Despite the best intentions of most landlords and tenants, disputes do arise. And whether they're over damages, deposits or more unusual clauses, there are some important things to remember.
Know your rights
Contracts are legally binding documents, but some clauses are unfair and not enforceable. These include:
- Liability for structural damage/repair
- Infringement on your right to live freely within the property (e.g. granting the landlord unlimited access)
- Forbidding of parties etc, with threat of eviction
You also have the right to have your deposit stored safely in an independent deposit protection scheme.
For more details on your rights and obligations, see our guide to renters' rights.
Just because your landlord suspects you've damaged the property, or has failed to keep it up to the standard you expect, doesn't mean s/he is cheating you. If both sides carry negative assumptions and a combative attitude, disputes are likely to be long and bitter.
What's more, if a dispute goes to court your correspondence is admissible as evidence, and an aggressive tone will not help your case. Always argue based on facts and legalities, never accusations and assumptions.
Talk first, challenge later
Disputes are usually resolved without a legal battle. In general, disputes follow a set path, only escalating if your landlord keeps rejecting your stance:
- Raise your concerns directly with your landlord (or property manager)
- Express your concerns in a formal letter
- Use a mediation service (found via the Ministry of Justice, your deposit protection scheme or the Housing Ombudsman)
- Take them to a small claims court
Make use of your documents
Inventories and contracts exist to prevent and resolve disputes, so use the relevant clauses and paragraphs to support your case. It's also advisable to keep copies of any correspondence, and refer back to it where appropriate. Any inconsistencies could help your case at a later stage.
Don't just withhold your rent
Your contract is a legally binding commitment to paying on time every month - if you breach it, your landlord may be able to evict you.
The only exception is when a landlord is in breach of his/her obligation to provide essential repairs. In this instance, follow a set procedure:
- Write to the landlord about the problem, giving a reasonable timeframe to fix it
- If s/he doesn't respond, inform him/her that unless the problem's fixed, you will arrange the repairs yourself
- Get several quotes from reputable contractors and send them to the landlord, giving another reasonable period to arrange the repairs, and reminding him/her that, if the repairs aren't arranged, you will approve them yourself and deduct the cost from your rent
- If a response is unsatisfactory or not forthcoming, arrange the work, and forward the invoice/receipts to your landlord
- Only if your landlord still refuses to pay can you deduct the amount from your rent
You can use our free money management software to ensure that your rent is up to date to this point, that you don't miss a payment from your landlord, and that you keep track of all contractor costs and deduct the correct amount from your rent.
If you need any further advice or support, Citizens Advice and Shelter can help, and deposit schemes like My Deposits offer lots of useful guides to your rights.
Posted by Marc Murphy