Life

Life For Rent: My Landlord Is Trying to Increase My Rent Due to Coronavirus

Plus: a landlord who charged a £2,200 deposit and is only returning £400 from it.
19 March 2020, 12:38pm
LIFE_FOR_RENT_CORONAVIRUS
A housing advice column for all your renting problems from VICE UK columnist Vicky Spratt. Got a burning question? Email lifeforrent@vice.com.

So you know how we're all going to have to work from home and halt the economy and go without pay? And potentially lose our jobs and all sense of society? Well, I’ve just been told that my rent is going up by three percent. Is this a coronavirus rent hike? I am absolutely reeling at the audacity. Help! Do I have aaaany kind of leverage here?

Close your eyes. Take a deep breath. Now open them and take a look around. What’s that? Oh, just a viral pandemic. I’m not usually one for hyperbole, but we are living through an unprecedented moment. Everything has changed and I’m not sure it will ever be the same again.

The coronavirus crisis has reminded us that our society – for all the technological advancements of the last few centuries – is only the sum of our fleshy parts. Far from being invincible, we are still as susceptible to novel illnesses and natural disasters as we ever were.

Human society is a delicate ecosystem. If something happens, there are palpable ripples for others. A person becomes unwell, they cannot work or pay their bills. Demand for a particular product ceases, the supplier goes out of business. A supplier goes out of business, they cannot pay their debts and people lose their jobs. A landlord starts to worry about their financial future, they decide to have a crack at charging their tenants more.

I don’t know your landlord. I don’t know what they’re thinking. This could be a coronavirus rent hike; it could not be. Either way, I think we can agree that now is really not the time. So, reader, in short, the answer to your question is yes, you do have leverage. In fact, you have rather a lot now. Here’s what you need to know:

This week, Secretary of State for Housing Robert Jenrick announced emergency measures for renters because of the coronavirus crisis. He has banned ALL evictions for three months. We’re still waiting on the legislation that will enforce this and I question whether it goes far enough (in fact, it definitely doesn’t) but what it does mean, for now, is that you have a stable platform from which to argue against this rent hike.

Pandemic or no pandemic though, your landlord can't just increase the rent whenever they like or by a random amount. They need to follow certain rules and give you notice in writing if they want you to pay more – but this depends on the type of tenancy you have. So check your contract. Shelter has a great tool for this on their website. If you're on a standard one-year assured shorthold tenancy (AST) and this increase is coming with the renewal, it may all be above board.

The world just changed. Our lives just changed – let’s give that the gravity it warrants. Let’s push for conversations about the welfare state and the return of proper social housing. This crisis has laid bare the creaking and unequal structures that underpin Britain. (Was there ever a better case for Universal Basic Income?) But despite the musings of multiple east London Twitter communists, I don’t think now is the time to wage war on your landlord. The change we so desperately need will come, but let’s focus on what’s right in front of us for a moment.

The best thing you can possibly do is speak to your landlord. I know it sounds obvious, but sometimes it’s worth stating the bleeding obvious. Often, the most sensible solutions are right in front of us.

Ask WHY they're putting the rent up, especially at a time like this. Implore them not to. List all of the reasons why you've been a great tenant, explain how much you love living in the flat, that you're in it for the long haul. If they won't agree to keep your rent the same, try to negotiate a less substantial increase.

Between you and me, no savvy landlord is going to want to lose a good tenant right now. We’re entering into a period of great economic uncertainty. If you can find a way to have a polite conversation, I think you’ll be surprised at what you can achieve.

I moved out of a two-bed in November. My landlord slapped us with a £2,200 deposit upon moving in two years prior and is now only returning £430 of it. I am 22 years old and completely out of my depth here.

I moved in at 19 with a friend from university. We are both very respectful and clean people. We have had moments over the two years where the landlord tried to accuse us for ridiculous things – like accusing my flatmate of breaking a bed by using it to sit on rather than lie in (the bed was basically made out of balsa wood).

There are some damages which I accept, but a large portion seems to just help them refurbish their flat – including a replacement radiator in the bathroom which had rusted over time due to steam (and was not freshly painted or brand new when moving in).

We asked for invoices to check the costs against our own quotes – they have still not sent this to us. They also returned the remaining deposit – without telling me – to my account before giving evidence of the invoices. And while I was still in the process of contacting the DPS.

They have twisted our words quite a bit in the past, so I am wary that anything said to them could be misinterpreted and escalate the whole situation. I fear that because it is now four months since we moved out, there is not much that can be done.

Oh FFS. There I was, trying to be reasonable and philosophical in the answer above and then… this! The good news is that whopping deposits like this are now banned under the Tenant Fees Act which states that a landlord can only charge you a deposit which is equivalent to five weeks’ rent. Sadly, this doesn’t apply to your situation as this only recently happened.

Unfortunately, I have personal experience of your plight. I’m sorry to say that some unscrupulous landlords do see their tenants’ deposits as a bootleg income stream. I was once charged for a slightly rusted tap, a toilet seat that wasn’t even broken and a few tiny scratches on the floor. My fingers still twitch when I think about this – I want to send a self-righteous email condemning my landlord for slyly using MY money to redecorate HIS property.

Don’t do this.

You have done the right thing by asking your landlord for evidence of the deductions, as they should only make ones that they can properly justify. You are also very wise not to want to make things worse and be wary of inflaming the situation.

“It’s entirely reasonable to ask for receipts and invoices to prove any financial loss the landlord has experienced,” Shelter adds. “It’s also reasonable to expect them to provide proof of why you should be held responsible – such as check-in and check-out inventories that show a deterioration in the property’s condition during your tenancy that goes beyond reasonable wear and tear.”

In my experience, many landlords don’t actually understand the concept of “wear and tear”. It means you’re not responsible for a few scuff and a bit of rust – all of which are inevitable when someone lives in a property. This is known as “normal” or “reasonable” wear and tear – not the same as damage. Here’s a handy explainer designed for landlords which you could quote.

Shelter also notes that your landlord “should only deduct costs for items on a ‘like-for-like’ basis. Meaning if your landlord wants to replace the radiator, for example, you should only be charged for one of the same age and condition as the one at the start of your tenancy – and considering any reasonable wear and tear during your occupation.”

The return of your deposit is way, way overdue. A landlord is supposed to return the undisputed amount of the deposit as soon as possible after their tenants move out.

You’re months down the line, so you should get in touch with the Deposit Protection Service (DPS) as soon as possible to see if you can raise a dispute. Often, schemes will only protect the deposit for three months after the tenancy ends. Move fast.

There’s still solutions if you’re out of time. “You may have to take the landlord to court,” Shelter suggests. “You can use a money claim to do this – the process is intended to be simple enough for someone without legal experience. There will be a charge to submit your claim, which will depend on how much money you’re trying to get back from the landlord.”

I’m so sorry to be the bearer of bad news. There’s free advice and more resources on the Shelter website. Godspeed.

@Victoria_Spratt