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 However over the course of time the lot of the immigrant has improved and it anticipated that the soon to be repealed Jersey Housing Law is intended to be fairer and more equitable.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



  1. Thank you for this blog, Bob, I had some bad experiences of non-quals accommodation in Jersey, and that made my whole situation more difficult. It is time someone spoke up. HG

  2. You should name and shame the landlady because withholding deposits has been a recognized racket in Jersey for years and these people need to be named so potential tenants will know who to steer clear of.

  3. Distinguishing between immigration and....CONTROL

  4. Hi Bob, good topic we were caretakers for a non qualfied lodging house, our Landlord was a nightmare who did not like spending money and did everything on the cheap, I used to have to keep my clothes in seeled plastic boxes as the mould was so bad, we also had no toilet for nearly 2 weeks and had to use a public toilet down the road because of the plumber he employed didnt come out and sort out replacing our toilet despite phoning numerous times, this is just a snipet of what we went through. People in non qualified accomadation get a raw deal, we used to deal with housing inspectors a lot I believe they should do random checks and not give landlords notice of inspection, this would keep them on their toes, as our landlord only seemed to do anything prior to inspection

    1. I am afraid that there are some unreasonable landlords and some really greedy ones as seen in my blog.

  5. Jersey will feature in the Sunday Express newspaper tomorrow. Be sure to buy a copy.

  6. Jersey will feature in the Sunday Express tomorrow.

    Any clues as to the topic?

    1. No, but I expect it will be in line with its report of two weeks ago and was covered in Rico's blog.

  7. On institutionalised corruption; can someone do a 'link' for this please :

    "AS another storm swirled around Scotland Yard last week, sucking in officers over alleged secret smear operations against Stephen Lawrence’s family, three MPs boarded a plane for the Channel Island haven of Jersey."

    Continues into a good article but is quite short and limited and does not even mention the constructive dismissal of good Police Chief Graham Power and his replacement with a plastic pet-copper on a leash.

    There is a comments section for the Sunday Express story if people wish to register on the site. It might be worth submitting links to some of the good blog postings from the past that will fill in some of the blanks that the article did not have time for.

  8. Bob.

    More of what you won't be learning about from the local State Media and why Bloggers remain the number 1 trusted news source on the island. HERE

  9. Page 2 of the "filthy rag" last night (but not online yet ..... Big Ian? .... please)
    Deputy Pitman using Parliamentary Privilege to ask written question about the secret cost to taxpayers of secret civil case (Super Dysfunction?) brought by our esteemed government, on behalf of third parties, against a certain Ex-health Minister. [I paraphrase]

    It is presumably only because of the current mainland press interest in corruption in Jersey that an elected politician has been 'allowed' to successfully table this question - until ILM changes the law to gag even our politicians ....


  10. I think there is a combination of reasons as to why the question is being asked.

    I believe it is a matter of a public interest, that being so the Bailiff would have difficulty in rejecting the question. Deputy Trevor Pitman is to be complimented for lodging it. Although it is apparent that the main stream media do not consider the matter to be of public interest, that view is not shared by some Blog editors who have already put the matter in the public domain. I look forward to the answer.

    1. The question and answer has now been published at today's States Sitting. A nice side step by the AG who says "From the information provided he is unable to answer the question." I looks as though the question will have to be asked again but in a more simplistic form.


      Now that the Court process against former Senator Syvret has concluded; will H.M. Attorney General clarify what has been the total cost thus far, whether public funding was made available equally to all four individuals involved, were they also required to utilise their own funds and was
      Mr. Syvret given “equality of financial arms”?

      From the information provided, the Attorney General does not believe that the matter referred to in the question is a case in which the Law Officers’ Department has had any involvement and the Attorney General is not from information held in the Law Officers’ Department in a position to provide the information which is sought.

  11. Perhaps the question and answer along with previous attempts at discovering costs to the public, could be submit to the Justice Select Committee.

    Perhaps they will come up with the answer.

    1. At least we now know that the Atlantic Hotel meal cost the Tax Payer £1084.75p.

      Rumour has it that the tip was 75p.

    2. Over £1000 on us poor taxpayers?? Good grief! I feel slightly sick!

    3. A 75p tip? You're joking aren't you!!!

      Our lot are so mean they asked for the 25p discount..!!!


  12. The attempt by Jersey authorities to seize Curtis Warren's assets continued in the Royal Court this week but there were no accredited press present so far as I know.
    Strange bearing in mind that the area around the Magistrate's Court (where the hearings took place again) was mobbed with police with dogs and guns and strict searching of people entering the building. Who do they think they are dealing with - Superman?
    It transpires that his defence will be making an appeal in the Royal Court this month against the injunction imposed in connection with alleged juror nobbling at the original Jersey criminal proceedings - so that will no doubt reveal some more details of this extraordinary case.
    During the current hearing all sorts of ancient and modern "conspiracies" have been discussed and witnesses will be brought to Jersey from important cases held in the 1990s.
    It promises to be a mammoth event with lots of international attention when the full hearings take place in the Autumn. Are Jersey's and the UK's authorities sure that they want these skeletons let out of the cupboard? And, who will foot the enormous bill if the Curtis piggy bank proves to be empty as he claims?

    1. Thanks Tom,

      You have made some good points. There has always been a nasty smell about the whole affair and unfortunately most of is coming from the Prosecution. It would be interesting to know whether a cost analysis has been carried out.

    2. For what it's worth, I've always assumed that the police presence is less to do with Mr Warren escaping or being sprung from custody, and more to do with deterring a gangland settling of scores on the streets of St Helier. Let's face it, he hasn't spent the last thirty years baking scones with the women's institute, has he? A major criminal is likely to have serious enemies, or some serious people don't want him to talk.

      To that end, I imagine that intelligence exists to justify the police presence. It's nothing to do with him being "superman" and more to do with ensuring that a nearby toddler in a pushchair doesn't get accidentally shot in a gangland execution. That's my perspective on it anyway and, as such, the security is totally justified. People would be screaming blue murder if the police failed to provide adequate security. In a holiday island with a rep for safety, it's probably best not to advertise the risk. In my view the low key but proportionate show of force is spot on, and the police should be praised for it. No connection with the police btw, other than knowing a few good honest coppers.

  13. Bob,

    I believe the relevant legislation in the UK is the Landlords and Tenants Act, but although I have previously raised Part II (Commercial Rents) with the legislation committee if that still exists and Pat Ryan's Corp Affairs panel, there is no will for the landlords in the States to limit their earnings potential.

    1. The matter is a long standing one.

      I recall trying to bring legislation way back in the 1990's. Corrie Stein set up a working party in 2002 which came to nothing. Geoff Southern lodged a proposition in 2008 to introduce legislation but was defeated on the grounds that the Housing Minister was bringing forward his own legislation. We have had a couple of new Ministers since then but the matter has still not been resolved.

      It does appear that vested interests always wins the day in Jersey politics.

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  16. Can I ask the opinion of people here? I'm a landlord of qualified property only. I maintain that I will not lease a property to anyone if I wasn't willing to live in it myself which means it has to be in immaculate condition, carpets cleaned and freshly decorated throughout before the new lessee takes it. The lease states that the property should be maintained and kept in a decorative state throughout the length of the lease and should be handed back in the same condition on termination. If the property has clearly not been decorated and there are marks on the walls, damage to the wooden doors, door frames, windowsills etc am I within my rights to have this done by a qualified decorator and upon providing evidence of the invoices withhold how ever much of the deposit is required to cover the costs? Thanks in advance.

  17. Your comments reminds me of my policing days and dealing with landlord and tenant disputes.

    I think you might be interested to know that P111/2014 which is a proposition relating to Rental Deposits is due to be debated at this States Sitting, which has a long agenda. However when approved it will go a long way to solving problems like yours.

    If approved, you will be able to take your case to the Arbiter who will adjudicate. In your current situation you may well find that the finding would be in your favour.

    Depending on my work load, I'm minded to publish a blog on the proposition in the near future.

  18. Thanks Bob, appreciate your response as I have just received an email threatening legal action due to the exact scenario I pointed out above.