Friday 28 June 2013
Jersey landlord and Tenant disputes-----Sledgehammer to crack nuts?
Since the early 1960’s Jersey has had a steady flow of immigrants from the UK and from further afield but the lack of legislation allowed for exploitation, sub standard and expensive property and dubious practices adopted by landlords. However over the course of time the lot of the immigrant has improved and it anticipated that the soon to be repealed Jersey Housing Law is intended to be fairer and more equitable.
The Control of Housing and Work (Jersey) Law 2012 is essentially new immigration legislation and it merges the existing Housing and Regulation of Undertakings Laws. Although the Law is about to come into force there are no significant changes to the principles behind the current laws.
It can not be denied that there are good and bad tenants and landlords but hopefully the bad are very much in the minority. However if there are disputes between landlords and tenants there must be a more user friendly system to adjudicate than at present.
One of the most common complaints is in relation to deposits given to landlords as surety prior to tenants taking up occupancy. The sum is arbitrary and at the Landlord’s discretion but is often levelled at one month’s rent. There are a number of reasons why a surety is required but basically it is a form of insurance should anything untoward occur to the property.
Unfortunately the system is open to abuse and some landlords withhold all or part of the deposit for a number of reasons including, if in their opinion, the property is not left clean and tidy. In the first instance the landlord is the sole arbiter and is the judge in their own cause. Whilst it is open for tenants to dispute the land lord’s claim the only remedy is via the Petty Debts Court. Even if a tenant has limited legal expertise the fees required just to get the dispute into Court are in the region of £130, which might not be refunded even if the claim is successful?
During my time as a States Member I often assisted residents with problems and have recently assisted a young immigrant with a rent dispute. Below is the case which I am sure will be familiar to many readers.
A young immigrant paid a month’s rent as surety for a property which turned out to be an ice box and a health hazard. At the time of taking up occupancy the only means of heating was a wood/coal stove in the kitchen which heated the radiators and hot water which was presumed to be working adequately. Items of the previous tenant’s property remained in a small shed outside the property which the land lady said would be removed, but never was.
During the tenant’s occupancy the fire when lit emitted fumes which caused headaches and nausea, the land lady said the matter would be addressed but never did and it was not long before mould appeared on the walls and the house in general became too cold and uncomfortable to live in. After living there for a short time he gave ten days notice to quit which by coincidence would be over the Easter holiday period.
It is understood that the property, which is inherited, is administered by a registered company. However in reality the main decisions are taken by an absentee land lady who appears to be responsible for leasing the property and deciding what surety should be paid and returned.
Although the tenant gave more than the requisite one day’s notice to vacate, it was not convenient for the land lady to be in the Island when the tenant vacated the property so she arranged for an agent to attend. However because of the Easter holidays the agent was unable to attend until two days after the property was vacated. On inspection the agent was of the opinion that although the tenant had paid for the property to be cleaned, it was not to her satisfaction. She was also of the view that the shed was not cleared of rubbish even though it belonged to the former tenant.
The land lady has withheld £250 claiming that she had to pay approximately £140 to have the property cleaned and the rubbish removed. Interestingly she is also deducting 3 days rent and water rates (£110) on the pretext that the property was unfit to rent because of its alleged condition.
The deduction is not only bizarre but totally unreasonable, how can someone claim for something that is not lost? It was not the tenant’s fault that neither the land lady nor the agent was available when he vacated the property. Also no rent was lost because having been advised that the property was a health risk the land lady, after the property was vacated, arranged for the stove to be removed and replaced by a central heating system. Therefore no rent was lost because of the property was unfit due to work being undertaken for the installation.
Although requests have been made to the land lady to meet to discuss the deductions they have been rejected. The young tenant is not the first and will certainly not be the last to suffer at the hands of unreasonable landlords. However because of the fees and hassle involved in going down the court route land lords are sitting pretty.
The new Control of Housing and Work Law will not cover the issue of surety disputes but the Housing Minister has given assurances that a rent deposit scheme will soon be implemented. I understand that it will be similar to that operating in the UK where all deposits are placed with a third party who adjudicates surety disputes.
Whilst such a scheme is welcomed it does appear to be cumbersome and akin to a sledgehammer to crack a nut approach which will involve large numbers of deposits being unnecessarily held with an Ombudsman or third party. I believe a better scheme would be that when ever there is a dispute the land lord would be required to deposit the disputed sum of money with an Ombudsman/third party who would then speedily adjudicate and decide what if any of the surety should be with held or returned.
Unfortunately whatever scheme is to be adopted, it will be too late to help the young immigrant and others who currently find themselves at the mercy of unreasonable land lords.
I know that my Blogs are read world wide and would be grateful to hear from readers how landlord/tenant disputes are resolved and of surety deposit schemes operating in their part of the world.