My landlord recently contacted my family members without permission, disclosing personal information about rent arrears. I didn’t have a guarantor so my mum was nothing to do with the tenancy. I fell behind on my rent due to being off sick from work with mental health problems.

When my landlord wrote to my mum, I owed £250 from the previous month. I couldn’t afford the full £750 but at least I had paid most of the rent. It wasn’t like I had paid nothing. My landlord is awful. I’d been living with damp and a broken kitchen floor for over six months of broken promises of repairs.

They’re a passive-aggressive bully. They used to park their car round the corner and wait for me to go out and put notes through the door. Are they allowed to do this? Is there any recourse for me?

I’m sorry to hear you’ve been having a tough time with your mental health. I hope you have good people around you. It is absolutely not OK that you have seen your landlord parking around the corner, waiting for you to go to work and then approaching the property once you leave. If, for any reason, you feel unsafe or threatened, I’d strongly suggest making a formal complaint to your lettings agency, local council or, even the police.

For one, sneaking around and monitoring your movements could be harassment. You say your landlord isn’t carrying out vital repair work, so your local council could help you to enforce your rights. Some councils have a tenancy relations service which can intervene in landlord/tenant disputes and environmental health departments which can make sure repairs get done.

Now, down to the nitty-gritty re: your landlord, quite literally, calling your mum on you. What is your landlord actually allowed to do and what rights do you have?

There’s this thing called GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation). You’ve probably heard of it because it’s the reason you’ve been asked to confirm whether or not you want to receive the zillions of spam emails you receive from, well, pretty much any company you’ve ever bought something from.

Far from being the pain in the arse you might think it is, GDPR is actually a strict set of rules which has been brought in to protect your personal information AKA you. Landlords are subject to these rules too and, if they breach them, you can take action.

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Under GDPR, there are very limited circumstances under which your landlord could contact a third party (e.g. your family members). One would be if your contract states that they can. Another would be if you’ve given them explicit permission to do so.

So, as your mum is not your guarantor (unless she’s named on your tenancy as a joint tenant), and you haven’t had a serious and genuine emergency and she is listed as your next of kin or has power of attorney over your affairs, then no, your landlord should not have contacted her.

Sadly, there’s no legal way to compel your landlord to get therapy and learn about the importance of having boundaries. But Shelter tells me there are things you can do: “You can write to your landlord to ask them to explain what lawful basis they had for contacting your mum, and why your mum needed to receive correspondence about your tenancy. Your landlord then has one month to respond with their justification. You can access a template letter to do this on the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) website. The ICO is an organisation which makes sure GDPR is complied with.”

If you want to consider this, you can read more and start the complaints process on this page.

I’m having a nightmare getting my deposit returned to me.

When I first moved to London as a graduate in 2018, I ended up renting through a completely unscrupulous company in desperation. They pressured me into paying a £500 holding deposit on a property I hadn’t viewed, which turned out to have severe maintenance problems that they refused to fix.

I survived the year and moved out a year later. I was advised that it would take two to five weeks to process the deposit refund – which I duly waited. It was protected with the Deposit Protection Scheme (DPS), under an insured scheme.

I received an email from the agency a month later informing me that my full deposit of £801.66 would be refunded to me, minus an £85 checkout fee (which I had agreed to in my contract, so I accepted this). They said it would take 10 working days to process the payment of £716.66 (which would bring us to the 6th of November 2019).

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It’s now 2020. I still have not received back my deposit, despite tens of emails and calls to the agency. They simply do not reply to my emails, or when I call they say no one is available to help me. I just want my money back, but I don’t know what options are available to me as the money was in an insurance (rather than custodial) scheme.

Your story is, I’m afraid, a familiar tale of our times involving all of the usual characters: a tenant being ripped off, an egregious rogue letting agency plus a faceless and (probably slightly clueless) landlord. And, of course, as ever the protagonist is the one thing that brings us all together as much as it drives us apart: money.

The agency you’re dealing with have been on my radar for a while. (I’ve redacted their name here.) Let’s just say you’re not the first person to complain about them and I’m sorry you’re having to deal with them. Unfortunately, there are landlords and letting agents out there who don’t seem to understand the basic mechanics of how deposits work. They can’t seem to wrap their heads around the fact that it’s not their money, it’s the tenant’s. They merely have custody of it during the tenancy.

You’ve done nothing wrong. Nothing you could have done will change the fact that you are being mugged off, and you couldn’t have stopped it happening. You’re at the sharp end of a broken market where some letting agents still flout the law with impunity.

But, fear not, I bring good news. You have both options and rights.

Legally, landlords have to place your deposit in a protection scheme. This means that your money is traceable and protected. Once you and your landlord agreed on deductions, your money should have been returned to you in 10 days. Because this hasn’t happened, you need to contact the protection scheme and find out what on earth is going on as soon as possible. Ultimately, the buck stops with them.

“Most protection schemes have a procedure tenants can follow when a landlord or agent is being uncooperative,” an advisor at Shelter tells me. “Often this involves either obtaining a statutory declaration – which is a document stating that you believe you’re entitled to your money back, which should be witnessed and signed by someone with some legal status like a solicitor – or you may have to take your landlord or agent to court.”

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Please act quickly. Shelter warns: “It’s possible your deposit is no longer protected. Insurance-based schemes usually only protect a deposit for 3 months after the end of the tenancy – meaning you’re often unable to use the scheme to help get your money back after this time.” If you get stuck, you can also access guidance on getting your deposit back on the DPS website.

Unfortunately, if it turns out that your deposit isn’t protected (let’s hope that doesn’t happen), then court action is likely to be your only option. The process for this would be to make what’s known as a “money claim” – this would take some time and there would be a cost involved. But, if you do need to take this route, you can read more here on the government’s website.

Before you do it, Shelter’s advisor adds, “you should write a ‘Letter Before Action’, which explains what you intend to do and why you intend to do it. This should be sent to the landlord as well as the agent if you’re taking both of them to court”.

Hefty legal-sounding letters are often enough to prompt people to come to their senses and seek a resolution because, let’s face it, nobody actually wants to be taken to court.

Make sure you complain about this agency formally, too. Their practices are legally questionable. I’ve checked and they are not a member of the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA). So, in a nutshell, they’re about as far from legit as it gets and you can make a formal complaint to the Property Ombudsman.

Finally, I just wanted to say something about the £85 check-out fee deduction you face. The Tenant Fees Act came into force last June. This banned such fees going forward. However, because your tenancy started before this date, I’m afraid you do have to pay it. For other readers, it’s worth noting that these fees will be completely outlawed from June 2020 for all tenancies, regardless of when they started. So make sure you’re paying attention to any charges. If they seem dodgy, they probably are.

@Victoria_Spratt





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