Leeds Students Awarded £15,000 Of Rent Back After Taking Landlord To Court
A group of five students have been awarded £15,000 after taking their landlord to court.
Speaking to the BBC, Ben Leonard, 23, revealed he was actually fairly satisfied with the shared house he, his partner and four other friends moved into together.
The place was spacious and comfortable and the monthly rent for the property was a reasonable £300 per person with bills included.
However, last month Ben and his housemates were celebrating on the steps of Leeds Town Hall having successfully taken their former landlord to court and winning £15,000 of their rent back, with Ben tweeting the picture with the caption: “Just took our ex-landlord to court and won all our rent back.”
Unsurprisingly, the post struck a chord with fellow renters and within a few short hours had gained nearly 80,000 likes, with comments and questions flooding in as people wondered how the group had gone about it.
But what had happened? What had gone so wrong with their accommodation that they’d been awarded nearly every penny they had paid in rent back to them?
Following a visit from a housing officer in May 2018, it turned out their landlord had failed to acquire a House in Multiple Occupation Licence (HMO), which must be held by any home housing five or more unrelated people who share communal facilities with at least one tenant paying rent.
Vitally, the HMO confirms the house has the correct safety certificates, that fire alarms are present and working and whoever is in charge of the property is qualified.
According to the housing officer, the council was pursuing legal action, and under the expanded scope of the 2016 Housing and Planning Act, the housemates could start a case as well, by applying for a Rent Repayment Order.
Ben said deciding to pursue the claim was an easy decision: “I’d be lying if I said the money wasn’t a motivating factor but we all share similar political beliefs and don’t think housing should be commodified.
“If private individuals are going to profit off property, we’ve at least got to hold them accountable when they do bad things. It wasn’t a personal vendetta against the landlord - he just broke the rules.”
Another of the housemates, Charlie Hinds, 22, says he feels private rental culture has normalised bad behaviour from rogue landlords and made tenants afraid to speak up.
“It’s got to the point where we expect the worst from landlords,” said Charlie. “When a landlord does something bad, it’s not taken seriously because it’s so commonplace.
“Look at the replies to - having a bad landlord has become a culturally acceptable joke, like a rite of passage. Plus, I don’t think most people know their rights at all. People are scared to complain because they worry they’ll get evicted and won’t have anywhere to live.”
But that’s not the case, the housing officer provided all the relevant paperwork and told the group where to send it.
“We had to provide evidence we’d paid rent to our landlord, a copy of our tenancy agreement and witness statements from everyone confirming they lived at the property,” Ben recalls.
“That was more or less it – it cost us a £100 application fee, plus postage for a few packages of documents, so around £30 each when split between the five of us.”
Less than a year later, the group were awarded a full year’s rent - although 30% was deducted after their former landlord pleaded extenuating financial circumstances - leaving the five with £9,000 to share.
The group hope their case can set a precedent and inspire other renters to check what rights they have and how to pursue rogue landlords - which can be tricky - so the guys advice is to join a tenants' union.
“Joining a union is key,” says Ben. “They provide casework, advice, support. If you’ve got a problem with your landlord, your union comes together to solve it. We were lucky to win this one off our own backs but not everyone has the time, knowledge or confidence to pursue cases solo. The best way to win is collectively.”