I just had the most horrible experience in my history as a private tenant.
We’re moving to a 2-bed flat in central London as Foxy Junior is about to join us in May. We lived in the previous property for 2 years.
The only contract we signed was a 12-month fixed contract with an Option to renew for another year at the price of rent + RPI (similar to inflation). That’s as long as both parties agree to renew on these terms (see clause wording at the end of post).
So we went to hand over the keys to the couple owning the previous flat. The purpose was also to inspect it together since we were renting using OpenRent – a service for renting without an agency in the middle.
After a 2-year period of peaceful renting, the landlady wants to deduct £594 off our £1900 deposit to cover a rent increase that had not taken place, 12 months backdated!
Yes, you read this right 🙂 No, there were no damages to the property. We left it clean & tidy exactly the way we received it.
When the initial 12-month fixed contract ended, we renewed over e-mail but on a one-month rolling basis without discussing any rent. They never mentioned RPI nor applied the 1-year Option to Renew as per the contract. I have posted the actual paragraph of the contract at the end of this post for those interested.
For half an hour I was trying to explain that she should have notified us over e-mail about a rent increase and that we never agreed to any amount. Trying to explain that even in the event that they are right, they would never find tenants that cost £70 in fixes/repairs/new appliances etc in 2 years time.
For example, all flats in the building were accumulating mould due to the building structure. That can cause serious health issues. I kept cleaning ours myself despite having mentioned that we should have this done properly (professionally cleaned, repainted etc). The washing machine was working but needed replacing. Two blinds were not usable etc.
And other things that as a tenant you try to take care of as long as you maintain a good relationship with the landlord and since we only wanted to stay for a few months longer.
Foxy Monkey’s efforts were in vain. Pointless went all the tactics I employed from the books Persuasion and How to Influence People. Pointless were the “I’m so sorry about my wife, I’ve told her she cannot do this” words of the husband in private. (what makes someone not being able to express their opinion in front of their spouse?).
A simple “Whatever… I’m asking for my rent” was all I was getting from her.
Obviously, during this argument, I had no time to research what is right or wrong according to the law. But now I have! And in fact, it’s in plain English on Gov.Uk: Private renting: Your rights and responsibilities. Although having persuasion skills is quite useful, knowing your rights and responsibilities is more valuable. I list the most important points here on both the landlord and tenant sides.
I’m not writing this post to ask for compassion. I have a cat for that. I’m writing it to make people aware of their DOs and DONTs so that this place is a little bit less wicked than what it is today. The below landlord rights and tenants responsibiliteis may seem pretty basic to you. But more often than not, basics matter.
Rent increase: Give notice first
Let’s get this straight. Backdating a 12-month rent increase is illegal. The landlord must give notice before a rent increase, even if the contract lays down a procedure for increasing rent.
If the tenancy agreement lays down a procedure for increasing rent, your landlord must stick to this. Your landlord must give you a minimum of one month’s notice (if you pay rent weekly or monthly). If you have a yearly tenancy, they must give you 6 months’ notice. Source: Gov UK: Rent Increases
Always agree to things in writing and in a formal contract. Having a written e-mail/letter conversation stating the facts is useful as a reference but signing a contract is how things should be.
Always agree in a formal contract
I cannot stress this enough. Always agree in writing! Anything else based on honour and memory skills is very fragile 🙂
Had we signed an updated contract that specifies the price of the rent after the 12-month tenancy, this wouldn’t have happened.
As a landlord, you need to perform certain checks at the beginning as well as annually. The most common one is the gas safety check once a year. That’s one my landlord missed!
You need to do gas, fire and electricity checks. Feel free to read about the landlord’s safety responsibility checks here.
Consider using an agency
I was surprised to recently find out that only 9% of landlords use an agency for letting and management, and 34% just for letting! Obviously had the landlord used an agency this would not have happened. The agency would’ve proactively made all parties agree and, if needed, draft a new contract near the end of the fixed term. Partly because they collect fees on renewals and also because it’s the right thing to do!
An agency will protect the tenant, the landlord and will do what’s necessary to prevent misunderstandings. Although I’m sure we all know estate agencies do not have the best reputation. And as if that’s not enough many
So yeah… using an agency is more expensive but helps to keep landlords and tenants accountable and prevent misunderstandings.
Landlords and Tenants: Be proactive
A BIG mistake I made was trying to be the best tenant possible by DIYing everything. Mould removal, flush fixing, not asking for carpet repairs, new washing machine etc. I was doing the work without complaining that problems exist.
Now DIY is not bad, but at least let the landlord know what they’re getting! Or negotiate a better deal. Take photos. Otherwise you have nothing in return and apparently people can and will take advantage of you.
The best situation is one that’s a win-win between the two parties. The tenant takes care of the property and the landlord takes care of the tenant when needed. It’s not unusual for landlords to avoid increasing the rent just because they have an easy and peaceful time managing the property.
If there is no agency in the middle there is even a stronger need for being clear and explicit about fixes.
I thought that having an occasional coffee and chatting for 2 hours every now and then means we’re in excellent terms. Until the last moment of getting stabbed in the back!
Coffee and chitchat won’t cut it. Contracts and evidence will.
I know that I’m making these arguments mostly from a tenants point of view. But I’m sure there are equally bad tenants from the landlord’s point of view. Tenants not paying rent for months, damaging the property and claiming this is how they found it, leaving unpaid bills behind etc.
Which is why landlords need to be proactive and stay on top of things. Visit the property to check for damages. Also, in my experience, simply checking whether the tenants are ok every now and then will save you lots of arguing down the line. If you want to increase the rent do it proactively and provide reasons (similar properties, expensive repairs etc).
Keep proof when you repair something or professionally clean the flat in the form of receipts. Try to keep the communication in writing – definitely not verbal.
We’re still a long way from having all rental properties managed by behemoth faceless Megacorps. So let’s do our part and be a bit more human in this complicated world of buy-to-let. This is a very complex topic. I’m only scratching the surface here. There are entire books dedicated to “How to be a landlord”.
I still don’t know what will happen to our £1,900 deposit. I’m afraid we’ll find out how the DPS dispute route works quite soon!
Question to you: What has been a valuable lesson to you as a landlord or as a tenant? Share your story in the comments.
The actual clause in the contract about renewing after the initial 12-months:
Option to Renew: If both the parties are in agreement the Tenant having duly observed the conditions obligations and stipulation of his part herein contained shall have the option to continue the Tenancy of the Property for a further term of one year (the Further Term) at a Rent that shall be increased at least by the same percentage as the increase in the Retail Price Index (All Items), as quoted for the month two months prior to the month of renewal, and otherwise on the same terms and conditions contained in this Tenancy Agreement.