Am now angry for you - hoping the legal insurance you hae will cover you.

westcoastnortherner Fri 22-Mar-13 02:46:57

I had terrible tenants and a crap EA, I hope everything works out ok for you!

I second legal advise, take pictures of everything and make sure you have copies of all paperwork.

In future take pictures with your tenants on a walkabout before hand, and I would even put a clause in asking for the property to be professionally cleaned... And for you to be provided with a receipt as evidence.

SergeantSnarky Fri 22-Mar-13 02:50:27

Sadly btw the inventory/walk through did need them there - I also would not sign anything I hadn't been privy to but I guess being unavailable/stalling was his tactic to deny any future culpability.

Don't know what else to tell you. I use a managing agent as I am not in the UK any more but also to avoid all the hassle you appear to be going through.

Hoping it works out and some legal or agent brains will be online tomorrow - ellie? maybe...

xx

evansthebread Fri 22-Mar-13 03:08:33

EA is just a finder.

Contract was a signed AST.

They've not given a forwarding address, but EA handled their sale and has offered it along with a statement of the interference during the viewing last week.

We informed mortgage company and have LL insurance with legal cover.

Do management companies handle all this stuff? EA has offered to manage but going on local gossip, they don't do a lot.

Thanks SS.

WestCN - are you still a LL or did your experiences put you off?

I'm freaked by all this and can't believe my luck. I've tried to do everything by the book. I had 20 viewings for the property and when I explained I would be putting deposit into a DPS, was met with blank looks. I live in a rural area and apparently am the only LL who has ever heard of the DPS. Every single person said they'd have trouble getting a deposit up front as they probably wouldn't get it back from their current LL - they all seemed to accept that LL would be keeping their deposits no matter what!

I have prospective tenants who are willing to put up 6 months rent and a month's deposit but they need to move in a week Saturday. I know this seems to be a good offer and EA is as excited as a kid at Christmas as they're willing to pay all costs, too. But all I can think is it's not worth it.

DP and I have played blame game all week. I can feel myself going downhill again and need to snap out of it. But thanks All for your support/advice.

Whereisthesnow Fri 22-Mar-13 03:20:19

Hi, I'm having a crap night of sleep too!
Glad to hear you have ll insurance - please do notify them and they will most likely take over the handling of this - less stress for you!

evansthebread Fri 22-Mar-13 03:21:33

Hey Snow - just can't sleep or being kept awake?!

SergeantSnarky Fri 22-Mar-13 03:32:09

Blame game will not help you my lovely if tenant was out to exploit you.

If you have LL insurance with legal protection you can sleep safely - you should be adequately covered even if the sods manage a successful claim...annoying but you would have the excess and that should be it.

Have had 4 lots of tenants in 6 years.

Have a lovely letting agent.

He does the advertising, vetting incl guarantors/refs, contracts and deposits, walkthrough/inventories/meters and follow up visit once tenants moved in, ditto on moving out incl making claim for cleaning with one v bad tenant and one repair for another.
He is the first port of call for any problem, is emergency key holder, has his own contacts for repairs etc gets me quotes and organises annual gas check and last but not least for a % cut of whole claim he sorted out everything to do with my burst pipes insurance claim.

But he is an independent ea and la, not a chain high st one.

I would hope you have had your share of bad luck re tenants and cannot help thinking 6 months rent in advance plus deposit makes you in a safer position than no tenant and loss
of rent. Unless your spidey senses are tingling!

But like you I try to see the good in people. Good luck.

SergeantSnarky Fri 22-Mar-13 03:41:13

Out those four lots of tenants - one broke a mirror, and a back door window and changed curtains.

One left place so dirty it needed contract cleaners.

One left after burst pipes probably due to not having heating on in winter ffs

current one is a keeper - yes has asked for various things but nothing unreasonable

have made a loss every year since 2007 but am not in it for profit - simply wanted not to have to sell up so have home to come back to...

thelittlestkiwi Fri 22-Mar-13 03:46:54

OP- I'm so sorry you are going through this. You seem to have done everything correctly and with the best of intentions. Which is a lot more than most landlords IME! The cooker ring incident paints a very clear picture of the sort of people they are which may count in your favour. I agree with previous posters about keeping good records just in case.

I'm a member of the National Landlords Association - mainly as they do cheap insurance. It's 70 GBP a year to join. Might be worth giving them a call?

Also, do the prospective tenants have references? Would calling their current landlord help?

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