LLike many renters, my roommates and I have had bad experiences with our landlord. We lived with damp and mold for months, endured his reluctance to make basic repairs and got screwed when it came time for him to return our deposit. Unlike most renters, we took our landlord to court – and won £15,000.
In November 2020, as we were settling into a winter lockdown, our landlord told my roommates and I that we had to leave as he wanted to sell the property. Next thing we knew we were spending hours in our coats and hats in the garden watching people gaze at our house through the living room windows like sad animals in a depressing tenant zoo. “These are the current tenants,” the real estate agent used to say as we bared our teeth in front of a line of young, clean-faced, professional couples.
Our landlord seemed convinced that my roommates and I were in a mutually beneficial relationship with him; Even after the sale of the house in which we lived inconveniently, he continued to regard us as a trusting partnership. Built on trust so much that when we asked him where he left our deposit he was downright offended. Friends don’t ask themselves such questions, seemed to be his attitude. We only asked about it because he had deducted about £700 from our deposit for the wrong reasons.
Not surprisingly, he hadn’t protected the deposit, which is a legal obligation for landlords. He also hadn’t licensed our house as an HMO (multi-use house). We then initiated proceedings against him with the help of the tenant rights organization Justice for Tenants.
There are three recognized deposit guarantee schemes in England that you can contact to check whether your deposit has been registered or not. If a landlord hasn’t protected your money, they’ll have to pay up to three times the deposit back to their tenants.
The HMO license is another legal requirement for properties with multiple tenants (e.g. if you are renting to a group of friends rather than a single family). In order to obtain an HMO license, landlords must register with the relevant local authority and demonstrate that they have passed a series of checks relating to gas and fire safety, among other things.
Licensing requirements vary by local authority, but are available on your municipality’s website. You can find out if your property is HMO licensed by contacting your local authority; a breach of the official regulations will be punished with significant penalties. Research from 2019 estimated that up to 130,000 properties in London were not HMO-licensed; You won’t be surprised to learn that ours was among them.
The uncomplicated nature of the law means that procedures such as the tenants’ court initiated for us are similarly uncomplicated. The group operates without a profit and without fees, so we didn’t have to pay any legal fees upfront – only a part of the final award was paid.
As a member of a tenants’ association and having dealt with housing law a lot in my professional life, I was quite optimistic about the risk of loss, which I knew was extremely low based on the information and legal support we had. Landlords rely on people not knowing their rights and not initiating such procedures, rather than on the legal basis of their actions themselves. It’s ultimately a numbers game; The number of people who will dispute landlord wrongdoing will be fairly small, and likely low enough that they feel they can get away with it.
For the process, we provided various documents related to our tenancy along with testimonies, and Justice for Tenants handled the rest of the legal paperwork. Other organizations such as Flat Justice, Acorn or your local tenants’ union can also help you with representation and advice if you think your landlord has failed to meet their obligations.
In cases like ours, it’s helpful to keep a record of a landlord’s bad behavior—unrepaired appliances, dampness, mold, unannounced inspections, and so on—since these things, while not in themselves punishable by law, substantiate the case by notice Strengthen The landlord failed to meet his responsibilities in a broader sense.
Some time after we filed everything, we got a court date for the hearing. If our case had happened a year earlier, it would have been open and closed; If you don’t license your property, you’ll have to pay your tenants a year’s rent back. Unfortunately, from the tenants’ perspective, new case law in October 2021 — Williams v. Parmar, for right-wingers — set a precedent that encouraged judges to consider the landlord’s position and award appropriate monetary compensation. Because much of this legislation is designed to deter, your landlord is more likely to face harsher penalties if they own multiple properties, or are sometimes referred to as a “professional landlord” (although owning assets isn’t a job).
On the advice of Justice for Tenants, we agreed before the hearing on £2,350 each, with the charity paying a similar share.
The rental experience probably feels unfair and exploitative more than anything else. Mortgage repayments are generally lower than rents, while the private rental sector has grown exponentially over the millennium, with little corresponding growth in regulation.
Despite positive statements from the government in recent months, England does not have a national landlord register and London has been an unusually difficult market for renters since restrictions were lifted. The refreshingly simple legal reality of the rent repayment order represents one small way of leveling out this highly unequal playing field.
I don’t consider myself a particularly greedy person, but I can attest that if the money won is sweeter than the money earned, the money won from your landlord is the sweetest of them all.