Here is a question to the blog clinic from Janet (not her real name) whose daughter is a student tenant:
My daughter a student has just moved into an 18th c house which is five storeys tall with multi-occupancy (bedrooms leading off v steep old wooden staircase) with shared kitchen and bathroom.
By her second night she had learned the council had told the landlord that he had too many tenants for one bathroom so he had just given notice to two of them. That same night the supposedly-repaired dishwasher flooded again and brought the ceiling down of the room below before running into the shop beneath that.
Then part of the roof in a separate part collapsed! Also the tv in my daughter’s room (supplied by landlord) is not working plus the bulbs in the v high hall ceilings had blown so she had to go up the double-storey high stairs in the pitch dark. (The tenanted part does not begin till the second floor). There is no fire escape and the situation looks very unsafe to me.
More than 30 days have elapsed since she signed the agreement and paid deposit and the landlord has still not sent her the tenant deposit reference no (we think he has not put her deposit into the scheme). In addition he lives abroad and has no agent nor UK address through which anyone can deal.
Things like repairs are arranged by email with him and the tenants are expected to let workmen in themselves despite having jobs etc.
We now both feel v uncomfortable with the situation and my daughter has withheld her rent for the first month as she wants to leave asap. Her argument is he has broken the law on at least 2 counts – no deposit ref and no UK address/agent and we feel there is a serious health and safety issue. How does she get out of this lease please?
The first thing to say is that when you sign a tenancy agreement you are then bound by it for the length of the fixed term and can only end it with the agreement of the landlord.
There is no ‘magic button’ type solution to automatically end the tenancy in this type of situation.
You don’t say how long the fixed term is for – as your daugher is a student I assume that it is for the year. So if she were to move out, she would still remain liable for the rent – whether she is living there or not – on a month by month basis until the fixed term ends.
There are only two ways she can ‘get off the hook’ –
- If the landlord agrees to release her from the tenancy
- If the landlord lets the property to someone else – as that (assuming it is with the outgoing tenants consent) will automatically end the previous tenancy.
If your daughter is able to find someone to take over her tenancy, then she may be able to persuade the landlord to re-let the property.
If your daughter can’t find a replacement tenant, then she can either just leave and hope the landlord won’t pursue her, or try to get him to agree to let her go.
In either case some prep work is needed:
1. You need to check with all three tenancy deposit companies and make sure that the deposit is not protected. My website here will tell you how to do this.
2. She needs to keep a record of all the things wrong with the house. One good way to do this is to keep a diary, along with photographs. If she can get signed statements from other people about the problems, well and good.
The reason for this is that if the landlord were to bring a claim after she has left, she will then find it very difficult to get this evidence – it is always best to do this when you are in residence.
3. I suggest you also check with the Local Authority to see if the property is a licensed HMO or not.
Potential claims / issues
From what you say, it sounds as if there are quite a few issues, which the landlord will not want her to pursue.
1. As you rightly point out, if he has failed to protect the deposit, your daughter has the right to claim against him for the return of the deposit money and up to three times the deposit sum.
2. It looks as if there are serious health and safety issues. You could request that the Local Authority Environmental Health department come out and do a Housing Health & Safety Rating System Survey – which I suspect the property would fail. They would then be looking serve an improvement notice on him.
3. It sounds to me as if the property is an HMO which needs licensing. Your comment about the Council indicates that he may already have a license. However, if so, I suspect they will not be aware of the problems at the property and if they were to do an inspection this could put his license in jeopardy.
Suggested method of approach
After your prep work has been done, one option would be to get in touch with him (email would probably be best) and make the following points (if appropriate)
1. He is in breach of the tenancy deposit regulations and she therefore has a claim against him for the penalty
2. The property is unsafe (set out the reasons why)
3. The property is an unlicensed HMO or he is not complying with the terms of his license.
4. He has not provided an address for the service of documents in England & Wales as provided by the Landlord & Tenant Act 1987 (if this is the case – check the tenancy agreement).
Say that due to the problems with the property she wishes to surrender the tenancy and vacate as soon as possible. If he agrees to this and allows her to leave, she will not pursue her claim for the deposit penalty or contact the Council about the other issues.
However if he does not agree to let her go, she reserves the right to pursue her legal remedies without further notice to him.
See what happens. I suspect that if he is not resident in England he will not want to be involved in Court proceedings so there is a chance that he will agree to let her go.
Of course she could just move out and hope for the best, but be aware that technically she will be vulnerable to a court claim for the unpaid rent for the next six years. An agreed surrender is preferable.