Private Student Accommodation charging £1000+ for a broken lock on flat door

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    Private Student Accommodation charging £1000+ for a broken lock on flat door

    Hi everyone,

    New to the forums so looking forward to your advice.
    • My son was in private student accommodation whilst at uni.
    • The door to his flat room had been jammed one night, and he was essentially trapped inside his room with no way to leave.
    • He got his mate to report the problem to the reception the next morning (once the reception had opened) so that they could send someone to repair / unlock the door.
    • The repairman was sent to the room, who my son claimed was hammering away at the door frame from outside the room. The repairman did not verbally speak with my son during this time, nor give any timelines on when he expected the door to be repaired.
    • The repairman was unable to unlock the door and left without providing any further notice/timelines to my son.

    Having now been trapped in his room for in excess of 10+ hours, my son used proportionate force from the inside to try to unlock the door. Given that the doorframe had also been chipped away from the outside by the repairman, the lock broke relatively easily and my son was able to finally leave the room.

    Now, the private accommodation company is charging us a rather extortionate rate of over £1000 to repair the door/lock. They claim that the reason for this high cost is due to them requiring external contractors to install the door.

    Can you kindly advise on our legal rights and how we can drop this disproportionate fee?

    Surely the landlord owes my son a duty of care, and given that he was trapped in his room for over 10 hours, he would have effectively been unable to escape in the event of a fire.
    Furthermore, the accommodation staff nor the repairman communicated any timelines of when to expect the door to be unlocked. Under these circumstances, is it not reasonable for my son to have attempted to unjam the door himself?

    The ANUK/Unipol Code of Standards for Larger Developments for Student Accommodation NOT Managed and Controlled by Educational Establishments notes the following clauses which I believe have been breached per the information outlined above:
    4.10 Any repair works that are required meet with the following performance standards:
    Priority One – Emergency Repairs – are completed within 24 hours of a report of a defect. These would be any repairs required to avoid a danger to health, a risk to the safety of residents or serious damage to buildings or residents belongings
    THIS WOULD CONSTITUTE AS AN EMERGENCY REPAIR GIVEN THAT THE TENANT IS TRAPPED INDEFINITELY INSIDE THE ROOM. No timelines nor repair status updates were communicated to my son, so there is a genuine risk that my son's health and safety may have been at risk (e.g. if a fire had broke out).

    7.21 All exit routes within the building, such as hallways, landings and staircases, so far as they are under the control of the landlord and as far as reasonably practical, are maintained safe and unobstructed to enable evacuation of the dwelling in the event of fire
    THE FLAT'S JAMMED DOOR WAS THE OBSTRUCTION IN THIS CASE.

    Many thanks in advance!

    #2
    How long after the repairman went away did your son wait before forcing the door?

    Comment


      #3
      The reasonableness of any time frame is going to hinge on what facilities were available in the room in which your son was trapped (toilet, food etc) and what time of day this occurred (10 hours overnight is not the same as 10 hours in a working day*)

      What the landlord can charge may be affected by the wording of the agreement between your son and the company - he may, for example, have agreed to pay this kind of charge as part of that agreement, which would complicate things.

      Outside that, the company has two avenues to make a claim, contractual, in that there has been an unexpected cost which neither your son or the company could have foreseen which has arisen as a consequence of the agreement between them and they want compensations, or tort, in that your son has done something wrong and that has caused the company a loss.

      In a contractual claim, the company's loss is limited. The door and its installation cost £x originally and has been there for some time already, so, in theory, their loss is limited to the value of the door when it was damaged. If the repair costs more than that, that's up to the company, because they get the benefit of the door for years to come, so that cost isn't relevant to this event and the related loss.

      In the tort claim, they'd have to show that your son owed the company a duty of care (which he probably did) and failed in that duty (which he, arguably didn't). The company arguably failed in their own duty of care to keep your son safe, and their repairer failing to communicate what would happen next becomes more relevant.

      I'd make them a counter offer of what you think is fair to pay (or even send them a cheque for that amount).
      They'll try and recover the amount from any deposit, but that's a battle for the future.

      *odd though the concept may appear for a student!
      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


        #4
        Originally posted by Lawcruncher View Post
        How long after the repairman went away did your son wait before forcing the door?
        My son said that the repairman arrived around 9am to try and repair the door. My son finally forced the door around 10.30am. Any way we can challenge the cost?

        jpkeates,

        Thank you for the detailed response. It is an ensuite room (i.e. there is access to a toilet), however there is a shared kitchen and hence my son was unable to get access to food and drink.

        As seen in this national trade organisation webpage (https://www.checkatrade.com/blog/cos...tallation-cost), average cost of a fire door installation including material, labour and waste removal would only amount to £300! We made this counter-offer to the company but they rejected this and continue to want the extortionate £1000+ charge. Once again, the reason they claim for this is that they need qualified FIRAS certified engineers to fit the doors for compliance reasons, but again given the circumstances, do we have any grounds to dispute this high fee?

        Comment


          #5
          Originally posted by rk21uk View Post
          given the circumstances, do we have any grounds to dispute this high fee?
          You have grounds to challenge any cost on the basis that whoever they used to try an release your son failed and then failed to communicate in any way or to give any kind of timescale or even a proposed next action.
          Your son's actions to release themselves from the room were simply a proportionate and reasonable response to he company's failure to meet their duty of care.

          To the amount itself, I would point out their obligation to mitigate their costs (which isn't true of a claim in tort, but ignore that!) and that the costs should be limited to their loss, not linked to the cost of rectification
          I'd suggest that they take legal advice before making any further claim as your own advice is that they should pay nothing.

          They won't know that the advice is us!
          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
            Thank you. Just to clarify that I understand correctly, you're advice of next steps would be for me to communicate the following via writing:
            - Reiterate that my son's actions were proportionate and reasonable response due to company's failure to meet their duty of care
            - Reiterate the company's obligation to mitigate its loss (i.e. should have fixed the door issue promptly, rather than delaying to the extent that my son had to forcibly open the door)
            - Reiterate that the company should take legal advice before responding as my own legal advice is that I do not pay anything (despite them having already confirmed that they will not reduce the charge further, and will pass on the debt collection obligation to private bailiffs)

            Thank you - just want to make sure my response is bulletproof.

            Comment


              #7
              Originally posted by rk21uk View Post
              Reiterate that my son's actions were proportionate and reasonable response due to company's failure to meet their duty of care
              Yep, spot on. You might reasonably ask them what else he should have done having been trapped somewhere for many hours and then the attempted rescue had failed and no one had bothered to communicate any timescale or even what would happen next.

              Reiterate the company's obligation to mitigate its loss (i.e. should have fixed the door issue promptly, rather than delaying to the extent that my son had to forcibly open the door)
              I'd make the point that any claim is disputed, but that the basis of their claim would be wrong because they seem to be claiming for the restitution. not their loss adjusted for depreciation and future utility.

              Reiterate that the company should take legal advice before responding as my own legal advice is that I do not pay anything (despite them having already confirmed that they will not reduce the charge further, and will pass on the debt collection obligation to private bailiffs)
              Yes, but you might reasonably point out that threatening to enforce the debt with bailiffs without first following the necessary process of a court claim isn't the act of a company trying to solve an issue, it's an attempt to bully you/your son into paying something that isn't owed. And that any legal action that they might take will be robustly defended.


              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


                #8
                Thank you very much, that is most helpful.

                In my email correspondence with the staff, they state that my son had not followed the due process of reporting the issue (i.e. students can raise it through an app). However, given that my son secured his accommodation quite late and did not have this app installed, he instead got a friend (who lives in the same accommodation building) to report via the app on his behalf. Furthermore, my son got a friend from another flat to report the issue in person to the receptionist the next morning.

                In the email correspondence, the staff member mentioned that someone reassured from outside the door that help was on the way (although no timelines were specified, once again). Furthermore, the email states that from about 15 mins after this, my son decided to forcibly break the door. Now this interaction was not how it went down according to my son (i.e. as mentioned above, a repairman just tried to repair the door and then left after no success without communicating to my son, AFTER WHICH my son decided to forcibly unjam the door). They are alluding that my son broke the door shortly after someone had told him that help was on the way (I presume the help on the way being the repairman??).
                It is essentially their word against ours, as there is no audit trail to confirm that someone did communicate with my son.

                On this basis, the staff member stated in the email that my son's actions amount to "malicious damage", and hence the fee cannot be waived.
                Can you please provide an opinion on whether there is any way to contest this "malicious damage" point?

                Comment


                  #9
                  Originally posted by rk21uk View Post
                  n my email correspondence with the staff, they state that my son had not followed the due process of reporting the issue (i.e. students can raise it through an app). However, given that my son secured his accommodation quite late and did not have this app installed, he instead got a friend (who lives in the same accommodation building) to report via the app on his behalf. Furthermore, my son got a friend from another flat to report the issue in person to the receptionist the next morning.
                  He should have had the app installed, securing accommodation late isn't really an excuse (given that it's a 5 minute task). And there's no reason it couldn't have been downloaded during the period he was locked in. However, the procedure was followed as well as it could have been.

                  In the email correspondence, the staff member mentioned that someone reassured from outside the door that help was on the way (although no timelines were specified, once again). Furthermore, the email states that from about 15 mins after this, my son decided to forcibly break the door. Now this interaction was not how it went down according to my son
                  I would suggest that you simply make the point that your son disagrees about the timeline and that they would be required to bring some evidence that their course of events took place, because you can't be expected to produce evidence of a negative. Your son asserts that nothing was said or communicated to him, and there's no possible evidence that could be produced for that. The repair man must be able to produce a signed statement of what he claims happened, which could be tested in court.

                  And how do they know when your son broke the door down, do they have cctv?

                  It's arguably unlikely that your son would have waited patiently for 9 hours, made sure that someone reported the issue and then, having again waited patiently for someone to come over and try and release them suddenly 15 minutes after being reassured that help was on the way decide to smash the door down.
                  That doesn't sound like consistent behaviour.

                  I have some doubts personally about the hour and a half part of your son's story, but that's none of my business.

                  A reasonable question might be that if their account is true and your son's been misleading you, this whole matter could be resolved much more quickly, but so far they're making simply unsubstantiated assertions and claiming unrealistic sums.

                  On this basis, the staff member stated in the email that my son's actions amount to "malicious damage", and hence the fee cannot be waived.
                  Extricating yourself from a room in which you have been trapped is unlikely to be malicious damage.
                  However, that's a criminal charge, and would have no effect on the civil claim being made here unless he was prosecuted for it.
                  You could ask for the crime number for their report to the police of that offence.

                  More to the point, if they might have been prepared to waive the charge had it not been malicious damage in their view, you might reasonably query that it seems to be at least in part, a penalty charge rather than a compensation claim, because they are basing some or all of the cost on their judgement about the cause.
                  And penalty charges are not lawful in England and Wales for consumer agreements.

                  They're entitled to compensation for their mitigated loss, but they can't add more cost or decide not to waive the claim because of why they think the damage was done.

                  The additional / penalty element also looks very much like an prohibited fee (because it is significantly beyond the actual loss to the landlord).

                  It is also worth while making the general point of asking why they're not making a claim on their insurance? The stuck door is exactly the kind of random problem people insure against.

                  You might also express some surprise that they haven't made any kind of offer of compensation for the inconvenience and distress.
                  They have an obligation to provide safe accommodation, and a door that locks someone inside basically isn't safe.

                  Sorry to do a bit of a random brain dump at the end; it needs a bit of editing into a coherent response.
                  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
                    Thank you again for the useful response. I admit, my son's course of action (or lack thereof) with regards to the app installation angle is not ideal but here we are nonetheless. Noted on the mitigated loss angle and the lack of compensation offered by the firm for the distredss caused, so will definitely put together a compelling case to fight their charge. Is there any specific laws or prior cases which might be worth making reference to in my correspondence? Many thanks for all your help again!

                    Comment


                      #11
                      rk21uk The requirement for property being let to be safe comes from s4 of Defective Premises Act 1972.
                      s4(1) says "Where premises are let under a tenancy which puts on the landlord an obligation to the tenant for the maintenance or repair of the premises, the landlord owes to all persons who might reasonably be expected to be affected by defects in the state of the premises a duty to take such care as is reasonable in all the circumstances to see that they are reasonably safe from personal injury or from damage to their property caused by a relevant defect."

                      Compensation for a loss is something that a landlord (or their agent) can claim for against a tenant.
                      Anything else that the agent or landlord charges a tenant has to be a fee permitted in the Tenant Fees Act 2019.
                      The way that the legislation works in that act is to say that agents and landlords can't charge prohibited fees, and then says that all fees are prohibited except these fees (like rent, a tenancy deposit, etc).
                      So the question is what permitted fee from those allowed in the Tenant Fees Act is the premium being charged because of the claim that the damage is malicious, given that it might have been possible to waive some or all of the claim if it hadn't been.

                      The lack of lawfulness of penalty charges is a common law principle brought into consumer cases.
                      I can't give you a specific regulation or helpful case.

                      The requirement to mitigate a loss and to adjust the loss to account for depreciation and fair wear and tear is a general principle of contract law and shouldn't need justifying to anyone.
                      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


                        #12
                        Maybe also 'phone Shelter 0808 800 4444 to discuss son's rights. Landlord seems to have failed in many ways including duty of care

                        May I check, not college/uni halls but a private landlord? Also worth ensuring son (rather than you) has followed landlord's documented complaints process, if there is one

                        Perhaps case for arguing landlord/his agent/staff have been harassing son -eg bonkers charges - , a criminal as well as civil offence

                        Good luck!
                        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


                          #13
                          The reason I asked how long a delay there was between the repairman disappearing and your son forcing the door was to consider whether there was a case to answer for false imprisonment. The tort usually has to include intentionally enclosing someone, but there are cases where it has been held to apply where someone has become enclosed and there is an obligation to release them. Whether it applies here or not, there is no harm in saying that if they sue for damage to the door you will counterclaim for false imprisonment.

                          Apart from the above, I think other have just about said all there is to say. I suggest you compose a letter and post it for comments.

                          Comment


                            #14
                            jpkeates,

                            Thanks - will consider the above (post #11) in my correspondence.

                            theartfullodger,

                            It is a private company that offers student accommodation across the UK. They are not officially affiliated with the uni but the uni does recommend them as a private accommodation provider via their uni website. Aside from that, no business relationship.

                            Comment


                              #15
                              Originally posted by rk21uk View Post
                              It is a private company that offers student accommodation across the UK. They are not officially affiliated with the uni but the uni does recommend them as a private accommodation provider via their uni website. Aside from that, no business relationship.
                              Was it a faulty lock and did it jam through normal usage? I suspect that the engineer has seen this before otherwise why would he be hammering at the door and not using a locksmith? Did your son damage the door beyond repair or was it their engineer who damaged it from the outside? Your son may not be the first to have had a faulty lock at this building and the Student Union may be able to intercede on your son's behalf to try and negotiate for you. In any case it may give the Union and University some thought as to whether they should in fact be recommending the private company to their students.
                              You mention UNIPOL who generally inspect their properties before giving accreditation so you may be able to raise a complaint with them and ask for an inspector to look at it for you. I have had two houses inspected by UNIPOL and it was a very thorough inspection and the threat of that may force the private company to reconsider their position.

                              Comment

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