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Jo C.
Jo C., Barrister
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 69251
Experience:  Over 5 years in practice
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I have sublet a room in July in the flat I rent in Bristol

Customer Question

I have sublet a room in July in the flat I rent in Bristol to a woman who has since been sectioned under the mental health act. He has been in a secure hospital since January. His father has come from Canada to escort him home there (he has dual nationality). He owes us a large amount of money for rent and bills (well over £1500). His property (clothing, computer equipment) is still in his room. We (other flatmates) have obviously been sensitive about his mental health and about settling the outstanding money owed. Can we retain his property until his family or he settle the money due? When he is released from Hospital, he is going straight to Manchester (?) airport with a healthcare and family escort to fly out to Canada. If not, what is the alternative remedy? Both the flatmate (in texts when lucid) and an uncle who lives in the UK have agreed I should not be out of pocket. I have not heard from the father who arrived in the UK last week. A "friend of the family" refers only to collecting the property and the post but skirts the debt issue. The debt is not due from the uncle and the flatmate will have little incentive to settle once he has left this country, probably for ever.
Submitted: 1 year ago.
Category: Law
Expert:  Jo C. replied 1 year ago.
Thank you for your question. My name is ***** ***** I will try to help with this.
What would you like to know about this please?
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

My potential remedies and method of collecting the money due. I imagine my withholding property is illegal.

I had written my question nebulously in case they came across it:-

It is a young woman with joint British / Australian citizenship and it is her mother who has just arrived from Australia to take her and all her stuff (currently in our home) back there.

I think they are planning a runner. The girl still has all her stuff in our shared place (there are 4 of us sharing but the lease is in my name)


Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Hi Jo, If this correspondence is private and not posted on forums then my email address is *****@******.*** Thank you. PL

Expert:  Jo C. replied 1 year ago.
Yes, they probably are.
Realistically it will be difficult to enforce this.
Withholding property is not lawful but they would have to go to court to get you to release and then you could counter claim. They could argue it is a theft by retention but the police will not be interested and anyway you can always escape prosecution by making clear to them that the property is available to them when the debt is settled. Then you have no intention to permanently deprive so theft is not made out.
Your only other recourse is to sue. Cross border that is not cost effective. You could sue the guarantor if they are uk based.
Can I clarify anything for you?
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Thank you Jo.

(Your answer to the following can, if you prefer, wait until the morning since it is becoming late)

Do you mean it will be difficult to enforce the illegality of my retaining / withholding property?

If I state "The property is available to you when the debt is settled and I have no intention to deprive you of it" do I thus remove any possibility of police involvement?

Things are relatively civil at present but I have all but invited Katie's mother and the slightly belligerent friend of the family, Tom, to visit. I think I should probably avoid that in case they turn up with a van! Yes?

Katie's mental health doctor asked earlier this week for her mail to be forwarded and I will do that forthwith when I am back in London.

There is as yet no Guarantor. Katie's father's brother, "Uncle David", is decent and lives in Birmingham but I have met him at the flat in London (where he frequently works) some time after Katie was first sectioned. He acknowledges that there are financial settle-ups required.

Is there a simple method with a downloadable form to cause him or the 'Friend of Family' Tom or both to become UK resident guarantors swiftly? Or another written method?

Am I going about this the wrong way?

Katie's family, with whom I have every sympathy owing to the medical issues with Katie, appear to have a tight schedule.

Many thanks.


Expert:  Jo C. replied 1 year ago.
You don't remove the possibility of police involvement. They could complain and the police may tell you to return it. What you do though is give yourself a strong defence to theft so if you prosecuted you should be safe.
Your difficulty here is that it is very difficult to enforce this otherwise. They are on the move out of the UK. It is not worth suing cross border and since you know they are going you cannot enforce in the UK.
I would just tell them you are holding a lien over this property until the debt is paid but that it will be returned at that time. Then it is not theft because you don't intend to permanently deprive. It is open to debate whether your lien is a proper one but that is for a court and then you could counter claim.
Customer: replied 1 year ago.

Morning Jo, and Thank you.

I still do not know what it is "difficult to enforce".

1: My debt

2: Sectioned Katie's unknown 'friend's claim on property.

I will clearly express your advice that I have no intention whatsoever of depriving anyone of their property and that it is available to them when debt is agreed and settled.

One cannot stop people from summoning the police but does my expression of the above avoid accusation of Theft by Retention? is this a civil matter?

Any thoughts on swift Guarantor paperwork?

Many thanks.


Expert:  Jo C. replied 1 year ago.
Theft by retention is a criminal matter. It isn't likely that you would be prosecuted if you make clear that the goods can be collected but you are holding a lien over them.
What may happen is that the police may tell you to give them back to her. I have known them do that several times recently. I have to say that i have no idea on what basis they think they can do that but law abiding people tend not to be willing to take a stand and risk prosecution.
Difficult to enforce just means very expensive to sue abroad. Nobody really does it. She isn't even going to an EU country so you couldn't get a european enforcement order.
You would have to sue either in her domiciled country or in the UK and then enforce abroad.
I wouldn't even think of doing that. It will cost thousands and she will just plead poverty and malinger anyway.
Jo C., Barrister
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 69251
Experience: Over 5 years in practice
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Customer: replied 1 year ago.

(NB - this may not be posted on a forum)

Thanks Jo, Hope the rating suits you. Here is my follow up question.

Tom, the "friend of the family" / friend of Sectioned ex-flatmate Katie has been on the phone. I have not spoken to Katie's mother who has arrived from Australia to take "the patient" home.

Tom and I kept it very civil and it was clear to me that he and the mother had been deeply suspicious that myself and the two remaining flatmates were in some way to blame or were the catalyst for Katie's deterioration in mental health.

I was able to point out that she had been seeing a private consultant psychiatrist before moving in here.

Tom and i touched on the debt. I have no confidence whatsoever that they are not INTENDING TO DO A RUNNER!

The debt is well over £3,000. The value of her property here is a third of that at best.

Whilst speaking softly with them, is there a big stick I can carry? Emergency injunction-style thing to stop someone leaving the country?

Or cause friend Tom to assume responsibility for debt?

I realise it is not millions of pounds but fleeing debt could be considered some kind of misdemeanor! Possibly a felony.

Please advise.

Renewed thanks.


Expert:  Jo C. replied 1 year ago.
I am really sorry but he is not responsible and there is no way of preventing her leaving on the basis of debt alone.
There isnt a great dealt that can be done other than keep her goods means of a lien.

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