Sunday, 1 November 2009

Come Round Anytime!

Last Thursday, whilst sucking at an oxygen tank, sick with altitude fever after traipsing up the many flights of stairs, I realised the rubbish needed taking down. Cursing at the journey and the rain, I noticed a hand-delivered letter soggy and discarded on the floor. It was addressed to me, and had apparently been left on a first floor ledge but had been moved or made its own way down.

And guess what’s inside? A cheery letter from my letting agent. Apparently, they’re inspecting my flat between 9am and 5 pm next week. How thoughtful of them to let me know.

The letter says: “It is not necessary for you to be present.”
Erm…actually people, yes it is, since you mention it. I have no intention of allowing strangers free-rein to gambol in my lounge, poking their sticky beaks into my affairs. And they intend on doing this every three-four months “…on behalf of the landlord.”

Whatever next: summoning tenants with a whistle like the Von Trapp children, compelling us to wear uniforms and stand by our beds military fashion while saluting?

To be honest, it’s like Piccadilly Circus in here. A fortnight ago, my flat required a small repair, and I was expecting the contractor to arrange a convenient time. When I called, he said: “But I’ve already been to your house; the agency gave me the keys and I was round last Saturday.”

What?

At least he had the grace to be embarrassed at having marched uninvited in my home, and was astonished that I hadn’t been informed. In fact, he was mortified, but not as horrified as I am. Furious doesn’t cover it, and words are inadequate. The letting agent are so keen to protect themselves and yet stomp over my rights, crushing my privacy and legal entitlement to peaceful enjoyment at every turn.

God, I was angry. The cheek of it: I have no idea who has the key to my home, how many keys exist, and (this is the terrifying part) how many copies have been made. I will allow reasonable access in an emergency, but surely frequent, random spot-checks is against the spirit of the law (I might add that an agency employee had already called two weeks ago so they know I’m not wrecking the place.)

I wonder if I’m allowed to change the locks (which I really want to do, considering the amount of unauthorised visitors who’ve had my door key in their grubby little mitts). Also, can the letting agents insist that the law is on their side?

It’s so demeaning, and I feel powerless, since I know full well that - as retaliatory evictions are widespread - dissent will lead to me being shown the door. On days like this, I loath being a tenant, I really do. I hate it because these measures are less about inspection – more about making me feel unwelcome in my own home, the one I pay rent to live in.

26 comments:

Darsalon said...

That must be bloody annoying. I'd take a look at the rental agreement and see what constitutes reasonable access on their part. Usually they need to give 24 hours notice at a so called reasonable time for repairs and inspections. At least that's what it says on mine.
As for my situation, the agent only draws up the rental agreement really and it's my landlady who deals with everything else. I consider myself very lucky to have a good one who keeps the property in good repair and also leaves me alone.

ReubenH said...

That's a coincidence! I have an inspection by one of these worthless leeches tomorrow morning. Never had them in 20 years of renting. I intend to be as uncooperative and obnoxious as possible.

NL said...

No need to even look at the agreement, there is an implied term of peaceful enjoyment which can't be avoided. This means reasonable notice - at least 24 hours, save in emergency.

I would check the agreement on 'inspection' rights - it may be that the agents are making this up.

They have no right whatsoever to just let in a contractor without notice - this is breach of quiet enjoyment, full stop. They also have no right to attend if you can't be there for their 'appointment', if you do not consent to them coming when you are not present.

In the circumstances, you would be thoroughly reasonable in changing the locks. You would have to be clear that this was not to prevent access on reasonable notice for repairs, or inspection if provided for in the agreement, and that you will a) provide access and b) provide the keys at the end of the tenancy. Just to be clear, there is no right on the LL or LA's part to hold keys.

On whether it is worth the hassle - your call, but I would at the least make it absolutely clear that any further entry without appointment will be a second breach of the covenant of quiet enjoyment and that you could then claim against the landlord, who probably has no idea what the LAs are up to, and that the landlord could then claim against them.

You could also make clear that the LAs have been put on notice and that further entry without appointment Or at least two further entries) could also fall under the Protection from Harassment Act, and give rise to criminal and civil liability on the landlord's part. (Two because it has to be a 'course of conduct' where the perpetrator knows it is conduct likely to cause harassment).

My otherwise lovely private landlord did once send his pet plumber without warning, after we had raised a problem. He knows I am a housing lawyer. We had a thoroughly amiable chat. It won't happen again.

Landlords really, really have to get to grips with the idea that it is not their property, for as long as there is a tenancy.

RenterGirl said...

Thanks everyone. You know what - it's just so damn imperious, and rude. You don't just show up at someones house and let yourself in. I know that I have rights, and have drafted a response. This particular agency are the nastiest I've come across. They are horrible. And yep, I am thinking about just changing the locks.

And Hi Nearly legal - your point about the landlord is a good one (they say 'on behalf of the landlord' in the letter.) I hate feeling so insecure, and bullied. I will keep you posted.

NL said...

On the protection from harassment act point - that wold probably be against both the landlord and the LAs - the landlord could say it was done without their knowledge by the LA and liability for the actions of their agents only goes so far - threaten both is better. But this is a nuclear option. Start with breach of quiet enjoyment, write to both LA and landlord and say that unless you receive their commitment it will not happen again, you will be changing the locks (or don't, your call, of course.)

Dave said...

We had this same problem.

When we moved in we where given an invuntree to sign. Having been a tenant for over 10 years I went though it with a fine tooth comb, and commented on every little problem I could find, so as not to be charged for them when we moved out.

The blind in the bedroom was damaged as was the shower head. They totally ignored this.

Then 3 months later I get a call (nice of them too call) along the same lines as your letter that they where coming round to have a look at the flat, and I did not need to be there.

I was mad, "why are you coming" I asked. "Well its for your benefit as well as ours, we need to check that the flat is being well kept. As can also check any problems you might have" they said.

I said, "As you know we have just had a new baby, what do you expect to be happening in the flat, parties? And if you are checking if there is any thing that needs fixing from my point of view why did you totally ignore the problems from the inventory"

She could not answer this. But to me the answers are obvious. The check up was to make sure I know who was boss. And the inventory is just a money making system, not a way of making sure they flat is in good health.

Anonymous said...

Send them a registered letter telling them they are not allowed access tot he property without first gaining your express *WRITTEN* permission to do so. If they try and enter after that they are breaking the law - and it can be shown since they will not have your written consent. I had this issue with the last agents we had the misfortune to use. They have no right to access the property, other than a true emergency, no matter what they say. Oh, and change the locks and dont bother to tell them. If they try and have a go at you about changing them then point out the only way they could know they had been changed is if they had tried to enter illegally - and then send them a registered letter pointing it out to them again. And keep the original locks so youi can change them back when you move out.

Anonymous said...

Just a quicky ...
Am I imagining it or is your property in Scotland?

For all the flaws in the actual property - your actual tenancy rights are a bit better up there than they are in England.

Have a nosey around the Shelter SCOTTISH website - the slightly different language, and the slightly better housing law up there always makes my heart sing :)

Cait

RenterGirl said...

Thanks Cait
I keep a link to Scottish Shelter on my blogroll. Thing is, while rights seem like a good thing (what the renting panels in Scotland and all) things aren't as secure in Scotland as you might think: many landlords have openly admitted that when they are compelled to do repairs, they give notice to tenants because they can. Also - the Deposit Protection Scheme is only just being implemented. Also - there is (see previous posts) an law against charging admin fees. Letting Agents brazenly ignore it. Thing is, I'm speaking at a Shelter conference on regulating the property industry soon. And meeting with various ministers. I will mention all of this. So why do I still feel so powerless? Because I am. It's retaliatory eviction, and it's got to stop.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely...
there is the 'law'
and there is whether it is actually followed, and if not, whether it is actually enforced.

So while the basic law may be better (with exception of the no deposit protection rules at the moment) in Scotland... it doesnt mean they're followed.

As I explain to people when Im talking about illegal eviction...

'I can tell you it's illegal to evict you without a court order, and that's true - but I can't tell you it will never happen. It's illegal for someone to steal a car, but if I told you cars *never* get stolen you'd point and laugh'


Cait
PS look up Tacit Relocation - I LOVE that - we dont have something like that in England - booo.

RentJock said...

You've touched on a subject close to my heart (or is that spleen?)

When an agent (sounds like the FBI and I think they think they are!!!) tried to enter my home without warning (notice letter delayed by postal strike), I spent hours trawling the web trying to find the definitive legal position on access. And the answer was, there was no answer.

I live in Scotland. For every source stating the LL/LA had no right to hold keys, there was another stating that lock-changing was likely to result in eviction without appeal. Of course, no one SHOULD enter my home without notice, but what I do if they do is a very grey area.

I wrote to the LA to complain but things were never fully resolved. Of course, my home is still subject to these money-generating schemes called "inspections".

On a related note, I've just been down to the bin and the LL has filled my recycling bin with his excess paper. Thing is, when I mention it he'll apologise and take it back. It's just a royal pain explaining that my bin I pay council tax for is not his property any more.

Anonymous said...

Ah, the inventory. Bless. The one for the flat I've just moved into included two tins of paint, open. One of then turned out to be empty and dried up with a carrier bag stuck in the bottom. Most of the kitchen equipment is junk; cracked and chipped plates, two saucers with no cups, two cheese graters, etc etc. A "blue bottle" which I thought might be an ornament turned out to be an empty Harverys sherry bottle. Can I get rid of it? Can I hell. It all has to be listed and signed for. When I pointed out to the agent that I had to prove that I'm a respectable, solvent middle-class tenant before I could get my foot in the door, yet I'm expected to use stuff that wouldn't be saleable in a charity shop, she said I could box it up and store it. But I'm paying for the space, so why should I store the landlord's junk?

Last timeI hired a van it didn't coem with a load of carefully inventoried junk in it with the comment well, push it to one side or put it in your place if you like. But make sure it all goes back exactly where it came from or we'll charge you. WTF is it with landlords? It's a business. When the stuff is old and worn out, write it off and chuck it out. If it's no good take it away and put it somewhere else. The agent admitted that landlords use their properties to dump the stuff they don't want. Thanks a bunch, mate, yes I'll store your crap and pay for the privilege. I'm tempted to take the whole lot to the skip and then point out that yes, I'll refund the landlord it's full market value out of the deposit. Which is nil. Less storage charges. Only I know how that will go down.

Funny thing is agents and landlords seem to think the world is full of psycho tenants who just want to rip them off and trash their properties, whereas my experience is that the world is full of dodgy landlords and useless letting agents. These people badly need regulating. And I suspect that many rental agreements are actually unenforceable due to unfair bargaining power. But again fat lot of good that will do when you're out on the street with no agent/slumlord references.

Clare

Anonymous said...

I'm a landlord, howewer I can say that having a LA just turn up and inspect without your attendance is just not right. Nor should tradesmen just turn up without making an appointment with the tenant. The tenant is entitled to enjoy privacy in their home.

I know you gone about evil landlords but from our side of the fence they are also tenants from hell.

I can see the need for inspections as the property is not the tenant's but belongs to the landlord which the tenant has some responsibility to look after on behalf of the landlord, exactly the same as a person renting a car off a care hire company.

If the property is fully furnished then relatively regular checks are needed as the contents are the landlord's too. However, if the property is unfurnished then the number of checks can be relatively infrequent. In addition, the frequency of the checks should be based on reality. If the tenant is good and after the first few checks everything is ok, then the checks should become more infrequent. However if the tenant is bad then the checks will need to be frequent. Just blindly following procedure and detailing to the nth degree is just a quick route to annoying everyone and satisfying no one.

One method I've heard of is for the tenant to take photos of specified parts of the property when requested by the LA/LL and email them back. Does require the tenant to have a digital camera (who doesn't with camera phones everywhere) and the tennant can abuse the process by taking multiple pictures and sending them one at a time for each request. But if the tenant is good and the landlord good then everyone wins.

J

RenterGirl said...

To J the landlord: obviously this blog is from the tenant point of view. Even so, I have written sympathetically about landlords, and have noted that tenants are not always angels. As for letting agents: everyone hates them and they don't care. Make the most of it LA's - regulation looms. We're on to you.

Anonymous said...

I can see the need for inspections as the property is not the tenant's but belongs to the landlord which the tenant has some responsibility to look after on behalf of the landlord, exactly the same as a person renting a car off a care hire company.

J:

Exactly - would you expect someone from a hire car company to stop you on the side of the road every couple of days to make sure you're looking after the car? If you can't handle the thought of someone living in a property you own without being harrassed (which is exactly what inspections are whether you like it or not) then don't be in the buisiness of supplying properties for people to live in. If a landlord expects to view the property I live in more than once then they end up having to find another tenant. I always pay rent on time and always take good care of the property. I dont expect to be treated like a piece of dirt who needs to be checked up on every 3/6/12 months.

Would you accept your bank manager coming for a nosy round your home every year? After all, if you damage the place then the bank might have problems getting its money back in a reposession sale. You might not think it's the same thing but it is. The bank has as much right to be concerned about its asset (your mortgage) secured against the property as you do to be concerned about your asset which is controlled by your tenant. Your attitude is exactly what is wrong with the tenancy laws in this country. Once you rent the property it is no longer yours. If the renter damages the property then you have exactly the same rights as your hypothetical car rental firm - you can take them to court to recover the money.

Humphrey said...

With respect to retaliatory evictions have you checked out ATRO? they also cover the areas that us TROs can (resources permitting)can help with.

RenterGirl said...

That's an interesting point. I am looking at this. Even if they only provide moral courage and some legal advice, it would be helpful. Thanks!

ray said...

As a Landlord who has been in rented accommodation in the past I totally agree. I don't use letting agents, and try to treat tenants fairly. I grant long leases when asked. I do credit check but so long as there are no defaults that is enough, oh and some proof of income. An ex tenant of mine had to pay for a previous landlord reference when he moved. This was for new letting agent. Guess what they never wrote to me, and he never got his money back.

Ann P said...

Well you cetainly sound like yu had a bad time with LA's. But surely it's not fair to lump them all together. I hate bad LLs too but until registration becomes compulsory we are all going to suufer at the hands of the old style LLs who haven't got a clue and think the deposit is their god given right to keep. In England we have the tenancy deposit scheme and it is working very well. The problem though is that private LLs and unregulated agents can still do what the hell they like and unless the tenant takes legal action they will get away with it. The best thing to do is use regulated ARLA agents. If they don't abide by the rules the tenant and/or landlords can take action easily. In my experience the ARLA agents are very good. Also try to see the LLs point of view. It takes a big leap of faith to let your property worth tens of thousands to a complete stranger so contracts are necessary. ASTs used by ARLA agents are approved by ARLA and the OFT. Contracts between LLs and Agents say the property wil be inspected every three months and if the agent fails to do this the LLs will probably go to another agent. The inspections done by an ARLA agent are just as much about making sure the property is in good repair for the tenant as it is about ensuring the tenant is treating it properly. If I refuse to allow the agent to inspect then they are going to suspect the worst, that I am hiding damage or subletting. The LL would probably serve notice rather take the gamble. Bear in mind that a LL doesn;t serve notice lightly. It's a costly business and if the tenant pays the rent on time and looks after the property most LLs will be more than happy for them to stay and will bend over backwards to meet reasonable requests. Its a two way street.

As for furniture etc - why rent a place you obviously aren't going to be happy with? You do sound a bit like a person who enjoys conflict to me. I wonder if you'll publish this answer as it doesn't support all your views?

RenterGirl said...

First of all I don't have to publish or even allow a comment facility, and generally do. Ann - Letting Agents like yourself - and you are one aren't you justify inspections as being good for tenants. That's a lie; why not ask us how we are? I've never come across a good agent, but have a few decent landlords. And no - I hate conflict. I just want a home, one that feels like mine. and as for moving in to a place I'm not happy with? No choice, and there's the gap between giving notice and moving in with a new rental agreement.

Anonymous said...

I feel very sorry for you if you truly have never come across a good agent. Yes I am a letting agent and a landlord but have also been a tenant for many years before that. I make sure my tenants are happy, do repairs immediately and have been very understanding and flexible about arrears during times of hardship. A good tenant is worth keeping, there are plenty of bad ones out there!

As a tenant I had my share of good and bad LLs in the past but standards in England are getting better. In 2007 the TDS came into force and it has made our job much easier, gives me a stick to wield at the bad LLs and shut them up but some private LLS and unregulated agents still behave like rogues. Are you in Scotland? I'm afraid I don't know how it all works there so maybe your experiences reflect your location? As I said the unregulated agents cause a lot of problems. There are good and bad in every profession, surely you can't deny that?

We have excellent relations with our tenants and if they have to move to a bigger or smaller place in the same area many of our tenants won't use any other LA except us because they say we are so good and care about them. We get to know most of them well and they feel confident to come to us with thier problems even personal stuff. We often say (tongue in cheek), we should open a counselling service here too. We treat tenants as everyone should be treated and how we want people to treat us - with respect and understanding. We do ask the tenants if they have any issues/problems and put a lot of pressure on LLs who aren't quick off the mark to do repairs. If they are truly awful LLs we won't rent their property again. The problems to us being stuck in the middle just aren't worth it. We also work with SHELTER and local benefits office to prevent evictions and help people under threat of losing their homes. I was homeless when young so have very strong feelings about tenants rights and the problems of homeless people.

I don't really understand your objections to inspections, we are usually in and out in 10 mins. If they've been there for a long time and have proved to be good tenants who will report problems promptly we can ease up on inspections but only with the LLs agreement. Sometimes when youg people or people from different climates rent their first home here they have no idea how to look after it or even what cleaning products to use! The inspection is a great opportunity to help them so they don't get penalised for thier ignorance at the end by losing part of the deposit. We adopt a caring approach and they are usually very grateful.

I still say it's unfair to lump all agents together because of your bad experiences and can only repeat my advice, use an ARLA agent. They are well trained and very good although there is always the odd one who tarnishes the rest of us. All the best.

Ann P

Michelle said...

My favourite was the day they phoned to say, "Our agent's on her way." ...I'd just got out of hospital and was standing in the doorway still holding my bag of dead fruit and get-well cards.

I must admit she did apologise when she saw my half unpacked bag on the bed and the fact I still had my little hospital tag on my wrist, but it's the whole fact that you are helpess to say, "No, you can't come in." without fearing it'll be held against you... somewhere... sometime.

We've rented in Morayshire for seven years now and it's been mixed. We had one landlord who was a total darling, but his house was too small when my parents moved in with us. :-( I so regret that move. It was the only time I felt semi-safe and was at least allowed to hang pictures and decorate if I wanted to.

My sincere sympathies to you!

RentJock said...

Instructive really that Agent Ann accuses RGal of enjoying conflict.

This is a common tactic used by agents - twisting reasonable requests/enquiries from tenants into pesky troublemaking.

Even the Ombudsman's Code of Practice for Letting Agents describes inspections – accurately - as "of limited scope" and "of a superficial nature". Let's never pretend that they're for the good of the tenant.

RenterGirl said...

Yep Rentjock - they are simply trying to make tenants feel uncomfortable, as part of the whole culture of encouraging renters to live in constant state of feeling unsettled. It's got to stop. It didn't used to be like that - we need to foster a sense of belonging and security, not the method of temtping private investors into the rental sector by convincing them, and tenants that we have no rights.

Rory said...

This is a brilliant blog, I've managed to read every post in the last day (supposed to by revising but this beats Cicero).

Anyways, on to the letting cretin I deal with at the moment. The first bizarre thing about them is that they (the Letting Agent) used a Letting Agent to get me in here. I'm not sure what's going on there, very weird.

Once I discovered who the invisible Landlord actually uses to let his property I decided to check them out online. They make no secret of their contempt for tenants, writing that one of their aims is to stop 'petty' tenant claims. Here's an example of what they presumably consider a petty tenant claim. Once I moved in I discovered that there are homeless people living in the electricity cupboards, they accessed the building because a window in the security door was cracked. I emailed them about it but it was completely ignored to the extent they removed the contact details from their website.

It was fixed about 6 months after I emailed (apparently 8 months after it was initially broken) but the door has been rendered completely useless because someone has bent the lock out of shape. The homeless people are still their, smoking it up in the electricity cupboards.

Aside from that, the flat was filthy when I moved in. A previous tenant's thong and sanitary towel was still lurking around. I've almost had my electricity cut off because a previous tenant left without settling the bill (presumably because they were forced out by the LA's practice of calling up tenant's at the 4 month mark, proposing a stupid rent increase then using their break clause when they refused, this has happened to me and others in properties let by them).

Personally I think letting agents should be rounded up and summarily executed. In all seriousness, private lets should legally be pooled into the local authorities control and let through them. Local authorities will be able to check if a Landlord financially secure enough to maintain a LONG TERM CONTRACT BASED ON THE TENANT'S NEEDS. Landlords should have their rent realistically set by the local authority, no matter how much they pay in mortgage with a management fee paid to the local authority to pay for repairs and maintenance.

This will go some way to regulate buy to let chancers and it will also enable Local authorities to assess housing needs in their borough and give planning permission accordingly. No more of these matchbox flats with paper thin walls and crap fixtures.

If a buy to let merchant doesn't like it, the local authority can give them a few pamphlets and a crappy stall (condition fully inventoried and damages, however small, will be recovered fully and mercilessly) and the irritating spiv can sit in their new investment and think about where they went wrong.

Rant over.

Thanks for the great website. I may have to steal the idea...

RenterGirl said...

Thanks! But oh, the whining and the whinging and the squealing from landlords and letting agents when tenants suggest applying the same standards to the financial status and conduct of owners.