Monday, 15 October 2012

Bad Landlord

I am not a fan of campaigns to ‘kick out rogue landlords’ who I believe to be both a minority and a distraction. Personally, I am more concerned about the constant, low-level misery caused by insecurity or short term contracts, and in London, rocketing rents. And don’t forget: many landlords are, like my current ‘landgirl’ (she wants to be called that) superlatively decent and reasonable.

But bad landlords exist. They are out there. A friend had a nightmare experience: she moved newbuild flat, and in the middle of a freezing winter, followed the best instructions on what to do about the pipes, and went away.

She returned to find the flat deluged after a burst pipe, and living in a nightmare of flooded possessions, was forced to leave her uninhabitable home (the one she paid rent for.) The letting agent were singularly nasty and obstructive, and after months spent sofa surfing, my friend could not get back into her flat. The letting agents contrived to blame her for the leak, claiming that pots and pans in the sink had caused water to spill (!) and then refuted their own plumbers report, which agreed that any damage was not the fault of my friend.

The lesson is a common one: she did not feel able to take the landlord to court. She discovered he was not on the local landlord register (she had not, in common with many tenants, checked this before moving in.) And so here’s what she suspects: that her landlord did not have permission to let the place from the mortgage provider, had no insurance (I always say that like drivers, landlords should be insured by law) and so tried to shift the blame onto my friend.

At that point she was held responsible for the flooding, broken down and demoralised. Oh and also: she was homeless. There is no happy ending. She invested her energy in finding somewhere to live: a decision most tenants make. They do not pursue bad/rogue/vile landlords – instead they move out and move on and I don’t blame them. While entirely understandable, it does have the effect of letting the landlord keep on harassing, flooding and tormenting the next tenant.

Elsewhere, even a casual chat with friends has garnered tales of bad landlords who: harassed and tried to kick down doors, refused outright to repair heating in the middle of a freezing winter, went bankrupt, confused the right to inspect with the need to enter randomly at will, collected or reclaimed vital furniture while tenants were out, and the worst of all, who illegally evicted tenants by sending round thugs.

Tenants can be evicted if they misbehave: procedures are in place. But what happens to landlords who terrorise tenants? There should be a licence, withdrawn if landlords act unlawfully, or by actions or omissions cause physical and/or mental harm. Oh – and they should forfeit the property. There really aren’t that many, but increasing reliance on the private sector means more amateur, untrained rentiers and resentful ‘forced’ landlords. Tenants will show their love for which ever party legislates about this by voting for them.


Ed said...

I think a message here is that being a landlord is a skilled occupation: people can become bad landlords just because they are amateurs. In my line of work, property & tenant maintenance, we are middlewo/men in the renting world. Good old market forces guide us towards good behaviour. When we fix a problem quickly & with decent service, tenants & landlords are happy, we get recommendations. If we weren't on the case and tenants got really upset, it would ultimately cost more money.

On the political side, it will be interesting to see if this recent legislation against squatters impacts on tenants who are in a rent dispute with their landlord: there is potential for abuse if people don't have any tenancy agreement documents. Whether vulnerable people in dodgy accommodation are doing much voting is another matter...

About the freezing pipes, if you are going away in winter, leaving the heating on low will protect them - it's less expensive than burst pipes.

Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

Ed when you say "On the political side, it will be interesting to see if this recent legislation against squatters impacts on tenants who are in a rent dispute with their landlord: there is potential for abuse if people don't have any tenancy agreement documents." You are worryingly wide of the mark.

Rent disputes have nothing whatsoever to do with squatting. A person doesnt become a squatter if they owe rent. A squatter is a person who enters a property without knowledge or permission of the other party.

Also having no written tenancy agreement has little effect on a person's security of tenure. The only time that a written contract is required in law is when the letting is for more than 3 years, then the law of Property act 1925 kicks in. Such lettings are very unusual. If you pay rent, for a clearly identified term (ie monthly) and you have exclusive occupation of a premises (ie the landlord doesnt live in the premises with you and you have self contained accommodation) then you will be a tenant.

Then it is merely a matter of what type of tenant you are which is dependent on your landlord's status (ie council or private) and the date that you moved in on.

I do agree with you though about good practice building your reputation

space cadet said...

Out of interest Ben, where do you stand on that, if your landlord has been asking for (and you have been making) rent payments in cash, all along? You would struggle to prove them, no? And if the landlord wants to be difficult here, and deny ever receiving them?

Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

Yeah its a double edged sword. Dodgy landlords want to stay off the tax radar and so often refuse to receipt for payments but if they try to accuse a tenant of owing rent they need to prove it to the court's satisfaction, so they have effectively shot themselves in the foot.

When I get complaints of harassment or threatened illegal eviction I have learned down the years not to fight fire with fire and start threatening back. I simply ask, as nice as pie, for their UTR number "Unique Tax reference") "Coz your paying tax on the rental income yeah?". It's what I call one of my "Attitude adjusters"

space cadet said...

I like it:)

I was meaning though ... and I wonder if Ed meant the same.. : what if the landlord tries to accuse the tenant of squatting?

If and when the tenant (who has always paid in cash) might withold rent, in lieu of an ongoing dispute. The landlord might get nasty about it, and propose that this tenant has been squatting in their property all along?

If, as Ed says, there are no tenancy documents, but crucially no proof of rent to speak of either.

Could it happen?

Ben Reeve-Lewis said...

Oh right. Yeah it could and does happen sometimes.

The problem gets compounded when police are called because they tend to believe whatever the landlord tells them on the basis of (to slightly twist Karl Marx's dictum) "All property is theft.....unless it's mine".

Now that squatting is a double criminal offence, meaning squatting is really, really bad, we expect quite a few cases where people are arrested when they arent actually squatters. It's only a matter of time.

Police often hold the society wide myth that if a tenant doesnt move out when the notice expires or stops paying their rent, that they turn into squatters. Having said that I know my lot, the Met, got substantial training on the new squatting law so maybe it wont be as a big a problem as peple like me have been prediciting

Anonymous said...

Hello Rentergirl,
If the property your friend was renting was a new build flat then it would (should) have been insured by the freehold management company not by the landlord.
If you're saying freehold management companies sometimes don't insure flats them I'm in full agreement.

Freehold management companies- now there is something else deserving of your ire.

Regards, HBWelcome.

RenterGirl said...

Not sure how 'new' it was. And Ed - of course she left the heating on - she isn't daft, but still ended up being blamed. And the suatters issue: it's to going to arise isn't it? Landlords accusing tenants of squatting. I am banging my head on the desk soon after writing this.

Anonymous said...

Not sure how 'new' it was.

Sorry Rentergirl for being unclear, the 'new build' part was just confusing the issue.

The point is, it is a flat, and nearly all flats in E & W are leasehold. Therefore an individual landlord cannot insure his own individual flat- unless he owns the entire block (or runs the management company for it). It has to be set up as block insurance for the entire building.

So it seems odd the landlord/letting agent didn't want to claim on the block insurance, unless the mangement company didn't have any. It is not uncommon for freeholders/management co's to charge leaseholders for insurance and simply pocket the premiums. Leaseholders can demand to see the policy but even then, cut 'n' paste policies are produced. The only surefire way is to check with the insurance co.

Irrespective of if your friend's bad landlord had disappeared/gone bust/repossessed, if a policy was in place, a claim could have been made.

There are probably more shenanigans to it than on face value.

Regards, HBWelcome.

RenterGirl said...

I mean insurance for the internal damage in the flat's fittings (and some fixtures.) Not the structure.

Anonymous said...

Hello Rentergirl,

Fixtures and fittings would come under buildings insurance.

So just on the failure to insure aspect the landlord is relatively blameless (although it would have been prudent to double check).

Any blame for your sorry tale rests with the rogue freeholder/property manager if the building wasn't insured,

or unfortunately, with an irresposible tenant if the contents were not insured.

Regards, HBWelcome.

RenterGirl said...

It isn't up to tenants to insure their landlords furniture. Which is what was claimed here. If they choose not to isnure their own possessions - that is their choice. Final comment on this.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
RenterGirl said...

Hey Anon above: I deleted your comment as you included all your details, which would invite trouble! I will reply to an email. Your situation sounds awful. And yes, there might be steps you can take. Take care of yourself and good luck!