Applying for a Rent Repayment Order - is this unlawful eviction?

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    Applying for a Rent Repayment Order - is this unlawful eviction?

    First time poster - please be gentle :-)

    My son is a final year university student and has an AST for a room in a block of student apartments in the private sector. Just prior to the lockdown, he returned to the parental home (my house). He left his apartment on 20th March. On 21st April, the landlords agent wrote to him (and seemingly all other tenants - there are 00s of apartments) advising that due to the lockdown, their key fobs had been disabled and that they should not return to the property as security had been instructed not to reactivate them.

    This caused quite an uproar as many students had essential academic materials they required for exams and not all had permanent alternative accommodation elsewhere. As the guarantor for the AST, I contacted the agent and advised that this constituted unlawful eviction. There was lots of to and fro which I will spare you, but they haven't compromised and so we are applying for a RRO at a First Tier Property Tribunal. Please note, we have paid all rent for the entire tenancy which expires on August 1st.

    I'd welcome some views on the following:-

    1. Do you agree that this constitutes unlawful eviction? His key fobs were deactivated and the landlord wrote to all tenants advising them of this. Furthermore, posters were displayed on site indicating that under no circumstances would key fobs be reactivated. My understanding of the Protection from unlawful eviction act 1977 is that the only requirement is that the tenant is deprived of access...in fact, the coronavirus act 2020 provides even more protection for tenants.

    2. The agent is claiming that fobs are automatically set to 'dormant' once a tenant has not accessed the property for 2 weeks. There is no mention of this in the tenancy agreement and this seems like 'locking out' 'harassment' as defined under the 1977 act?

    3. Even if the system did automatically deactivate fobs, doesn't the landlord/agent have a responsibility to immediately reactivate them once they become aware?

    We are not trying to 'dodge' his rent....as I said above, I have paid for the entire year. My son has a job in the uni town and was permitted to travel to/from work during lockdown. However, because of the landlord's actions he has had to do a 180 mile round trip commute. This is a 'corporate' landlord registered on Jersey (ie. tax haven)....so rather expected they would be more aware of the law

    #2
    I don't have a lot of experiences, but yes I would consider that as an unlawful eviction. Especially given that you have signed the AST and paid for the rent in advance. Not only should you get your rent back for the period that you are not allowed to stay in, but also push for compensations like the commuting costs etc.

    Comment


      #3
      Sounds pretty illegal to me. A massive breach of contract and highly inappropriate (in the same category as a tenant not paying rent and thinking they can continue to live in a place).

      I would contact the police in the first instance - to observe your breaking and entering into your home.

      Comment


        #4
        'phone shelter 0808 800 4444 on this one
        I am legally unqualified: If you need to rely on advice check it with a suitable authority - eg a solicitor specialising in landlord/tenant law...

        Comment


          #5
          It may not be an AST - if the organisation is the university's chosen accommodation provider it won't be.
          Although that may be academic.

          The landlord can defend their action in regard to your son and illegal eviction (but probably not generally) on the basis that they had reasonable cause to believe that he had ceased to reside there.
          Which he had.

          It doesn't work as a defence is they actually locked people out without that reasonable cause or actual belief.

          And the letter does sound like an act "likely to interfere with the peace or comfort of the residential occupier" and "has reasonable cause to believe, that that conduct is likely to cause the residential occupier to give up the occupation of the whole or part of the premises or to refrain from exercising any right or pursuing any remedy in respect of the whole or part of the premises."
          Because that seems to be the purpose of the communication.

          But I think the problem is that the tenant had already moved out when the communication was sent out.

          But it was a weird thing for the company to do, because if they regarded the tenancy as having ended, they'd have to stop charging rent.
          They can't have it both ways.
          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


            #6
            Did they say why they had done this?

            Comment


              #7
              Thanks for the responses. Just to confirm, there is no suggestion that the tenant had moved out or that the landlord/agent thought that they had moved out. There were still many possessions in the apartment and tenants were trying to access their apartments. Students regularly return home for a couple of weeks (Xmas, Easter etc.) It is definitely an Assured Shorthold Tenancy - this is nothing to do with the university....it is a private letting company which has no connection/financial relationship with the university.

              The landlord/agent is claiming two things:-

              1. That their 'security access' system automatically disables key fobs which have not been used for 2 weeks (which we dispute on the basis that students often return home for longer than this at Xmas and never have a problem upon return). Even if it were true, there is no mention of this in the tenancy agreement and we believe this 'locking out' effectively amounts to harassment.

              2. They initially claimed that they had disabled key fobs to prevent students from returning during the lockdown (there were some students who remained in place for the entire period). However, we do not accept that this is a defence for unlawful eviction and regardless, there were multiple reasons why students might be permitted to travel during the lockdown (eg. travelling to/from work and any 'exceptional' circumstances such as retrieving essential academic materials for exams/dissertations etc.)

              Our best guess is that someone at the agent took this action without thinking through the consequences and when faced with claims of unlawful eviction is trying to retrofit a story to explain things.

              Comment


                #8
                Sounds that way. Let us know how you get on with the RRO or with suing them for unlawful eviction.

                Comment


                  #9
                  Did anything happen on 20th/21st April that I have forgotten?

                  Please don't get me wrong, I hope you are successful (and I suspect that you are right about the retrofit story).

                  It's just hard to illegally evict someone who is currently living somewhere else and, due to unique circumstances, shouldn't then live anywhere else.
                  The government guidance specifically told people with more than one residence to stay where they were and, unless he's the prime minister's special advisor, that would apply to your son.

                  I'd have thought the company would want to settle the issue privately, rather than have any precedent set.
                  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


                    #10
                    Fair point - but we don't see that it is the landlords role to enforce lockdown via disablement of key fobs. Aside from that, the lockdown permitted travel in exceptional circumstances (and I would say that retrieving all your textbooks before your finals is exceptional). The lockdown is a separate issue and not a defence for unlawful eviction IMO.

                    I agree that one would expect the landlord to settle in advance...not least because unlawful eviction is a criminal offence. But, in this case, we are talking about hundreds of students impacted, so I can imagine that the potential sums involved are eye-watering.

                    Comment

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