Friday 28 June 2013

Jersey landlord and Tenant disputes-----Sledgehammer to crack nuts?

The States has recently debated changes to Jersey’s Housing Law which will shortly come into force and will bring about a number of changes but will still be discriminatory because the 10 year housing qualifying rule will remain. At present although one is able to live in Jersey one cannot rent or buy in the qualified sector unless one has resided in Jersey for 10 years, or is a multi millionaire (who agrees to pay a minimun amount of tax) or is considered to be essentially employed. Life for newcomers can be difficult because they can only occupy property in what is known as the unqualified sector which does not afford the same housing rights as in the qualified sector.

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 However over the course of time the lot of the immigrant has improved and it anticipated that the soon to be repealed Jersey Housing Law is intended to be fairer and more equitable.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.


Monday 17 June 2013

Jersey's Dean--------Meaningless Apologies

Later today John Gladwin will be setting foot on Jersey soil to interview the Dean and other persons in his attempt to unravel what has now become a tangled mess where the shepherds are more concerned with protecting their corner than their flock. The Visit has come about following a review undertaken by Jan Korris who reported that there were serious failings in safeguarding the vulnerable in Jersey and in particular a lady named as HG.

The people concerned are the Dean of Jersey, the former Bishop and Jane Fisher the Diocesan’s Safeguarding Officer. Public apologies have been given to HG by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the present Dean of Winchester Tim Dakin and more recently the Dean following his reinstatement. However it now unclear whether the apologies are genuine or just a flag waving exercise?  

Way back in March the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby said:” The Bishop of Winchester's swift, decisive and wholly necessary actions following his receipt of this report are to be commended. I too wish to add my own personal apologies to the young woman who was so badly let down by those she had turned to for help and I wholeheartedly support the investigation that the Bishop has launched. He must receive full cooperation from all involved. 

Following the Dean’s reinstatement in April he said: “I regret mistakes that I made in the safeguarding processes and I understand that, upon reflection, it would have been more helpful if I had co-operated more fully with the Korris Review. I now add my own apology to that of the Bishop of Winchester and Archbishop of Canterbury to the vulnerable person at the heart of this matter.”

I have always maintained that unless the apologies are given personally they are meaningless. However it is now highly questionable whether they were apologies at all and my reasons are as follows.

Although John Gladwin will begin his investigation in Jersey today, last Tuesday in London I accompanied HG to a meeting with him and fellow Panel member Christine Daly. Prior to the meeting I had written to the Archbishop via his personal assistant Christopher Smith stating that as HG would be in London it would be an ideal opportunity for the Archbishop, if free to personally apologise to her and also offer some tangible support now that the Church of England had made her destitute. Regretfully my email was neither acted upon nor even acknowledged.

Yesterday morning on the BBC Radio Jersey Chris Stone programme in his interview with the Dean, Chris said that as he had issued a public apology to HG along with the Archbishop and Bishop Dean why had he not apologised personally and what steps had he taken to do so?  (please see comment below)

It was clearly an uncomfortable question which caused the Dean to think carefully for an answer. In summary he said that the public statement was a result of several drafts and the apology was for administrative mistakes. He had not been asked nor had it been suggested and indeed he did not know if in doing so it would be most helpful to apologise to HG. He and the Bishops would have to think most carefully when all the facts had emerged and the clouds in the sky had been removed.

So it would appear that apologies offered by the most senior leaders of the Church of England have to be carefully drafted, no doubt by PR companies which are only intended to be favourable media sound bites and nothing else. In my book that is dishonest, disingenuous and most unbecoming of anyone let alone church leaders who are supposed to be God's representatives.

In his "apology" the Archbishop said that HG was so badly let down, that is very much an understatement. Last Tuesday before John Gladwin and Christine Daly HG was able to give an account of how she was not only a victim of abuse by a Church Warden but also a victim of abuse of process by those charged with handling her complaint. As if that was not bad enough her arrest, detention and deportation would not have occurred had the Dean and former Bishop called on the plethora of specialist in social care to assist them rather than sign the relevant police documents which conveniently removed her out of Jersey to become destitute in the UK.

I am sure that John Gladwin, Christine Daly and Archdeacon Norman Russell will make good use of their first visit to Jersey. Not only will they have to untangled the mess but also learn of the “Jersey Way” which protects the guilty and marginalises those who like HG are brave enough to put their head above the parapet.

I am grateful to BBC Radio Jersey for providing the link to the Dean's interview and complement Chris Stone on manner in which he conducted the interview.

Please press HERE for the interview.