Thanks to the fact that more and more people in the UK are choosing to rent, going back to a trend from several decades previously, there has been a lot of focus on the laws surrounding tenancy. This has included the rights of both the tenants and the landlords, with both parties regularly being hit by new issues regarding the legalities of their tenancy. The trend has resulted thanks to the recent economic downturn, with credit to buy a home less affordable than before, and lower wages making it more difficult for first time buyers to get onto the property ladder at all. For this reason, renting is the only viable option for many people. The grey areas of tenancy are a worry for many people – no more so than two tenants in Fulham, who were evicted from their homes unexpectedly after being. After a long battle, the landlady in question has now been found to have been acting in an illegal manner that was not covered by the terms of the tenancy agreement, and as such has been sentenced to six months in jail suspended for a period of two years.
At the beginning of the tenancy, landlady Kathryn Dow, who is aged 56 and owns the Fulham property at the centre of the drama, promised to allow the tenants to stay on the top floor of the house, which is split into several different residencies. However, the events that followed resulted in her packing up all of their belongings and paying to have them put into storage, and changing the locks on the property – which meant that the tenants had nowhere to go.
Her actions have proved to be costly to her, however, with estimates stating that she has spent the best part of £25,000 on the overall costs of her fines and legal fees resulting from the dispute that was taken against her by both the two tenants and the local council of the area in which her property is situated. Not only this, but Dow now has a criminal record, which is almost certain to affect her life in the future, and will hamper any attempts at applying for jobs or getting finance.
The wronged tenants decided to take legal action against Dow, and this proved to be a great decision for them – as at the end of their legal battle they were awarded an amount totalling almost £14,000, which was to cover the cost of the deposits that they had lost, any interest, and also the cost of the legal process itself. In addition to the costs paid to the tenants, Dow was also asked to pay the Hammersmith & Fulham council a number of fines that added up to almost £11,000.
It was heard in court during the trial that the two tenants had entered into their agreement at the beginning of 2013, and had paid a sizeable deposit to the landlady under the assumption that they would be allowed to remain in the property for a period of 19 months, and that the deposit would be returned to them – providing that there was no damage to the building – at the end of their tenancy.
Almost a year and a half after moving into the property, the pair noticed a smell in their home, which they thought might have been due to an animal under the floorboards that had died, and therefore needed to be removed. They complained that the smell in their rented home was overwhelming, and stated that they were unable to live with it, also considering the fact that it was most likely a health and safety risk, too.
The landlady, however, was unresponsive with regards to the problem, and made no attempt to resolve it. Not only this, but she was reluctant to move an item of furniture from the hallway of the property, which the tenants were concerned could prove to be a fire hazard.
In an attempt to try and resolve the issue outside of the courts, the tenants involved Hammersmith & Fulham council, who sent officers to the property on several occasions. It was agreed that the situation was unacceptable and that Dow should make steps to resolve it, however she was not persuaded, and never bothered to make any kind of attempts to deal with the problems brought to her attention by the tenants.
In the September, the tenants arrived at their home to find that their rooms had been cleared of all of their belongings, and that they could no longer access the property, as the locks had been changed. The belongings had been placed into storage without the consent of the tenants, leaving them with nothing and nowhere to go.
Although Dow claimed that she was innocent of evicting the tenants with no legal right to do so, the courts failed to decide in her favour, leaving her on the receiving end of not only a significant amount of fines, but also a suspended prison sentence of six months. The sentence will be suspended for two years, meaning that Dow will be forced to behave in accordance with the law – or risk being imprisoned for the full period of her sentence.
A spokesperson for the local council talked about how important it was to the council to ensure that all tenants who are renting within their area are treated with care and respect. The spokesperson stated that the council were determined to protect its tenants, to ensure that they are all treated in a manner that is fair and just.
Cases like this do raise further questions, however, with GMB (the trade union) holding the belief that government regulation is necessary in order to protect all those who were renting. Such regulation would ensure that there were fixed standards on both the renting and the eviction processes, meaning that procedures would need to be followed. This is particularly important when considering the upward trend of renters – dubbed “Generation Rent” – as it should help to ensure that they are protected in the future.