Our flat could have caught fire

by Readers Question

11:08 AM, 13th September 2013
About 5 years ago

Our flat could have caught fire

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Our flat could have caught fire

My housemate and I attend Greenwich University in London. We live in a two bedroom flat in Charlton, SE7.

During our winter, Easter & Summer breaks we tend to venture back home for some free food and heating, and thus the flat is left empty for a few weeks at a time.

Just before the end of our summer term (2013) we decided to let our Letting Agent know that the cooker had been turning itself off on numerous occasions (more than 5). The cooker would then not work again (heat up) for another hour or so. After a few pestering calls to ask to get it fixed they finally agreed to get a ‘trusted’ handy man in to see what was the problem. We were living back home for the summer on the date they chose to come and fix the problem and so they said they would give their spare set of keys to this trusted handyman, so he could let himself in and out of the flat. We were OK with this as they assured us he was trusted, and most of our possessions had been taken home for the summer anyway; apart from a TV, saucepans and trays, cutlery and crockery and a few tins of beans.

A few weeks past, and my boyfriend and I were due to stay at the flat for one night before our holiday flight at Heathrow the next day. When we got to the flat all looked OK, apart from a pile up of junk mail and a few interesting looking mud marks on the carpet in the hallway (Just to add; myself and my housemate cleaned the flat thoroughly before we left for the summer, so we could come back to a nice clean flat).

As we set about making cups of tea and seeing what was on TV for the night we noticed how hot the flat was. The kitchen was hotter than it would have been with the heating on full blast in the summer! It was then we realised that the cooker had in actual fact been left ON!

Two of the four rings were on as well as the bottom oven and the grill. I opened up the cooker and there were three trays in the cooker which were disintegrating as we stood there. I immediately turned the whole oven off at the switch on the wall next to the cooker (a simple on/off switch to turn the electrics to the oven off or on). Opening all windows and moving the trays out of the oven we also noticed that the rubber which surrounds the oven doors was melting. The sink was also full of ‘dirt’ and dirty plates and a few mugs surrounded the sink. A panel next to the cooker (part of the kitchen units) had also been taken out but not replaced. There was mud all over the kitchen floor walked in from someone’s shoes.

I immediately got on the phone to our lettings agents ‘emergency number’, I called many times that evening – but had no answer. We tried again in the morning before our flight, but no answer either.

When we returned from holiday (having emailed from holiday-but to have no answer) we called again; no answer.

If that cooker was to cause a fire, who would have got the blame?

When we leave the flat for more than a night we photograph that the cooker is switched ‘off’, so we have physical proof on our side if it were to happen again.

How can we get our letting agent to acknowledge what happened/went wrong/what needs to be done to correct this problem? The cooker occasionally switches off still – and we don’t want this mess to come out of our deposit next summer! Furthermore, we had a big electricity bill and we were not even using the flat. We have paid the bill but we feel this is wrong – can we claim compensation and if so how difficult would it be to prove that the bill was as a direct result of this issue? Flat could have caught fire

Thanks for your advice

Hannah



Comments

Neil Patterson

11:27 AM, 13th September 2013
About 5 years ago

Hi Hannah,

Sounds scary to think what could and did happen in your flat!

First I think you need to find out the facts of what actually happened. Who was in your flat, for how long, what were they doing, were they qualified and what trade bodies do they belong to?

If it was a qualified trades person then the Letting agent should handle rectifying the situation directly to your satisfaction.

If your Agent is still non-communicative then I would inform them you are going straight to the TPO to make a complaint and you are also considering making a police complaint about intruders vandalising your flat.

That should get things moving hopefully.

Mark Alexander

11:55 AM, 13th September 2013
About 5 years ago

Hi Hannah

For the avoidance of any doubt, Neil's reference to the TPO is The Property Ombudsman Service. They can only get involved if your letting agent is a member of theirs.

The advantage of complaining to them is that they can award small amounts of compensation without you having to go through an expensive legal process. They also base their decisions on probability as opposed to hard evidence only as per the Court process.

If you have a look at one of their letter heads you should be able to see which, if any professional bodies they belong to. If not, look on their website and worst case scenario make a call to their offices, without saying who you are, asking which professional bodies they belong to.

When you get this information please let us know by posting a comment here as that might help us to offer more advice.

As Neil has suggested, finding out who the trades person was and which professional bodies he belongs to might also help us to offer more advice. That might be difficult if your letting agent is ignoring you though.

Whatever you do, make sure you keep paying your rent though, otherwise things could get very nasty for you very quickly probably the last thing you will want to be doing is finding somewhere else to live and bad references when you are part way through your academic year.

It's quite clear to me that you gave permission for a tradesman to enter your premises. However, and not wishing to freak you out, but was he the only person who entered your home or was there an unauthorised intruder who caused these issues? Perhaps he didn't close the door properly?

lauren field

13:08 PM, 13th September 2013
About 5 years ago

Hi Hannah

I must say i am very glad you are still here to tell the tale.

Had the worse happened, there would have been an investigation to determine the cause of the fire. Obviously we know that the cooker would have started it. From what you have said it was not your fault, you didn't leave the oven on and cause the problem. There is no point at this stage going in to 'burden of proof' but suffice to say I have no doubt that you would NOT have been held responsible taking into account the chain of evidence and you being away from the flat etc. - Too much to go into.

I presume the cooker was fixed? Anyway, presumably it is now unusable having been melted.

Going to the TPO is great advice as is checking which National bodies the Letting Agents belong to.

However, aside from the fact you need to protect yourself against an unscrupulous Agent who may or may not say it was your fault the cooker was left on, if you haven't already done so I would put your complaint in writing to them detailing the events as you have above making the issues quite clear, stating your concerns and depending on how strongly you feel there is no harm in writing to the governing bodies and/or trading standards at the same time as they will then being their own invesitgations. Plus, If you make the Agent aware you have written to them it might make them sit up and take notice.

You can also report them to your local Trading Standards & the clearer your evidence / details are will greatly assist your case - I will go into more detail if you choose this route. Also, I should point out at this point that whilst it is the landlords responsibility to ensure the tenant is safe & the appliances are safe, depending on all the 'ins and outs' the Trading Standards may very well take the view the Agents are to blame despite it being the Landlords responsibility. If you or anyone else want me to go into more detail regarding this and why let me know and I'll make a separate post.

I do not wish to confuse matters or get into debate over who should be prosecuted unless people are interested as that is not what is important to Hannah & of course of much more interest to a landlord rather than tenants.

Mark is correct upon advising you to contniue to pay your rent.

From here on out I suggest you keep a log of every call you make & a diary of events. I would always advise people to write letters/emails as opposed to calls.

Are you still worried about the cooker catching fire ?

Hannah what would you really like outcome to be? When you know that, than it's easy for me to suggest some steps of action for you.

In answer to your question, yes you can very easily claim back the electric and it is also very easy to determine the excessive usage and you can do so using the small claims court - which can be done as a separate issue from the problems you have with the agent and cooker or you can lump it all together.

Hannah

13:39 PM, 13th September 2013
About 5 years ago

Hi Lauren

The cooker still works and doesn't trip out any more so at least that problem was fixed.

The ideal outcome for us would be:-

1) A letter of apology from the letting agency and their contractor
2) £50 compensation towards our electric bill
3) A refund of our costs of replacing the baking trays
4) For the rubber seal around the oven to be replaced

I doubt I will get any of this though without a fight and I suspect they will try to charge us for the damaged oven seal at the end of our tenancy.

The letting agency (**MODERATED OUT**) have not been good from day one.

When we moved in around this time last year there was a Post It note in one corner of the lounge saying "we are aware that the roof is leaking and the landlord is in dispute with the Council. If you have any problems such as damp in this corner please let us know". There was no mention of the leaking roof before we signed the tenancy agreement!

Sure enough, as soon as it started raining the damp patch appeared. We reported in to the letting agents and on the third attempt we came home one day to find a tin of paint and a paint brush on the doorstep. Another post it note said "please leave the tin and the paintbrush in the shed behind your flats when you are finished with it". We thought GREAT - THANKS!

We didn't want to make too much fuss though as we were scared of being thrown out. I've been following Property118 for a while though now and I'm much more confident about our rights these days. We signed a new tenancy agreement for 10 months last week so we now feel far more secure about kicking up a fuss.

PS - thank you Mark for explaining what TPO is, I wouldn't have had a clue what Neil was referring to otherwise.

PPS - It never crossed our minds to stop paying the rent, our parents would kill us if we did that, they are our guarantors.

Mark Alexander

13:47 PM, 13th September 2013
About 5 years ago

Reply to the comment left by " " at "13/09/2013 - 13:39":

Hi Hannah

Sorry for having to moderate your post and remove the name of the letting agent, this is why >>> http://www.property118.com/what-property118-is-not/

There is, however, a website called All Agents where you can go and leave a rating for them, kind of a Trip Adviser type of website but for Estate Agents and Letting Agents. See >>> http://www.allagents.co.uk/

I am looking forward to reading Lauren's advice. Your desired outcome seems perfectly reasonable to me. If they don't play ball, unleash the hounds of hell on them, figuratively speaking of course! Complaints to Trading Standards, TPO and other professional bodies they may belong to are perfectly justifiable based on what I have read and they clearly deserve it.

Don't worry about them kicking you out, you have done nothing wrong by the sounds of it and so long as you keep paying your rent on time there is nothing they can do to get you out within the next 10 months, by which time your courses will no doubt have ended anyway.
.

Vanessa Warwick

14:39 PM, 13th September 2013
About 5 years ago

Hi Hannah,

This is a really shocking Hannah!

Although it appears that it was an electric cooker that was left on, this story is VERY timely as it is Gas Safety Week all next week.

A handyman should not be dealing with electrical or gas appliances. It is actually illegal for him to do so. All electrical work has to be undertaken by a qualified electrician and all gas work has to be undertaken by a certified Gas Safe Engineer.

I know you were absent from the property for the visit, but in future, make sure you do not let any contractors into your rental property until you have proof of their credentials.

lauren field

15:35 PM, 13th September 2013
About 5 years ago

Hi Hannah

What you have requested is perfectly reasonable and should also address any issues you may come up against at the check out.

But before I go any further Vanessa is completely right in that a simple handyman is not qualified or acceptable. However, we do not know who did actually enter the property and the agency may well have called their qualified technician a handy man so we’ll give them the benefit of the doubt here until we know otherwise. But landlords take heed of Vanessa’s advice and remember due diligence comes into play here.

So Hannah, from your response it seems to me that you do not intend on complaining to any professional bodies and would be satisfied if you got some money back. Is that correct?

If so, then the course of action is quite simple

1). You need to get a letter together and formalise your complaint in detail together with supporting facts and a request for payment. I can assist you further with this if you’d like. I will need a few more details so suggest you email me (as it’s personal information and details I need). (lauren.field@live.co.uk)

2). Depending on their response or lack of response will determine the next step.

I think for the benefit of others and to make the thread easy to follow we take each step at a time, as I do not wish to cause confusion.

If you are happy to send me the details I need, I can get a letter drafted. Once you are happy & assuming you have no objection (we will make sure all personal info is omitted) then you can post a copy of the letter (less personal info) on here for others to see and we can update the thread as it unfolds so others in your situation can use it as a guide if they want. .

Hannah

16:04 PM, 13th September 2013
About 5 years ago

Thanks Lauren for all the helpful advice. I will drop you an email over the weekend. I can’t do it now as I’m out visiting friends.

Hannah

Ron Adams

19:44 PM, 13th September 2013
About 5 years ago

Write asking for compensation with your detailed timeline. Contact your local authority housing officer and explain your problems, invite a visit to examine the damaged trays etc. If you do not receive a reasonable offer from the agent, take action through the small claims court, you will get nothing by doing nothing.

Howard Myers

16:16 PM, 14th September 2013
About 5 years ago

(1) the Regulatory Rfeorm (Fire Safety) Order 2005 requires all businesses to have a suitable and appropriate fire risk assessment (FRA)in all commercial businesses. HMO's do fall into that. In addition, all local authroities that licence HMO's (more than 2 floors) and an FRA should be conducted.
(2) Part of the Housing Act 2004 requirements in HMO's is electrical tests and certificates. All properties let should be in possession of a current Electrical Installations Certificate that is valid for a minimum of 3 years.
(3) All portable electrical appliances should be tested (PAT by a qualified electrician) with an appropriate label attached to each. That includes electrical cooking appliances, fridges, freezers, washing machines, dryers and dishwashers , plus the smaller items.

The onus is fairly and sqaurely on the owner/landlord/managing agent to provide a "duty of care" to ensure the safety of occupants, in the case of a multi-occupied property - the other occupants and, the fire/service crews that may attend any incident.

It is encumbent on the owner/landlord/managing agent to provide these and if not, one or more parties could be prosecuted

Incidentally, the FRA report I use comprises a 25 page report and covers all aspects, is properly formatted and accepted by most fire authorities in the UK.

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