Misrepresentation – We recently rented out our rural cottage to a couple. As they wanted to use their computers I said it was possible to get high-speed broad-band. I thought this would be possible but it seems it is not at this time. The couple are now claiming that I misled them and that they either want to leave or for me to compensate them in some way. Surely they cannot break their tenancy agreement?
Arguments between landlord and tenant often arise because there is some misunderstanding as to exactly what is being provided or the state that things are in.
Landlords should be aware that whatever they provide for the use of the tenants, from a washing machine to a whirlpool, should be in safe and good working order. If the device provided is defective, then it’s the landlord’s responsibility to repair or replace within a reasonable time, otherwise some form of compensation – e.g., a rent free period – may be in order.
On the other hand, tenants need to be aware that they accept the accommodation “as is” at the time the agreement is signed. There is no legal definition of the terms furnished, part-furnished or unfurnished. This is purely a matter of industry custom and practice. For example, in unfurnished accommodation it would be expected but not guaranteed that basic white goods – cooker and fridge – should be provided.
Tenants should thoroughly inspect and check the inventory prior to signing the agreement. It’s no use claiming, for instance, that there is no microwave or lawn mower, when none was present on entry and none was promised.
The latter point is important: if the landlord promises to provide something, or do something, such as repairs, then there is an obligation to do it – it forms part of the contract. It is tempting, as in the case above, for landlords to overpromise as part of their “sales pitch”.
In this case the landlord promised something he could not later fulfil. He has misled his tenants and in legal terms has misrepresented the terms of the contract.
In such a situation it is possible, if the tenant were to act without delay, to have the agreement set-aside on the grounds of misrepresentation. The tenants would need evidence to show that the landlord acted fraudulently (the landlord was aware there was no broadband) or negligently (he should have known).
It would seem in this case the landlord has no other option but to offer compensation or release the tenants from their contract, or both.
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