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View Full Version : How can L repossess property to refurbish after fire?



bewildered
06-02-2010, 19:24 PM
Apologies in advance for the long-winded nature of my question but it's a bit of a strange situation. Tenants moved in two months ago and signed a 12 month Assurred Shorthold agreement (despite my telling the agents to sign a 6-month one). There was a fire last month which was serious enough to render the property uninhabitable. The tenants have moved out and into temporary accommodation.

In the days after the fire both my legal helpline (from my landlord's legal expenses insurance) and the letting agents both informed me that after a serious fire I am best just to cancel the contract with immediate effect and then if the tenants still want to return after the refurbishment to take out a brand new tenancy agreement. That was the route I began to take, writing a nice letter to the tenants stating I would like them to return to the property but I had been advised not to give any contractual promise because I didn't know a date by when the refubishment works would be completed.

The tenants initially seemed happy with this and moved all their major belongings into storage. However, they then told the letting agents they would not remove the last few items of theirs or hand over the keys because they had been told that I was lying about being able to cancel the contract and that they would not budge until I had contractually guaranteed they could move back in. After much heated debate on this I finally caved in and agreed to put something in writing to confirm they would get to move back in when works were completed I couldn't afford for the property to be sat there empty and with no rent coming in whilst I waited for things to come to court.

The tenants seemed happy once more until they decided that they were not happy signing a new tenancy agreement and they demanded I confirm in writing that we continue with the existing tenancy agreement. I agreed to this and stated that if this was going to be the case, they would have to recommence paying the rent the day the property became habitable again because otherwise they could mess me about and leave me rentless for a while whilst they got their acts together moving back in. As a compromise I offered to give them an agreed period of notice before they had to return and recommence paying rent and put this in writing also.

I thought that finally we were getting somewhere but now the tenants have failed to come back with a signed copy of the written agreement which was formed on the basis of their demands. They have failed to remove the last of their belongings and have failed to hand over their keys or grant any permission for me or my contractors to enter the property.

I am absolutely at the end of my tether with this whole situation and am sick with worry and lack of sleep. Can someone please tell me where exactly I stand on this and what the best course of action. In an ideal world I would like to prevent the tenants from returning because of all the stress they have put me through although realistically I want to find the quickest and most financially sensible option - even if it means letting them return to the property.

Just to summarise:


There was a fire which rendered the property uninhabitable a month ago
The tenants have moved out and have confirmed they are now living in temporary accommodation
The tenants are refusing to remove the last of their belongings, return their keys or grant access to me or my contractors to repair the fire damage
The tenants are adamant I am not allowed to cancel the contract (despite what it says under Clause 11 under the Landlord and Tenant Act about not having to reinstate after fire)
The tenants say they want to return to the property as soon as possible yet seem to be doing everything they possibly can to prevent refurbishment works from beginning
No matter how many compromises I offer, the tenants are still refusing to budge
The tenants are adamant they have been told by their 'solicitor' (who they will not name or provide any written proof of the advice) and also by Shelter that by leaving some of their possessions in the property I will have no right to evict them and any legal action will fail


Please can someone tell me what to do next. I am in pieces over this and am about to fall into arrears on the mortgage because they are not going to pay any more rent due to the fire yet will not let works commence to return the property to a rentable state.

Is it correct that after a fire I can cancel the contract outright? If so what kind of notice should I serve and how much notice must I give (bearing in mind they are no longer living there)?

westminster
06-02-2010, 19:47 PM
Just to summarise:


There was a fire which rendered the property uninhabitable a month ago
The tenants have moved out and have confirmed they are now living in temporary accommodation
The tenants are refusing to remove the last of their belongings, return their keys or grant access to me or my contractors to repair the fire damage
The tenants are adamant I am not allowed to cancel the contract (despite what it says under Clause 11 under the Landlord and Tenant Act about not having to reinstate after fire)
The tenants say they want to return to the property as soon as possible yet seem to be doing everything they possibly can to prevent refurbishment works from beginning
No matter how many compromises I offer, the tenants are still refusing to budge
The tenants are adamant they have been told by their 'solicitor' (who they will not name or provide any written proof of the advice) and also by Shelter that by leaving some of their possessions in the property I will have no right to evict them and any legal action will fail


Please can someone tell me what to do next. I am in pieces over this and am about to fall into arrears on the mortgage because they are not going to pay any more rent due to the fire yet will not let works commence to return the property to a rentable state.

Is it correct that after a fire I can cancel the contract outright? If so what kind of notice should I serve and how much notice must I give (bearing in mind they are no longer living there)?

One option would be to apply for a court order to gain access, very likely to be granted. What does it say in the tenancy agreement about circumstances where property becomes uninhabitable due to fire etc?

Why can't you get help from your landlord's legal insurance? Isn't that what it's for? I don't mean a 'helpline' but a real life solicitor. And doesn't LL insurance cover loss of rent, too?

The tenants are being extremely unreasonable and their behaviour is suspicious, possibly thinking they can sue for compensation. I think you really need to get proper legal advice, this isn't a DIY situation. I would make no further promises or engage in any further negotiation - put it in a solicitor's hands.

westminster
06-02-2010, 19:57 PM
Further thoughts...

LL is entitled to gain access, without tenant's consent, in the event of an emergency. This probably counts as one.

Even if it doesn't, harassment/illegal eviction law requires the landlord to be acting with the intention of causing the tenant to give up occupation. Clearly, that isn't the case here - 1. they've already moved out and you have it in writing, 2. the reason for entry is obviously to refurbish the property, no bad intention behind it.

If the tenants are plotting to claim for illegal eviction, I very much doubt they have a shadow of a case. So, although I still think you need to see a solicitor, I think you're okay in forcing entry to make the repairs. I'm prepared to be corrected!

bewildered
06-02-2010, 20:00 PM
Thanks Westminster. I have tried to make a claim via my legal expenses insurance but they are saying they can't guarantee when they'll get back to me. It's a strange situation but the company I took the insurance out from uses two organisations for legal expenses cover and neither organisation currently knows if it is they or the other who should be helping me (and one is even saying that I don't have the level of cover my documents say I have). It seems I was mis-sold my policy (a complaint which I already have in progress) because whilst my policy cover note says I have loss of rent cover and full legal expenses insurance, because they didn't insure my buildings they're saying the loss of rent is invalid and some of the other cover questionable. Obviously I'm pursuing it as a complaint but seeing as this could take weeks/months in itself I was hoping for some advice in the interim to get things moving because this whole situation is making me ill with worry.

I've had confirmation from my buildings insurers that I will get loss of rent for the period the fire refurbishment works take but not for the time the tenants are refusing to allow me possession of the property. I can't seem to find a suitable ground for possession under the normal grounds but then as far as I can see. On the other hand, looking at Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act stating I'm not being required to reinstate the property after a fire I can't see how the tenants could expect me not to want to regain possession.

bewildered
06-02-2010, 20:10 PM
PS! All it says about fire is:

The Landlord will return to the tenant any rent payable for any period during which the property may have been rendered uninhabitable by fire or any other risk which the landlord has insured.

I've been searching the web all over and can't find anything at all about what the protocol is after a fire.

What kind of compensation do you think the tenants are after? I can't see how I can owe them any compensation. They didn't bother taking out any insurance themselves despite being advised to by the letting agent. They say that the reason they're being this pedantic is that they want an absolute guarantee they can move back in as soon as the property is ready. However with all these delays they're simply causing themselves delays in being able to return. It simply doesn't make any sense whatsoever.

westminster
06-02-2010, 20:18 PM
this whole situation is making me ill with worry.
I'm not surprised.


On the other hand, looking at Section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act stating I'm not being required to reinstate the property after a fire I can't see how the tenants could expect me not to want to regain possession.
That's why their behaviour is suspicious and why you need to get proper legal advice, to ensure you're acting properly. (As per my second post, which you may have missed, I think you're on strong ground to enter the property).

Bear in mind that weekends are very slow on this forum. Wait until Monday and there will be more legally qualified people around.

Also, pending resolution of your insurance situation, it would be worth paying for, say, half an hour of specialist legal time, just to get a handle on whether it's okay or not to force access for repairs, which is one of the main issues, really.

I will try sending you a PM but I'm not sure if very new members can use the private messaging system. If you don't get it, post again on this thread and let me know.

westminster
06-02-2010, 20:35 PM
I've been searching the web all over and can't find anything at all about what the protocol is after a fire.
I don't know either. I do know you are right about s.11 and not having to reinstate after a fire.


What kind of compensation do you think the tenants are after? I can't see how I can owe them any compensation.
I don't think they have a claim, but their behaviour suggests they might think they do, and litigation is expensive, however misguided the claim. I think it's conceivable they may be thinking of illegal eviction, as they are expressly and unreasonably forbidding access. Why are they doing this? The only reason I can think of is that they're hoping you will force access and give them grounds to sue (again, I still don't think they have a claim).

If they were being advised by solicitors, you can be sure the solicitors would have been in touch - much more likely the tenants are surfing the web and rubbing their hands totting up how much they think they can claim, without having any understanding of the true legal situation. Not that I know much more, but I am certain that entering to refurbish in these circumstances could not be construed as illegal eviction.

What is the background of these tenants? Are they in full time employment, thoroughly credit checked, etc?

bewildered
06-02-2010, 21:25 PM
Hiya, I received your PM but can't reply yet as I'm new!

Thanks very much for all your replies and advice - I'll look into the legal firm. I think the fact it's the weekend makes everything even more of a worry as nobody is available at all so all I can do is brood and fret!! I went through a letting agent and although the tenants are students they're masters students and working too. They were fully referenced and credit checked and until this happened were paying rent etc on time. I was also more than happy for them to move back in as it would have been crazy to lose tenants who had been paying rent on time. It also seems crazy how they're behaving so I guess you could be right about them having an agenda. I think I will take your advice and focus on getting the legal ball rolling. It doesn't help that I'm really inexperienced as a landlord. This is the first property I have let and only did so because I was moving in with my partner and the flat was in negative equity because of the recession. I guess it's just unbelievable bad luck that this would happen on my first ever let!

Thanks again for your support I really appreciate it. It's just nice to get someone else's opinion.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Thanks again

:)

Lawcruncher
07-02-2010, 10:44 AM
*The tenants are refusing to remove the last of their belongings, return their keys or grant access to me or my contractors to repair the fire damage

In view of what the tenants have apparently been told, this is annoying, but not entirely unreasonable. Bear in mind that (albeit unwittingly) you have in fact said something to them that is untrue. See further below.

*The tenants are adamant I am not allowed to cancel the contract (despite what it says under Clause 11 under the Landlord and Tenant Act about not having to reinstate after fire)

This is correct. You could only give notice terminating the tenancy in case of serious damage if the agreement says you can. The fact that section 11 of the LTA 1985 does not require reinstatement is irrelevant. For the record we can note that this could be a case where frustration could apply; however I think that would have to involve a situation where the premises were incapable of being restored, which does not seem to be the case.

If the agreement says you are to keep the property in repair then that would override the provision in section 11 LTA 1985 that restoration is not required in the case of fire - unless of course the agreement contains a similar provision.

*The tenants say they want to return to the property as soon as possible yet seem to be doing everything they possibly can to prevent refurbishment works from beginning

*No matter how many compromises I offer, the tenants are still refusing to budge

I think that at this stage all you can do is to say to the tenants:

A. I want to restore the property.

B. You want me to restore the property.

C. You are not co-operating so that I can restore the property.

D. I understand that the reason you are not co-operating is because you have doubts about whether you will be allowed back in the property once it is restored.

E. I have made various proposals none of which is acceptable to you.

F. If the property is to be restored we clearly have to agree something. How do you think we should proceed?

*The tenants are adamant they have been told by their 'solicitor' (who they will not name or provide any written proof of the advice) and also by Shelter that by leaving some of their possessions in the property I will have no right to evict them and any legal action will fail.

I am not sure that this advice is entirely correct. There is a contractual tenancy and until the contract ends the tenant has the right to occupy. There is no way they can be deemed to have abandoned the property if the property is uninhabitable and they have made clear their intention to return when it is again rendered habitable.

sjcollett
09-02-2010, 23:47 PM
Hi, we had an incident last year following a fire (tenant and candles)

she was a b****, threatened to get me done, she wanted her deposit etc etc.

anyway, I did a surrender document (she surrendered the property) and I was accepting it. I then agreed to give her half the deposit (through gritted teeth!)

I don't know if you are too late to do this - but heaven's if you have a legal helpine get them to pull their finger out of their proverbial and get this sorted - the last thing you want to deal with after the builders and insurance people etc are problematic tenants who won't leave!!!!!!!!!!

bewildered
10-02-2010, 11:19 AM
Hiya. Thanks for all your replies. The legal 'helpline' are still faffing about and don't seem to know what day it is. I have had to sign and agreement to get them out. It simply states that the tenancy will continue on foot until it expires and they can return and will have to start paying rent again as soon as it is habitable again. I don't think I'm in any position to stop them from returning now. They left tonnes of rubbish all over the floor in every room. They're disgusting and have obviously been waited on hand and foot until they moved in to my flat. It really upsets me to know that I'll have to let these messy creatures move in after I've spent time getting it redecorated but I guess that's one of the downsides of being a landlord. What they did do is leave what looked like a full petrol canister in the flat on full view on the day I had a fire and a health and safety inspector from the local council attending. I then had to deal with questions from trading standards which I was not happy about. The tenants have now removed the canister and are adamant it was 'only' engine oil. It beggars belief that they could be so utterly stupid as they knew there was a fire inspection taking place!

I cannot believe that all the while I've been trying to do the 'right thing' but they have caused me obstructions every step of the way. I don't think they even begin to understand the amount of stress they have put me through not to mention the time I have lost (and therefore wages as I'm self-employed) in sorting this out. Why they couldn't have just gotten out so I could get on with the repairs is beyond me. Apparently they were simply acting on 'advice' from Shelter. I can tell you now I will never ever again be donating money to Shelter!

And breath!

Thanks for all your help. If anyone has any suggestions how I may be able to stop these messy and malicious time wasters from returning to my property then I'm all ears!

jta
10-02-2010, 11:25 AM
What's stopping you from issuing a S21. You do not have to give reasons and you are guaranteed to get the property back after you have had the hearing, providing you do it properly.

That's the normal way to end a tenancy where there are no rent issues.

JK0
10-02-2010, 11:32 AM
Sounds convenient doesn't it?

Tenant takes a tenancy, 'accidentally' starts a fire, then asks the landlord to compensate him for moving out.

Have you googled these tenants' names to see if they have tried this before?

bedlington83
10-02-2010, 12:12 PM
What's stopping you from issuing a S21. You do not have to give reasons and you are guaranteed to get the property back after you have had the hearing, providing you do it properly.There are still ten months to go in the fixed period.