All posts by Emma Matthews

Contesting unfair terms in tenancy agreements

After living  in London for nine years in seven different rented flats, I’ve learnt not to trust the estate agent when they say ‘oh, it’s just our standard contract’. I can’t count the number of times I have been presented with a lengthy contract to sign the day I come into pick up the keys to a new flat. With the estate agent breathing down your neck it’s difficult to read it properly and as you need to sign it in order to get the keys it makes it all the more difficult to contest anything in the contract!

This time around, (flat number seven!), I made sure I got the contract before I went in to into the office to sign it. I had to nag and chase and generally be a bit of a nuisance, but eventually they sent it through. It was a lengthy and very dull read, but I’m very glad I took the time to read it, as there were a number of things that we weren’t happy with!

Tenancy agreements (as well as contracts of any kind) can only add to your statutory rights and not take them away so any unfair terms are not legally binding. With this in mind here are the things we challenged:

3(k) Access and visits
(ii) Without prior notice with or without the Tenant’s consent during the last two months of this tenancy allow access to prospective Tenants or Purchasers surveyors or any such person or contractor as required by the Landlord for the Landlord’s Agent.

Umm, hang on, so this means that a whole host of people could come marching through the flat unannounced. I could be in bed or worse still in the shower! The letting agent agreed that this was a step to far and this clause was changed so they now have to give us the standard 24 hours’ notice before any visits.

3(c) Services

(vi) Not to change the supplier of these services, or the telephone number at the Property, without formal permission from the Landlord or the Landlord’s Agent, such permission not to be unreasonably withheld or delayed. The Tenant will provide the name; address and account number of the supplier to the Landlord or the Landlord’s Agent promptly after any transfer has been made.

(vii) To pay for all charges associated with any change of supplier and the transfer back to the original supplier at the end of or earlier termination of the Tenancy.

This relates to the gas, electricity, telephone line rental and any satellite or cable fees. And for us it just looks like another hassle and stress, for no real reason that I could understand at least! I argued that as we are responsible for paying the bills, then surely we should be free to choose whichever supplier we want and be under no obligation to return to the previous supplier when we moved out. The letting agency agreed and removed this from the contract.

3(f) The Garden
(ii) To cut the grass at regular intervals and keep the borders and paths of the Property weeded.

When we looked round the flat I didn’t remember seeing a lawnmower and I didn’t fancy cutting it with the kitchen scissors, so I raised this with the letting agency. They confirmed that there is no lawnmower at the flat and the landlord didn’t intend to supply one, but they did agree it did seem unfair for us to have to look after the lawn without the proper tools to do so. They amended this clause, so that if we have a lawnmower we have to look after the grass, but if not we can’t be expected to cut it.

6 (b) Data Protection Act 1998
It is agreed that personal information of both the Landlord and the Tenant will be retained by the Agent and may be used for marketing purposes during the Tenancy; that present and future addresses and other contact details of the parties may be provided to each other, to utility suppliers, the local authority, authorised contractors, any credit agencies, reference agencies, legal advisers, debt collectors, or any other interested third party.

What worried me here was ‘any other interested third party.’ This means that the letting agents could pass my details onto anyone at all. Hello cold calls! The letting agency removed this from the contract after I voiced my concerns.

There were a few other clauses that I argued against, but was surprised to find that there was nothing to protect me as a tenant. There is no legislation on who should keep the interest on a damage deposit, so the letting agency wins there and they will line their pockets with the interest from my deposit. I also asked for a smoke alarm and carbon monoxide detector, but the landlord is under no obligation to provide these, so surprise, surprise we won’t be getting them!

But at least I won’t have to snip the grass with scissors or have the letting agent pop by while I’m in the shower, and for that I am glad I took the time to read the contract through!

Challenging unfair deductions from deposits

We had an amicable relationship with our previous landlord, no Christmas cards or anything, but we always paid our rent on time and he was pretty good at fixing things when they broke. So we were pretty shocked when our letting agency told us that he wanted to take £100 from our deposit for, and I quote, ‘cleaning and other things.’

I had been a little worried about getting the deposit back (I always am!) so I had gone a bit overboard with the cleaning. My husband had to stage an intervention when I started scrubbing the skirting boards with sugar soap. So we were in no doubt the place was clean!

And the ‘other things’, well, we had no idea what they could be!

We were out of pocket as we’d just paid for the damage deposit on our new place and we didn’t want to get into a lengthy dispute, but at the same time it just didn’t seem right to roll over and let him take our money!

I looked into it further on the very handy Tenancy Deposit website. I read there that ‘it is important to remember that the tenant is only obliged to return the property in the same state of cleanliness as at the start of the tenancy, after allowing for fair wear and tear.’ Luckily during our check-in, when the clerk went through the inventory on the day we picked up the keys, I pointed out to him the delightfully thick layer of builders dust covering every surface. He made a note that the flat hadn’t been cleaned properly. So already our case against the deduction was building!

I then told the letting agency we wanted to dispute the cleaning charge and also find out what the ‘other things’ were! When I chased them up for a response they said the landlord had been sending contradictory emails about the ‘other things’ so they hadn’t got to the bottom of it just yet. This filled us with hope and a couple of days later we had an email to say we would be getting out deposit back in full.

Our landlord tried to have the last word by sending a snide message complaining we had lost the keys for the windows, which we had never had in the first place, and moaning that ‘as the landlord you always seem to lose.’ We were just happy that we took him on and won!

Had he not backed down our deposit was protected by the Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme so we could have opened a dispute with them. It’s law that your deposit is protected with one of the schemes. You can check to see who your deposit is protected with on Shelter’s website.

So it goes to show that the landlord doesn’t always have to win and that it’s always worth disputing unfair deductions!