The judge concluded that the students had been left with 'no choice but to bring a claim'.
By Imogen Horton, Co-Editor-in-Chief and Maggie Sawant, SU Correspondent
A group of former Bristol University students have come out as the ‘essentially successful’ party after being ‘forced’ into court by their Landlord over deposit disputes.
Prior to the case reaching court, the students, who had lived at Flat 2, 57 Queens Road, had been asked to pay £1356.64 from their £3000 deposit for damage during their tenancy.
The students did not agree with the figures presented by Principality Holdings, who are appealing the court's decision, and asked that the Deposit Protection Service adjudication service be used. When this was refused, the students were left with, as the judge concluded, 'no choice but to bring a claim'.
The court ordered the Kit Breach, Director of Principality Holdings, to return £1785.80, plus any interest accrued on the deposit, to the students.
Deputy District Judge Cannings ruled that the ‘tenants [were] essentially the successful party, even if not in full’, continuing 'the landlord has effectively lost this litigation'.
'It was incredibly daunting having to go to court, relying only on our understanding of what we believed to be right and fair'- Georgina Gamman
Mr Breach’s conduct which was ‘very poor in certain regards and unacceptable in others' was also noted. Judge Cannings concluded that he had essentially ‘forced the claimant and her fellow tenants to seek the money through the court’.
No costs were awarded to Principality Holdings, however the tenants’ court fees, travel costs and loss of earnings were to be reimbursed by the company.
Georgina Gamman, the lead tenant, has told Epigram that ‘the whole process was extremely frustrating’, but is ‘satisfied in that we weren’t subject to any of Principality Holding's costs as the judge found we were not liable for them but they had to pay ours as the judge found we were not left any option but to go to court.
‘We tried on numerous occasions to communicate with the company and negotiate the charges which we felt were unfair. However, throughout the process further charges were introduced which we felt were an attempt to get us to back down and accept the initial offer from Principality Holdings.
'Judge Cannings concluded that [the landlord] had essentially ‘forced the claimant and her fellow tenants to seek the money through the court’
‘It was incredibly daunting having to go to court, relying only on our understanding of what we believed to be right and fair rather than any kind of formal legal advice and going up against a large and established firm.
‘This was exacerbated by the sheer volume of evidence provided by Principality Holdings and their significant bill of additional costs of over £8,000 which they were trying to recover from us.’
The former Geography student also noted that ‘the whole situation could’ve been resolved much more quickly had the Deposit Protection service’s Dispute Resolution service been used.’
Judge Cannings determined that Mr Breach, who according to Companies House is also a Director at Hawksworth Securities PLC, had shown a 'wilful refusal to use the system' and had 'no intention of taking part in the adjudication scheme' leaving the 'tenants no choice but to bring a claim'.
When questioned as to why the DPS adjudication scheme had not been used, Mr Breach replied that he ‘does not trust’ the scheme and had heard ‘bad stories’ about the adjudication processes of other DPS schemes also.
'Mr Breach had shown a 'wilful refusal to use the system' and had 'no intention of taking part in the adjudication scheme' leaving the 'tenants no choice but to bring a claim'.’
The tenants say that they are still ‘surprised’ at costs they had to pay for damage, including ‘full costs for new replacement mattresses and over £240 for the replacement of a window pane - which was still unfixed when we went to court.’
In many cases costs were awarded to the Principality Holdings, however for a significant number of items the original costs claimed were ruled ‘not reasonable’.
The judge made the point that ‘letting properties to students leads to more wear and tear’ and that this should be expected by landlords.
For half an hour of labour to remove two Sellotape strips, £9 was claimed, a cost Judge Cannings reduced to £1.50, for five minutes’ labour.
Principality Holdings also claimed £77.88 for the removal of Blu Tac stains left by the tenants. This was reduced by almost 50 per cent, allowing the Landlord to claim only £41.84 for two hours labour and materials.
'If you are subject to charges you don’t agree with absolutely do stand up for what you think is right’- Georgina Gamman
Talking about what students should watch out for, Miss Gamman has said that she and the other tenants were ‘totally unaware that tenants can in fact be charged for works which are simply quoted as opposed to completed.
‘It’s not a process I’d advise any other students to go through and would say please read all contracts thoroughly, check online reviews, check the company's reputation with the University Accommodation Office, complete your inventories as thoroughly as you are able (with as much photographic evidence as possible!) and read up on how your deposit protection scheme works.
‘But, most importantly, if you are subject to charges you don’t agree with absolutely do stand up for what you think is right.’
In a statement, Kit Breach of Principality Holdings told Epigram: ‘We are grateful for the vast majority of tenants over the years willingly repaying Principality Holdings for damage or cleaning. Many have also been kind in posting on-line complementary reviews on the accommodation they enjoyed and the service they received with Principality.
‘As someone who has represented both tenants and landlords in dilapidations disputes, I was saddened that this case was pressed to court by the tenants after they offered only £284.06, compared to the court judgement in Principality’s favour of £1,154.68.
‘We are content that for the overwhelming majority, the judge found that the tenants had breached the tenancy agreement and the costs the landlord spent putting it right that it sought to recover from the tenants, were correct. It would have saved much effort and distress to both sides had the tenants fairly offered to repay at the level of the judgement, which was close to what they had been offered, and far from what they said was all they should pay.
'The outcome emphasised that to avoid misunderstandings both landlords and tenants should take comprehensive photographic records at the start and the end of the tenancy'- Kit Breach, Principality Holdings
‘Amongst other things, the tenants had said that their mattress stains should be acceptable to the next tenants, which was dismissed by the court.
‘It was saddening that one aspect of the judgment reflects that if landlords want to be sure of recovery of damage costs during a tenancy, they should not delay seeking recovery, even if they are considering settling at the end of the tenancy without recovering the cost out of good will and kindness. This is not helpful to good relations between landlords and tenants.
‘The outcome emphasised that to avoid misunderstandings both landlords and tenants should take comprehensive photographic records at the start and the end of the tenancy, that damage is not “fair wear and tear”, and deductions for “betterment” should remain grounded in material facts rather than hypothetical assumptions.’
George Bemrose, Bristol SU Student Living Officer, has encouraged students struggling with tenancy issues to get involved with their annual housing campaign 'My Rents, My Rights'.
'This will be launched in November and will give students the tools to make informed decisions on choosing housing and what their rights as tenants are. I'd recommend that all students make use of this advice.
'We also have a lettings service, which is the highest rated for students in Bristol and only works with reputable landlords and properties.'
Featured image credit: Epigram / Imogen Horton
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