Landlord restricting access to common areas

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    Landlord restricting access to common areas

    Hello,

    This is my first post but I've been reading you for a while now

    I live in a HMO with 4 other people, it's been two years now. The property is a big house with a driveway, a garage, a big garden, a shed with a sauna and a jacuzzi (I know!). When we moved in, the owners were letting the whole property (defined in the contract by "all lands and building at the address") to an specialized agency, and the agency was letting rooms to each of us through individual AST contracts. We had our own rooms with locks and access to every part of the property listed above without restriction.

    It turned out the agency was in rent arrears with the owners from last November despite us paying rent on time, so the owners evicted the agency and agreed to keep us as tenants. Our only condition was that we benefit from a contract granting the same rights we had with the agency (single ASTs, all bills included, unrestricted access to the common areas). The owners drafted a contract saying that we had "exclusive occupation of the designated room and share with the other occupyers of the property the use and facilities of the common parts of the property". However the "property" or "common parts" are not defined in the contract

    A few days ago (1.5 months after signing the contract), the cleaner told us that we had to move our stuff from the garage (we used it as storage) because the landlady wanted to convert the garage into an studio. We went to her and after saying that she didn't know we were using the garage and we should have asked permission, she said that "we took advantage of the garage because it was empty", that she had "allowed us to use it freely" but because she needed it now she couldn't allow us it use it anymore. According to her, the garage has never been part of the deal and was not supposed to be used.

    Our position is that she can have access to the garage but she can't exclude us from using it as we consider the garage part of the "common part" our contracts give us access to. When she let the whole house to the agency, she let the garage too. We said we wanted the same deal, and when she drafted the contract she should have mentioned that the garage was off limits: there is no mention of the garage in the contract, except to say it is supposed to be "free from debris and garbage". We feel that she can't forbid us from using it since we are allowed "use and facilities of the common parts".

    Her position is: since we only have a letting of the rooms, she can basically do what she wants with the common parts, including removing them from her tenants' use. She offered 3 small sheds in the garden as a replacement, but they are poorly isolated and weather-proof and 2 of them are almost full.

    Who do you believe is right in this issue? We are not okay with this, especially since several of us have a lot of stuff and took the room mainly because of the ample storage offered by the garage, so we feel that she's changing the terms of the contract. If she can do that, what will prevent her from taking away the use of the garden / parking space, or state that the jacuzzi and sauna can only be used once a month?

    Thanks!

    #2
    There are two sets of issues, legal and practical.

    If the "common parts" of the property are not defined, it will be difficult for the landlord to argue that the garage is excluded. You have had access to it for a reasonable amount of time and if the intention was to exclude it, it should have been excluded.

    The practical issue is that the landlord wants to convert the garage and will, probably, not be dissuaded simply because it doesn't suit you. If she serves notice on you all in order to get what she wants, what would happen?

    This is one of those cases where I think you are probably right, but not in a position to do anything about the situation.

    I'd focus on the replacement issue - if the shed(s) aren't appropriate, it's probably an easier option to get them improved than persuade the landlord not to convert the garage.
    When I post, I am expressing an opinion - feel free to disagree, I have been wrong before.
    Please don't act on my suggestions without checking with a grown-up (ideally some kind of expert).

    Comment


      #3
      if the tenancy agreement contains a provision to keep the garage free from debris and garbage that is an indication it is included.

      Comment


        #4
        Hello!

        Thanks for your answer! That's what I thought. To be fair, we know that even if she concedes the point now, she will include it when the fixed-term period ends, and we are ready to leave, it's no big deal (even if we love the house). The thing is, she came and claimed that we were taking advantage of her by using the garage, and we didn't like this accusation so we thought we'd check if the law was on our side.

        She and her husband love to claim that we are taking advantage of situations or that they are doing us "favours": the main one apparently is that we managed to negotiate with the agency 1.5 month rent compensation (february + mid March) because our deposits had not been placed in a scheme and they didn't pay any bills for 3-4 months (the council was ready to send bailiffs because of the unpaid council tax) and we had to deal with that. The owners claim that they did us a favour by letting us stay rent-free in February, even if their letting contract with the agency was still valid (they broke it off in March 15), meaning that our ASTs with the agency was still valid. Because of that so-called "favour", when we signed our contracts with them mid March, they demanded that we pay for the full month even if our contracts started on the 15th, which we did.

        Worse thing is there is another shed that is bigger / well maintained next to the sauna shed, which they use as a storage. We said it would be a good alternative to the garage if we were allowed to use it (it's currently locked with chains and half full). They went off and start accusing us to collude with the agency (with which we haven't been in contact since March), that they never gave us permission, that they were nice enough to let us stay rent-free in March, blablabla. It really set me off because I am a very good tenant, I (and my fellow housemates) accepted to pay a very high price for this accommodation (even for London) due to the access we were supposed to have to all of the house's perks (including the garage), I paid without fail for 2 years, we didn't degrade anything in the house, we always keep her updated of everything in the house, I even help them finding new housemate and it's not my duty, so we don't like to be accused of doing things we didn't do or being dodgy / taking advantage of situations.

        It's alright, we all have the means to find another accommodation, if need be we'll leave, not because of the storage issue, but more because of the landlord - who despite being overall good landlord, love to go off on us and make us feel like we owe them if we say any word they don't like. They need us more than we need them, since the house (despite being awesome) is not well located (20mn away from any overground station and the high street by foot and 20mn away from the 1st tube station by bus), they're asking for a very high price, so nobody's interested in the 2 rooms currently empty since March 1st - we don't even know why they want to do a studio when they can't even fill up the rooms...

        Sorry for the long message (I needed to rant, apparently), but it's quite hard when you're a good tenant trying to have a good relationship with your landlord to be dragged in that kind of drama that could be solved with a good discussion and communication (and we'll have this discussion with them next week).

        Comment


          #5
          Originally posted by Lawcruncher View Post
          if the tenancy agreement contains a provision to keep the garage free from debris and garbage that is an indication it is included.
          Thank you, that's exactly what I thought! We'll tell her that. On top of that, the washing machine is in the garage and she claims to have sorted out all the furniture in the house before giving the keys to the agency, so she knew we were going into the garage. She's full of crap. She can do her studio, when we will all walk out of here in september (when our fixed-term period ends) and she will end up with bills for the conversion works and 5 empty rooms out of 6, maybe she'll understand, because what we saw during these 2 years is that it's very hard to find tenants for this house.

          Comment


            #6
            Originally posted by NajatKN View Post
            but it's quite hard when you're a good tenant trying to have a good relationship with your landlord to be dragged in that kind of drama that could be solved with a good discussion and communication (and we'll have this discussion with them next week).
            Let me guess, the property used to be their home (or was owned by someone in the family).

            Causes all sorts of category errors in dealing with tenants, because in the landlord's mind they're confused with guests - who are being allowed to use the property at the landlord's pleasure - rather than people who are paying for a service.

            When I post, I am expressing an opinion - feel free to disagree, I have been wrong before.
            Please don't act on my suggestions without checking with a grown-up (ideally some kind of expert).

            Comment


              #7
              jpkeates,

              You absolutely nailed it! It's their family house, they raised their children there, so it has value to them. We very much feel like we are guest in a house we pay a pretty penny for, they even included a clause where we can't have guests for more than 2 days (I'm French and I'd like to be able to have family or friends over in my room for a long weekend), or we can't get upstairs with shoes that have been outside. On the plus side, everytime something doesn't work properly, they fix it quite fast and they don't meddle too much. It's a shame because we are all good people, they just like the drama too much and think that everybody is out to get them.

              Comment

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