4 months of sewage smell/humidity and damp in rented flat

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    4 months of sewage smell/humidity and damp in rented flat

    My sister started renting a flat in May. The landlord insisted on a 12 month term and would not come down to 6.

    On the evening myself and my brother helped her to move in, we all immediately noticed a pretty foul smell of sewage in the ground floor, purpose built 1 bed flat (built in the 80‘s I think). The landlord was informed in writing of the smell, which is present throughout the flat and communal entrance area, but strongest in the bathroom. It is slightly intermittent in nature, sometimes very bad, sometimes not so, but always present.

    Since being first informed, the landlord has been told many more times about the foul odour. They always blame the management company, saying that that they are slow/useless/etc; this doesn’t resolve the issue. The landord says that the drains require “major works” and that work is likely to start in around 6 weeks. Apparently however, the major works do not require the property to be entered.

    A couple of weeks ago, my sister returned home from a two week holiday to find her duvet and pillows growing mould (blue/green) with blue/green/grey mould growing on parts of the bedroom walls and skirting boards. Her clothes were very damp, the whole flat was very smelly and humid. Her shoes in the hallway had also grown mould.

    Subsequently, she had to move out, the smell and taste of the air was making her feel very sick and with each passing day more personal belongings were being ruined.

    Since then, various e-mails have gone back and forth between her and the landlord, who insists the problem is nothing more than condensation. They say that they have had 2 surveyors out in the past 5 years and admit that the previous tenant had a similar issue, and had bought a dehumidifier. My sister asked the landlord to buy one in that case, and add to the inventory, which they did last week. She has always vented the flat well by opening windows when possible, using the tumble dryer and not drying on rads, etc.

    The dehumidifier has now been running (in the bedroom) 24hrs a day at the expense of my sisters electricity bill for 7 days and is currently collecting 4.5L of water every 24 hours. My sister has to enter the property twice a day at 8am (on her way to work) and 4pm (after work) to empty the 3L container, which is full in the mornings and half-full in the evenings. The flat continues to smell, feel damp; you come out being able to taste the air in the back of your throat for several hours after leaving.

    Although she likes the flat, she really cannot live there. We think that the sewage smell and the dampness are somehow related, and that this is not caused by her lifestyle as the landlord claims. Last week, the landlord installed two window trickle vents (bathroom and bedroom, which have been open for a week) and is claiming to be going “above and beyond” what is required/the norm, telling my sister that she should be thankful that no deposit is being taken for the work.

    My sister has been staying at my house (35 miles away - she now has to drive to work each day instead of having a 5 minute walk) for 2 weeks and paid her most recent rent in advance for the month just 3 days ago. Environmental Health are calling her back tomorrow with a view to arranging a visit.

    I was sickened to discover that my sister had been waiting some 4 months for this awful drain/sewer smell to be rectified and even though she has washed all of her clothes, they still smell terrible. Most of her shoes, bags and bedroom furniture has been ruined by mould. The remainder of her furniture and belongings are currently in the lounge whilst she finds cheap storage. I certainly couldn’t live in the flat myself for one night, let alone permanently.

    The landlord, who previously blamed the humidity and dampness on my sisters lifestyle when she was at home, is now saying that the problem is because she has moved out - telling her the flat is not uninhabitable (I’d like to see them try living there) and that by not being at home she is making the problem worse. For the two weeks she’s been moved out for, the central heating is set to trigger at 17c, vents open for a week, dehumidifier running, etc, but no improvement.

    What I would like to know, is what her rights are in terms of terminating the contract on the basis of the landlord not rectifying the underlying issue in a reasonable timeframe. My sister has been too embarrassed to invite any friends over from the time she moved in right up to her leaving 2 weeks ago. There’s no break clause. The deposit is registered with the government scheme.

    Is she entitled to terminate the contract due to a breech by the landlord under sections 10/11? Can she claim a refund or part thereof, of rent paid since she moved out? Could it be backdated further than this due to the poor living conditions? Is there any claim for damage to her personal belongings?

    Any advice gratefully received. Things could suddenly become clearer when Environmental Health visit, but there’s no telling how long the wait might be for that.

    Jim

    #2
    The EHO is her best hope, I think. He has the authority to require the LL to take effective action. If the flat is deemed genuinely uninhabitable/dangerous to health, she may be able to break the contract early.

    Are the other flats in the block similarly affected?
    'Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation fo the first link on one memorable day'. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

    Comment


      #3
      I'm not sure if any other flats are affected, but the smell certainly hits you as you enter the main door from outside; before you even open the door to the flat.

      The previous tennant moved out of this flat and into one upstairs, but my sister hasn't spoken to her in case she is really pally with the landlord.

      I understand that Env. Health are the best bet, but my sister earns a very low wage and cannot sustain the commute to work for much longer. She is worried that to move again means more agency fees, etc, she might end up being stuck at mine!

      Comment


        #4
        Originally posted by Beachball View Post
        I'm not sure if any other flats are affected, but the smell certainly hits you as you enter the main door from outside; before you even open the door to the flat.

        The previous tennant moved out of this flat and into one upstairs, but my sister hasn't spoken to her in case she is really pally with the landlord.

        I understand that Env. Health are the best bet, but my sister earns a very low wage and cannot sustain the commute to work for much longer. She is worried that to move again means more agency fees, etc, she might end up being stuck at mine!
        I do not see how your sister has anything to lose by speaking to the tenant upstairs and also by pointing out to the EHO that the next door flat had to be abandoned as well. (Is it still empty)?

        Unfortunately your sister's personal circumstances will not really make any difference etc, the EHO's decision - his decision as to whether the flat is habitable or not will be based solely on the state of the property.

        If it is found to be uninhabitable, she may be able to sue the LL for compensation for the financial loss she has suffered in having to live elsewhere, commute and ultimately move.
        'Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation fo the first link on one memorable day'. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

        Comment


          #5
          It was the flat she is now that the previous tenant moved out of and went upstairs (owned by a different landlord). This was mentioned by the landlord of the flat my sister was in, so that's why she assumes there may be some bias, etc.

          I mentioned her circumstances because I've read elsewhere that Environmental Health can sometimes take a while to visit the property. With each passing day, she is potentially losing more and more rent money with which to pay the deposit on another flat.

          Therefore, is it ultimately up the an EHO to make this decision, or might she take a flyer and write to the landlord now (with a view to the EHO visit pending), asking for the tenancy to be terminated, etc? Surely the fact that she's been asking for the drains to be fixed for 4 months without action is enough to get the ball rolling?

          Just for the record, this isn't a case of her wanting to vacate for any other reason than the fact she cannot physically live there. In fact, she can't even see any other flats in her price range right now.

          Comment


            #6
            There is nothing to stop her writing to the LL and requesting an early formal surrender of the tenancy. If LL refuses, she could explain that she cannot afford to continue commuting and that unless he agrees she will be obliged to sue him for breach of contract with regard to his statutory repairing obligations. She could also point out that in view of the impending visit of the EHO he may prefer to have the flat vacant so that he may comply with any findings/get to the root of the problem and effect repairs/renovation ready for re-letting.
            'Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation fo the first link on one memorable day'. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

            Comment


              #7
              The landlord has refused to an early surrender of the tenancy. Environmental Health are visiting the property on Tuesday 14th. The landlord has decided that this is now the day they are sending somebody in to replace the flooring and re-paint the walls. I have asked for this to be postponed.

              They said: "I understand if you want to move but I am unable to agree to a rebate or unconditional surrender. If you want to give notice I will agree for you to surrender the tenancy once a new tenant is found which will not take long I would expect a month - 6 weeks subject to terms or you can continue with your enviromental health inspection which after discussing the matter at length with all parties again this afternoon is not going to show any matters of health concern."

              This is quite infuriating.

              Comment


                #8
                Originally posted by Beachball View Post
                The landlord has refused to an early surrender of the tenancy. Environmental Health are visiting the property on Tuesday 14th. The landlord has decided that this is now the day they are sending somebody in to replace the flooring and re-paint the walls. I have asked for this to be postponed.

                They said: "I understand if you want to move but I am unable to agree to a rebate or unconditional surrender. If you want to give notice I will agree for you to surrender the tenancy once a new tenant is found which will not take long I would expect a month - 6 weeks subject to terms or you can continue with your enviromental health inspection which after discussing the matter at length with all parties again this afternoon is not going to show any matters of health concern."

                This is quite infuriating.
                I am struggling to see how the LL is in possession of this privileged information even before the EHO hs inspected the property. Suspect she is calling your bluff; wait and see what the EHO says. If inconclusive, then consider accepting her offer to let you terminate once new tenants are fund.
                'Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation fo the first link on one memorable day'. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

                Comment


                  #9
                  Thanks for your help mindthegap. Could I just trouble you for a quick hand with these snippets from the landlord?

                  My sister had to e-mail the landlord last night to ask for planned decoration works for Tuesday to be re-scheduled (the EHO is due that day, at midday)...

                  > The drains issue is a communal one I agree the management company were
                  > slow off the mark but there is now a fault detected and it will be
                  > remedied. The professional companies contact information and surveys I
                  > will provide to the enviromental officer who will I am sure will agree
                  > there is no health risk. I am not directly responsible for this and have
                  > chased regularly and have notes to confirm this is the case.

                  #1: As far as I was aware, the landlord is responsible to the tenant for repairs even if it's the management company who are slow? She says she isn't directly responsible.


                  > The surveyor will confirm the matter in the bedroom is condensation and
                  > we have in a short period of time actioned everything at our cost to
                  > remedy it in line with the guidelines enviromental health lay down.

                  #2: She's predicting the future again! Most annoying.


                  > I will discuss the matter on Monday with the enviromental officer as I
                  > do not want to delay my remedial work and this is the only time it can
                  > be done next week.

                  #3: The bedroom is the worst affected room for damp and mould. The landlord has been, for the past 2 weeks saying that the carpet will be replaced with laminate flooring and the walls be re-painted with damp-resistant paint, but had been wooly about a date. After being told of the inspection on Tuesday, Tuesday is now the day this work is to take place. My sister asked for this work to be moved to another day because of the inspection, but it apppears the landlord is refusing. Can she rightfully ask for this to be postponed?


                  > I am legally qualified and actually professionally advise on landlord
                  > and tenancy matters and have done for the last 15 years so please do
                  > not forward me snippets of information on tenancy law you have read as
                  > I am quite well informed and I am comfortable I have done everything I
                  > can do to resolve these matters to date.

                  #4: This was in response to my sister saying that the 4 month delay to date for the sewage smell was too long, according to section 11.

                  Comment


                    #10
                    Has the EHO already been called into the property (by either LL or Ts) and inspected it at any point?

                    If not, then I would be inclined to refuse access for the decoration until EHO has inspected. It may also be worth your sister ringing the EHO first thing Mon to alert him to the possibility that the LL may ring him and try to play down the problems, but that it is imperative he visits on Tuesday as planned.
                    'Pause you who read this, and think for a moment of the long chain of iron or gold, of thorns or flowers, that would never have bound you, but for the formation fo the first link on one memorable day'. Charles Dickens, Great Expectations

                    Comment


                      #11
                      This was the first visit by EH that I am aware of.

                      EHO has just been. Said he thought the damp/humidity/mould was down to condensation and not penetrative or rising damp. She hasn't been living there now for 2 weeks.

                      Regarding the sewage smell, he said it didn't pose a hazard, but he would recommend that a vent be installed for the sewage pipe to take it up to the roof and be vented out. If that doesn't work, the landlord will have to dig it all up and she couldn't continue to live there.

                      Clearly she can't control the dampness. If it continues to be bad whilst she's not living there, window vents are open, dehumidifier is running 24/7 (collecting 80 pints of water per week).

                      So, the only option left is to end the tenancy. The landlord wants her to continue paying rent until she has moved a new tenant in. If the law says that repairs should be done in a reasonable time, yet this sewage smell has been ongoing for 4 months (and is due to be at least 5 months in total), I'm struggling to understand why she can't enfore a termination on that basis and get a rebate from the point at which she moved out?

                      Comment


                        #12
                        Upon accepting the landlords offer to end the tenancy early, they've now moved the goal posts and said my sister would need to pay all re-marketing fees, agent fees and be liable for rent if the new tenant that is subsequently found misses any payments!

                        Looking again into the option of terminating on the basis of a breach, that being that the sewage/drain issue remains unfixed after 4.5 months of asking.

                        Can anybody help? If Section 11 says repairs must be done in good time, then is this not unlawful and grounds for action?

                        Comment


                          #13
                          Yes, T can enforce L's s.11 covenant; no, L's breach is not capable of automatically terminating the Letting Agreement.
                          JEFFREY SHAW, solicitor [and Topic Expert], Nether Edge Law*
                          1. Public advice is believed accurate, but I accept no legal responsibility except to direct-paying private clients.
                          2. Telephone advice: see http://www.landlordzone.co.uk/forums/showthread.php?t=34638.
                          3. For paid advice about conveyancing/leaseholds/L&T, contact me* and become a private client.
                          4. *- Contact info: click on my name (blue-highlight link).

                          Comment


                            #14
                            Thanks Jeffrey, that makes sense.

                            So, if S11 can be relied upon, what options does that offer going forward?

                            Is it that it allows for a possible claim for damages in respect of loss of enjoyment of the property due to the sewage smell, etc, or am I barking up the wrong tree?

                            If so, is that a claim that would be made via the SCC? The smell originates from the bathroom and is enough to make you gag. It comes and goes, lasting a couple of hours per day but isn't particularly consistent in terms of the time of day it begins.

                            The landlord is still saying works are planned (with a plan A and a plan B, the former being work to the soil pipe venting and latter involving digging up the ground). There remains no firm date for this currently, some 4.5 months into the tennancy, the landlord having been informed on day 1.

                            Comment


                              #15
                              Yes, T can sue L and enforce L's s.11 covenant- maybe obtain damages by way of compensation.
                              JEFFREY SHAW, solicitor [and Topic Expert], Nether Edge Law*
                              1. Public advice is believed accurate, but I accept no legal responsibility except to direct-paying private clients.
                              2. Telephone advice: see http://www.landlordzone.co.uk/forums/showthread.php?t=34638.
                              3. For paid advice about conveyancing/leaseholds/L&T, contact me* and become a private client.
                              4. *- Contact info: click on my name (blue-highlight link).

                              Comment

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