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Life For Rent: Help! My Landlord Refuses to Heat My Freezing Cold Flat

Plus: a mysterious agency that changes its name and refuses to repair anything.

by Vicky Spratt
11 November 2019, 11:57am

The heating and insulation in our flat is rubbish and it always feels freezing cold – especially now. We've complained about it to our landlord, but he refuses to do anything about it. Last winter we got him round to show him just how cold it was and he acted like we were being babies for not being able to put up with it – his only response was we should put on more layers and turn on the oven and leave it open (?!) so it heats up the place.

Part of me wants to throw in the towel and get portable radiators, but I also feel like we shouldn't have to pay for the shoddy radiators and the nonexistent insulation in a place that we're renting!

Forgive me for the pun, but it sounds as though your landlord has been gaslighting you. They have psychologically manipulated you almost to the point that you are doubting your own sanity. Are you really a “baby” for not wanting to live in a freezing cold flat? I don’t think so. Does putting the oven on actually heat a home? Unless your flat happens to contain an Aga, I think not.

If you have a landlord who doesn’t respond well to your requests for help, it’s never long before you start to feel like you’re going quietly mad. You may have entered the property feeling just fine but, over time, as they deprive you of the service you are paying for, you start to question your own worth – your right to a basic standard of living – and even contemplating spending money on top of your own rent to make things better.

This is how they get you.

Right now, it seems there’s something in the air because landlords are moving mad left, right and centre. You probably saw fellow renter Alex Milsom’s dystopian viral tweet about his landlord putting his thermostat in a perspex cage to stop him adjusting the temperature.

Giles Peaker, an expert housing solicitor and partner at Anthony Gold, told me that tenants “have to have some way to control the temperature in their own rooms – turn down radiator, for instance” and that, no matter what, a landlord’s “settings should be reasonable: so no excessive heat or cold and no unreasonable interruption of hot water supply”.

If conditions are not reasonable and a landlord’s “settings are interfering with occupiers’ use of the property”, Peaker says it would be an HHSRS (Health and Safety Standards for Rents Homes) matter, or possibly a Fitness for Human Habitation matter”.

So first up, let there be no doubt that living in a cold home can pose serious risks to your health. Public Health England have identified multiple groups for whom it can be very, very dangerous. There is a reason that we talk about fuel poverty. You might not be a pensioner but that doesn’t make your situation any less serious.

You absolutely should not be sitting in a freezing living room, wearing three jumpers and unable to feel your hands, just to prove just how hard you really are to anyone – least of all your landlord!

Like a bad boyfriend who drags up the fact that you didn’t do the washing up when you ask him why he didn’t come home last night, your landlord is shifting the blame and the responsibility onto you to distract from their own trash behaviour. In all likelihood, this is because they know that the flat is poorly insulated and that the boiler isn’t up to scratch.

Before you fork out for portable radiators, I suggest you send a stern email so you have a proper record of everything. Copy in your lettings agency if you deal with one, too.

Your landlord is responsible for repairs in your home, including a faulty boiler. The more evidence you have of your efforts to report this to them, the better. As Shelter point out, if you signed your tenancy agreement on or after the 20th March 2019, under the new Homes (Fitness for Habitation Act) they must make sure the home they rent is fit to live in. You have lived in the property for a while, so this won’t apply to you yet. But it will from March 2020.

Try to negotiate by citing the above in your emails and appeal to your landlord’s humanity. If you get nowhere, tell them you’re going to contact the local council’s private renting team. This may be enough to spur them into action. However, as I have to caution every week, it could put you at risk of a revenge eviction. Until the abolition of Section 21 actually materialises (we’re still waiting), there’s little to stop a landlord using this pernicious section of the 1988 Housing Act to get rid of tenants who, they feel, are causing them too much hassle.

Keep records of everything, take photographs and put all of the emails in a folder so you have them to hand should you need them. I wish I could be the bearer of better news, reader, I really do. You deserve so much better.

Me and my partner live in what we were sold to us as a basement flat. Once we moved in we realized it was a room, kitchen and bathroom that was part of a Victorian house.

We had issues with the shower (water doesn't stay warm for more then five seconds most times – if at all) from day one. We have been told that it's a big house and we are the last at the bottom, so there is nothing to do but install a separate shower which the landlord doesn't want to do. We also depend on upstairs (the boiler is there) for the heating and WiFi.

Whenever we had issues, the agency used to come around, fix barely anything and leave a mess and the door open. They also used to show up for random work without any kind of heads up.

We got so fed up that we stopped calling them unless it was an emergency. Last week we had no warm water at all and a broken washing machine and nobody showed up. Yesterday night we had water leaking from the ceiling; nobody showed up.

The agency changed its name but the same staff and methods are still in place. We can't afford to move now and we are worried they are going to keep the deposit for some stupid made-up reason.

What should we do?

This sounds like a total mess – I’m sorry. It really is dodgy heating and freezing cold water szn isn’t it? How are these landlords sleeping at night? (Very well after a piping hot bath, I’m sure.)

There’s something very, very dodgy going on here. Firstly, the agency you rented from sounds incredibly spurious. As a matter of urgency, please see whether they are registered with an industry body – such as the Association of Residential Lettings Agents (ARLA). If they aren’t, report them.

Secondly, you’re living in a self-contained flat within a converted house but you have a shared boiler. This must also be affecting your bills? Do you know how they are calculated? Do you have a meter of your own or is that shared too? It’s worth finding out. Landlords who provide communal heating are subject to specific requirements and yours may be in breach. If they are, this could work in your favour as evidence in any future complaint that you make.

Beyond this, I’m afraid much of the same advice I’ve offered above applies – you need to complain to your agency, then try to reason with your landlord and, if that fails, approach your local council. It’s also worth hitting up Shelter’s expert advice team as they will be able to help.

I really, really, really wish I could offer some kind of silver bullet for your situation. I am so tired of hearing about sub-standard situations like yours, but not as tired as you must be putting up with one.

When Margaret Thatcher did away with rent controls in 1988, it was all part of a push to remove the laws that protected renters but made things harder for landlords. She wanted to create a booming buy-to-let sector and ‘liberate the market’. It was supposed to give people more choice.

What this really did was boost the buy-to-let sector for landlords, making it more lucrative to own property than to work. But it seems to have delivered anything but, in terms of choice for renters.

Since 2011, the cost of renting has outpaced people’s wages not only in London, but increasingly in other parts of the country. And what do we get in return for our hard-earned cash? Freezing cold homes.

@Victoria_Spratt

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