The Law Clinic, part of the Law School at the University of Kent, took up a legal case on behalf of a pair of evicted tenants and got them compensation against Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord couple.

The Tenants Attila Lant and his partner Eva Nemeth were evicted by the Wilsons, it is claimed, after complaining about a leak. But later the landlords sued for damages caused to the property. The Wilsons lost their initial claim for £4,000 to cover damage, and will now have to pay the tenants £2500 in damages following the Law Clinic’s intervention.

The University Clinic solicitor, Vivien Gambling, who was assisted by second year law student Uzochi Ejimofor at the hearing at Canterbury County Court on September 12, 2016, won the case for Lant and Nemeth.

The tenants lived in the property for a period of over 8 weeks before they moved out, it was said “in conditions of extreme damp, sodden carpets, and a partial collapse of the kitchen ceiling.”

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Mr Lant and Ms Nemeth rented the house at 87 Wood Lane in April 2013.  In May 2015, they reported a minor leak from a hot water cylinder and Mrs Wilson’s husband Fergus attended to inspect the problem.  However, it was aid that Mr Wilson alleged the tenants had deliberately caused the damage, and ended their tenancy agreement.  The couple were then surprised to find they were being sued for failing to carry out repairs at the property.

Kent Law Clinic offers legal advice service to people in the community who could not otherwise be in a position to afford it, and in this case defended the tenants against the landlord’s appeal and counter-claimed on behalf of the tenants for:

  • The misery suffered living with the disrepair
  • A breach of the landlord’s repairing obligations
  • Interfering with the tenants’ peaceful enjoyment of their former home

After hearing from the parties and a number of witnesses, Deputy District Judge Adams said that he could not understand why the leak was not fixed. He concluded that the matter was the landlord’s responsibility to repair. Furthermore, the tenancy agreement precluded the tenants from attempting any repair without the landlord’s permission.

The tenants contacted Ashford Borough Council’s environmental health officer who inspected the flat and also urged the Wilsons to carry out the repair. It is alleged that the Wilsons did not do so, but they maintained a “hostile and at times offensive attitude” to the tenants.  In the course of his judgment the Judge stated, “Mr Wilson can let his defensive instincts get the better of him and say unpleasant things”.

Since this case came to light there has been a change in the law which is designed to prevent landlords taking precipitous action, i.e., eviction of a tenant simply because there has been a complaint about repairs. This had become known as “revenge” or “retaliatory” eviction.

New protection for tenants has been afforded by section 33 of the Deregulation Act 2015, which applies to new tenancies starting on or after 1st October 2015 and which is intended to prevent the so called “retaliatory” eviction by landlords when their tenants complain of disrepair.

Lessons for Landlords: Reported Repair Issues:

The idea behind the new legislation (Deregulation Act) on “retaliatory eviction” is that where a tenant reports (in writing) a repair issue, the landlord must respond – provide an “adequate response”- within 14 days. The repair request triggers a series of actions:

1. An adequate response and repair has no impact on the ability to serve a valid s21 notice.

2. An adequate response but no repair resolution may result in the tenant reporting the matter to the local authority environmental health department – see 4.

3. No adequate response could also result in the tenant reporting the matter to the local authority environmental health department – see 4.

4. The local authority can either:

a. Inspect and find the issue does not constitute a Category 1 or 2 repair issue – no impact on s21.

b. The local authority has not yet decided on what to do.

c. The local authority issues a “relevant notice”, usually an improvement notice or enforcement order.

In the case of b or c the landlord or agent will be prevented from issuing a valid section 21 notice for 6 months.

An adequate response would be one where the landlord or agent states (ideally in writing) the remedial action that will be taken and sets out a reasonable time scale. This should then be followed quickly by arrangements with tradesmen and the tenant giving reasonable notice periods for means of access.

This repairs process under the Deregulation Act includes common parts in HMOs where the landlord or agent under an AST controls the common parts in the building.

This puts pressure on landlords and agents to have proper repair procedures in place. Apart from the fact that repairing of defective items quickly often saves money in the long run, it prevents the situation were you are prevented from re-letting for 6 months. This is a particularly onerous issue for agents given the liability and reputational consequences not responding to tenants’ repair requests.

For more information on new rules introduced for ASTs commencing since 1 October 2015, and on Repairing Issues, click here

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