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

Cal S

11:47 AM, 14th February 2017
About 2 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Clint " at "14/02/2017 - 10:51":

Thanks, I think the solicitors fees are taken out of the compo, a bit like a car crash claim, but I don't see how they could take this to court with zero evidence.

Cal S

11:51 AM, 14th February 2017
About 2 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Sue Twyford" at "14/02/2017 - 10:34":

We inspected the property to prepare the schedule of works but we did not discuss the solicitors. One of the letters I have had has told me not to contact her, and to go direct through them, so at this stage I am complying. They had to arrange the visit between myself and the tenant. All that I can see happening at the moment is that they are prolonging the start date for the repairs. There are other bedrooms, but I think she has 3 children so they are all full and one has ended up in the basement. I dont use an agent, all reports of any issues have been done by text message over the years and I have copies of all of them.

Thanks

Cal S

11:53 AM, 14th February 2017
About 2 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "D D" at "14/02/2017 - 10:54":

The basement is not classified as living space and was not advertised as such, I have already clarified this with the original letting agent. It was advertised as a 3 bedroom, all of which are upstairs.

Denise G

12:29 PM, 14th February 2017
About 2 years ago

is that not legitimate grounds for eviction then - and one which wouldn't qualify as a revenge eviction?

Rod Adams

12:36 PM, 14th February 2017
About 2 years ago

The solicitors will want all communication to go through them because you are more likely to reach an amicable solution if you deal direct with the tenant. An amicable solution means no fee for them. They have no authority to dictate to you that you should communicate only with them. That is just typical bully boy tactics and should be treated with the contempt it deserves.

I hate these ambulance chasing parasites!

Cheers,

Rod.

Bill Morgan

22:01 PM, 14th February 2017
About 2 years ago

Reply to the comment left by "Neil Patterson" at "13/02/2017 - 15:35":

If it were me I would invite the tenant to get the housing standards officer from the local council to view the property.You could even phone them yourself.If the council feel work is required, they will produce a schedule of works that have to be done by a set date.I have done this many times over the years and often the Council have said there is no case to answer.

If you do this it will shut the tenant up and the Solicitor.

Some tenants complain for no real reason.Normally it's because they decide they would like to move to another property and want a section 21 notice to take to the council so they move up the waiting list.

It would be legitimate to give the tenant a section 21 if you want to upgrade the property or improve it and this is not possible whilst the tenant lives there.

Cal S

11:29 AM, 15th February 2017
About 2 years ago

So ive just had a reply from the solicitor after I said I was considering my own legal action due to them obstructing essential repairs to my property, the letter said they are struggling to a get a reply from their client and will close the case in 7 days if they havent had a response to the schedule of works i sent across, which they should of given to her already! I will wait until the file is closed then contact the tenant directly to arrange the repairs. I didn't want to evict as she is never late with rent, and will never leave the property and we get a good rent, I only mentioned eviction as if this went to court i couldnt see how the tenancy could continue regardless of whether she pays or not, I couldnt have a tenant who takes me to court over problems rather than report them and allow me to deal with them

Gary Dully

8:41 AM, 16th February 2017
About 2 years ago

My son had a similar experience last year.

His tenants solicitors issued their CPR for disrepair and scared him to death.

I attacked this on 2 fronts, after becoming his 'agent'.

1. Had an interview with their solicitor and explained that he was in a low paid job and they would wait years for any fees and furthermore the tenant was to blame for all the damp issues in the first place.

I assume the solicitor lost the will to live at that point, but put on a brave face.

2. Bought a hygrometer on eBay for £6.99, to give to the tenant and a digital hygrometer for myself for £12.99 on eBay.

Went round to the property and took readings of relative humidity and temperature of each room.

The heating wasn't being used, laundry was being dried in the rooms complained about and the relative humidity exceeded 80%, perfect breeding grounds for mould.

Warned the tenant that they were causing all the problems, showed them that double glazing can ventilate and be locked at the same time and told them to get a condensing tumble dryer.

End of story. ( till this winter, when it started again and this time I got very angry with the tenant for being an idiot).

Cal S

9:53 AM, 29th June 2017
About A year ago

So after all these months I have an update on this. The tenants solicitor got a surveyor, who confirmed minimal works needed to be done. He confirmed the mould in the brand new kitchen was caused by condensation, not damp. We agreed to the scott schedule he provided, which was for works estaimted at around £1400. 2 small areas of damp downstairs, a joist which had rotted to be replaced (it was actually wordword, not damp in the joist) and to reseal the timber frames externally. We agreed to this as they were very staright forward to do. The solicitor has now come back with a ‘Part 36’ settlement offer of £4000 + £150 for a cupboard that was apparently damaged and had to be thrown away (there is no evidence this cupboard ever existed). Obviously I totally disagree with this ridiculous sum. Does anyone have any experience of replying to Part 36 offers? The solicort is now reminding me I have 21 days to respond or court proceedings will be issued. I completely dispute the whole claim, and honestly believe the Housing Disprepair Protocol doesn’t apply, as I have responded to all reports of damaged well within what any court would class as a ‘reasonable’ time frame. This whole matter arose because of the mould in the kitchen, which their own surveyor proved was condensation, the other matters were never reported until these solicitors got involved, but I repaired as I would of anyway. Have I shot myself in the foot by accepting their ‘Scott Schedule’? Their Scott Schedule was actually a lot less work than my own schedule suggested, but the works I suggested were not required under Section 11 so I guess were not included.

I was going send a very short reply, and save the pages and pages of evidence/explanations for a court defence:

“As you are fully aware from the evidence supplied, the timeframe from which I responded to your client’s initial report of issues with the property and my attempts to arrange inspection and subsequent repairs were well within what any court would consider as ‘reasonable’. Additionally, since the first report I have made numerous well documented attempts to carry our repairs, all of which have been obstructed by both yourselves and your clients for over 6 months. This has undoubtedly caused further damage to my property.
Therefore, your Part 36 offer is refused in its entirety. I would welcome the opportunity to present the facts in court, where I will be counter-claiming against your client for all associated costs. I would remind you and your client that courts take a very dim view of spurious ‘no-win, no-fee’ claims.”

I put a new kitchen in at a cost of over £5k last year, would it be appropriate to say I will be making a claim towards the cost of this, as the surveyors report confirmed the mould was caused by condensation, and so the replacement of the kitchen was necessary because of tenant actions? Or should this be saved for another day?

Thanks in advance for any advice anyone can give

Cal

Clint

14:25 PM, 29th June 2017
About A year ago

Hi Cal

I had written a comment when you first wrote about the issues you were having. Having read your latest comments, I felt I just had to write about the nightmare experience I am having with a solicitor at the moment where disrepair issues had suddenly arisen.

In around November 2016, I served a section 8 notice on joint tenants who were on Universal Credit as they owed me around 4 months rent and it appeared that they were not going to receive any further aid as they did not fulfil the requirements as they were from an EU country. They were nice people and in fact asked me to serve them the notice as they would otherwise not be housed.

To cut a long story short, at the first hearing, there was a solicitor providing free legal advice at the court and the tenants saw them. This is when the nightmare arose. At the hearing the solicitor represented the tenants and said that the tenants did not receive any deposit documentation and there were disrepair issues. I informed the judge that I was not informed of any disrepair and also that the deposit documentation was all fully served within the 30 day limit and also explained that I was not required to provide evidence of this as this was a section 8 notice and not a section 21 notice. The solicitor stated that in this case it did apply as, there would be a counterclaim where I would have to pay the tenant up to 3 times the deposit as it was not served in which case, the tenant would not be more than 2 months in arrears where the section 8 would no longer be effective. The solicitor also said that the tenants would have to be compensated for all the discomfort that they had to suffer due to the disrepair.

Following the above the judge ordered that I send evidence to the court that the deposit documentation was served and asked the solicitor to prepare a schedule of the disrepair.

I had sent a copy of the deposit documentation which consisted of the deposit certificate, prescribed information and “Information for Tenants” to the court and a copy to the tenants where the evidence was the copy signed by the tenants as having been received on a date well within the 30-day limit. I was not at all worried as I thought the case would now end at the second hearing.

Just before the second hearing, the UC had paid the tenants a lump sum which they paid to me so they were now no longer more than two months in arrears and I was quite happy to continue with the tenancy.
At the second hearing, the solicitors stated that the deposit requirements were still not fulfilled as “the circumstances when all or part of the deposit may be retained by the landlord, by the reference to the terms of the tenancy” was not in the tenancy agreement. The solicitor also stated that they wanted a chartered surveyor to attend the property to write a schedule of the works that had been required to be done in respect of the disrepair. (For those who protect their deposits with MyDeposits, I refer you to (g) (iii) as this may affect you in the future if not fulfilled).

I had visited the property about 2 weeks before the hearing and had asked the tenant about the disrepair and had taken photographs. There were specs of mould around one of the windows and in the bathroom specs on the ceiling and the tenant told me that the windows were drafty.

At the hearing, I told the judge that if I was given the opportunity to carry out the works, as it would take no more than half a day to carry out the works I would do so. I even went so far as to say that the tenant should report it to the environmental health department and I would carry out the works that was required. The judge seemed to know the solicitor well and ruled in favour of the solicitor who insisted that they had a counterclaim for both the deposit and disrepair. I left the court feeling that it was very unfair that I would now have to pay half the costs of the surveyor where I believe the tenants would not have to pay anything as they were on legal aid. I also told the judge that the tenants could stay on and the judge had sent us out to see if we could reach an agreement.

The solicitors stated that in order to settle, I should pay them £2000 for their fees and return the deposit to the tenants and give them one month’s rent in compensation which I obviously refused as, from my point of view I had fulfilled all my obligations.

Further to the above, this case has turned out to be a litigation case where the solicitor and barrister’s costs would have to be paid by me should I lose the case and in the tenant’s case, they get paid if they win or lose from public funds as the tenants are on leak aid. I can see the costs as already having run into thousands.

Just to let you know, this litigation case has caused me to spend totally in continuous hours over 38 hours and the tenant’s solicitors have been very unresponsive although asked what was wrong with the deposit documentation where the tenancy agreement clearly states when the deposit will be held. The judge also stated that all stages both parties must attempt to settle the case by mediation or alternative dispute resolution and although I asked for this several times the solicitor had not responded.

Just to let you know that the property was totally redecorated before the tenancy commenced and in the year the tenants were at the property I spent around £15,000 on new carpets, new boiler, new radiators, kitchen cabinets, service charges, etc. and everything is well documented and evidence available for almost everything however, I believe it is in the interest of the solicitor to keep the case going as long as possible as they get paid whether they win or lose.

I had also verbally been told at the second hearing by their barrister that if I used a solicitor to represent me, it was unlikely that I would be paid anything as the tenants would not have the money to pay such costs.

There is much more to write however, this article is already much longer than anticipated so I will end at this point. I would be interested to know who the solicitors that are acting for your tenant is. You can contact me on 07719302559 if you so wish.

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