I am being threatened by solicitor using the housing disrepair protocol?

by Readers Question

15:32 PM, 13th February 2017
About 2 years ago

I am being threatened by solicitor using the housing disrepair protocol?

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I am being threatened by solicitor using the housing disrepair protocol?

I have an issue with a tenant who has lived my property for around 4 years. She has instructed a solicitor who has contacted me quoting the ‘housing disrepair protocol ‘.

The solicitors letter basically says that the property suffers from damp issues, and that the tenant notified me “18 months to 2 years ago by text message”. They are saying that the issues have gone unrepaired, that it has caused issues to her and her sons health, and they are looking for the repairs to be done and for compensation for the tenant.

The solicitor is one of these no-win no-fee types who specialise in housing claims. The claim that I was told 18 months to 2 years ago is a complete lie, the issues were brought to my attention by way of a hand written note passed to a contractor I use who then passed it on to me in November 2016. I confirmed receipt of the letter by text.

The solicitor’s letter is dated in December, so a very short time after the complaints were raised. I have inspected the property and provided a schedule of works, but the solicitor is being very difficult and questioning the competency and qualifications of the builders I prepared the schedule with. They want to send in their own ‘impartial’ surveyor to assess the property (which I have refused at this stage) who of course I would have to pay for if I lost in court.

I have saved on my phone every text message from the tenant from the day she moved in, which proves the initial claim was a lie. I provided copies of these messages to the solicitors. Their response was that ‘in their experience most tenants report the issues by phone’. Can this hold up in court? I never speak to this tenant on the phone, only by text, but surely the very fact they are changing their story after I supplied evidence to dispute their claim should go in my favour?

The texts throughout the tenancy mention various problems, all of which were resolved very quickly, and none mention the damp related issues in the solicitor’s letter. Surely if these issues were apparent 2 years ago they would have been mentioned in text messages with other issues. I am not a rogue landlord, in fact the reason I had builders in in November is because we were finishing installing a £5,000 kitchen! I also have dozens of other receipts for maintenance works for her home.

Does anybody have any experience of this kind of matter? I don’t think the solicitor has even shown the schedule of works to the tenant, which I am planning on questioning in my next response. The solicitors only objective is the compensation so they can get paid, whereas I just want to fix the property.

I have outright refused compensation at this stage as the way I understand the claims process is that they have to prove she notified me ’18 months to 2 years ago’ and that I did nothing about it, but I have proved this claim to be false already by providing text messages which led to them changing their story to a phone call which could never be proved either way.

I was planning for my next reply to suggest they hadn’t shown the tenant the schedule, to ask them to prove that they had and to provide a direct response from the tenant (not them) either authorising the works to go ahead or refusing them. I think the tenant is being badly advised, as after knowing her for many years I think she just wants to have the works done ASAP, not to prolong the issue like the solicitors seem to want to do.

I was going finish the response with something along the lines of “if you wish to take this matter further then please issue legal proceedings” as I feel the back and forth letters can go no further, and the works are still waiting to be done, which as all my replies have shown we are keen and willing to do.

Is this the right thing to do? If this ended up in court I don’t see how I could allow the tenant to remain? The solicitor’s letter claimed the tenancy was miserable because of the property condition which is rubbish, if it was she could have moved out or reported it at any time.

What would be the best/quickest way to evict if it came to it without it being viewed as a revenge eviction?

Thank you for reading and for any advice or help that anyone may be able to give advance!

Cal



Comments

Neil Patterson

15:35 PM, 13th February 2017
About 2 years ago

Hi Cal,

It sounds like bully boy tactics with very little proof.

Where is the documented evidence of this health threatening damp for the last two years?

What actually was the issue and have you seen it?

Cal S

15:46 PM, 13th February 2017
About 2 years ago

There is no evidence. According to the original letter the tenants son (who shes lets live in the basement) has suffered from a lung illness, but living in the basement is the worse thing they could do if this was the case. Also after some research it seems that anybody not named on the tenancy (i.e. children) are not eligible to claim for compensation, so would be irrelevant in any claim anyway.

We inspected the property a couple of weeks ago. There is some damp on one wall, which has been caused by a flood in the cellar a year or so ago, I can only assume the sheer volume of water which was in the cellar has gradually risen. The flood was fixed and the cellar put right at the time, but it is impossible to get rid of water which was behind the walls in the ground etc. The rest of the house seems to suffer from condensation, some of the original radiators are not big enough for the rooms so we have offered to upgrade these to much larger ones as part of the schedule of works, as the house is pretty cold. Another complain is mould in the kitchen, again caused by damp as the kitchen is in an extension which has had a damp proof cause. There is also radiator in the kitchen which we are offering to install. Apart from this there are some other minor issues like a door not closing properly, the timber windows need resealing and treating and some decorating, all of which we are more than willing to do as we have stated, but the solicitor is querying our schedule which was verbally agreed with the tenant.

Thanks

Rob Crawford

16:37 PM, 13th February 2017
About 2 years ago

Hi Cali S, I would suggest that you now seek your own legal advice. A letter from your own solicitor that seeks evidence of the alleged will be interpreted by the tenants solicitor that you are not inclined to simply roll over. Damp is always a difficult problem to manage, condensation is normally a result of poor ventilation by the tenant. In terms of illness actually proving that the damp and resulting mould is the cause would be very difficult to prove. If I was a tenant that suffered from mould - I would wipe it away. I bet your tenant has just nurtured it's cultivation, as such he-she would be partially to blame from any resulting illness.

Cal S

16:41 PM, 13th February 2017
About 2 years ago

Thanks for the advice. I really didn't want to have to pay for a solicitor at this stage due to the high costs involved, I have made it clear in my responses that I have evidence to prove their claim is a lie, and have repeatedly requested any kind of evidence which the tenant may have provided to support it. They have yet to provide anything, and they are legally obliged to disclose anything they have.

Rod Adams

9:33 AM, 14th February 2017
About 2 years ago

If it were me I would write back to solicitor pointing out:
- the tenant has breached the tenancy by having someone not on the tenancy agreement living in the basement;
- this over occupation is leading to condensation and thus damp issues which are damaging the property;
- you are making progress with remedial works to rectify issues with the property;
- you have yet to take a view on whether you will seek to recoup these costs from the tenant
- any further action (including court proceedings) by them are premature;
- you will enter into no further communication with the solicitor and will only respond in writing to the tenant.

And sign it off 'without prejudice'.

Regards,

Rod.

Cal S

9:45 AM, 14th February 2017
About 2 years ago

Thanks this is very helpful, i will wait for their next reply to come through and include the above in my response. Do children need to be included on a AST? She also has a boyfriend living with her who was not on the tenancy

Sue Twyford

10:34 AM, 14th February 2017
About 2 years ago

Hi Cal - I'm not sure about children on the AST (I don't think they can be as they cannot participate in any contract, and none of my tenants with children have been included), but if the boyfriend has moved in then she is in breach of her AST. As Rod said, something to 'prompt' the solicitor with! If there are other available bedrooms in the property, insist that her son uses that and not the basement. Also, do you use a managing agent? If so they should have records/reports of visits and any issues raised, and they should be able to help. Contact the Citizens Advice too. I think you are being too helpful to the solicitor (although I appreciate it is intimidating). Why not pop round to visit your tenant and have a chat with her about why she is proceeding in this way as you indicate you feel she just wants things sorted? You can also check the status of the property (take pictures too). Good luck.

Clint

10:51 AM, 14th February 2017
About 2 years ago

Hi Cal

I tend to agree with Rod Adams and in the worst case scenario it would go to court although I very much doubt this to be the case.

I have attended numerous county court civil cases over the years and have had several solicitors represent tenants (with threatening letters but never actually represented the tenants in court) which generally I believe is just a means of frightening landlords. I think from what you say, you should stand your ground and represent yourself in court if ever it goes that way and detail everything methodically so that you can refer to points when in court. It would also be sensible to highlight clauses in the tenancy agreement if necessary for reference in court.

Solicitors charges are not usually covered for small claims so it is unlikely that you would have to pay the other party's solicitor's costs.

Best of luck.

Denise G

10:54 AM, 14th February 2017
About 2 years ago

Is the basement classified as living accomodation?
Did you advertise it as such?

I ask because we have a property with a basement which has no window, the window opening having been long since bricked up, and with just stairs from the kitchen as the access/escape route.
When we bought the house we were told by the sellers (whose elderly parents were living in the basement at the time!) that the basement was NOT intended to be used as living accomodation and that we should not advertise or use it as such.

Since we purchased it the property in 2007 it has always been let as a 2 bed property with a basement which can be used for useful storage or as a home gym, office etc., but during a Landlord's Inspection Visit some years ago we discovered that the tenants at that time were using the area as a bedroom/living accomodation for one of their sons.
Becasue we believed that we might find ourselves facing repercusions, since we knew what was occuring, should anything untoward occur, we advised them that he must be moved back upstairs immediately - and when at the next visit it became clear they'd not complied they were given notice to leave

Denise G

11:01 AM, 14th February 2017
About 2 years ago

Apologies all - I edited out spelling mistakes and poor grammar etc above well within my permitted 5 minutes - but despite 'working at it' for ages it seems it didn't save

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