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Jo C.
Jo C., Barrister
Category: Law
Satisfied Customers: 71154
Experience:  Over 5 years in practice
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Hello, Our assured shorthold tenancy started on 26th August

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Our assured shorthold tenancy started on 26th August and is for 2 years with a 1 year break clause which our landlord wanted to have inserted (2 months notice either side to facilitate the break clause).
We moved our possessions in to the property on 28th and 29th August.
We knew it was in poor decorative order and that nothing would be sorted out in an aesthetic sense.
However, it is clear that there are health, safety & security issues.
These include:
Flea infestation (previous tenant had a cat, we have no pet, the place is dirty so has not been professionally cleaned or fumigated) so we have been bitten several times every day and have not unpacked the majority of our possessions
Dangerous electrics (kitchen wall was discovered to be electrically live and my husband sustained electric shocks - multi-meter registered between 40 and 140 volts from the kitchen wall including through plastic/tiles/grout. Cooker was also connected in a dangerous fashion posing a fire risk and fridge freezer wired on to same circuit as cooker).
Electricity was found to be leaking from fixings, electrical insulation was found to measure 0.09 when minimum is 1.
Last electrical safety test was 2007, sticker in electric cupboard says next one due 2012.
One non working battery operated smoke detector was in the property with a battery that had expired in March 2007. (as it is not an HMO I realise they do not have to supply smoke detectors)
Damp in kitchen from water ingress from roof and damp in loft room from water ingress from roof/chimney area.
We are not using our child's bedroom (loft room) as the damp has not been addressed.
Numerous other issues such as rusty old bath waste and taps, broken locks, black mould in kitchen cabinets etc.
The visible damp in the loft room and rust issues we first raised during the viewing several weeks ago. We received a 47 page inventory only when we moved in, it already alerted them to a multitude of issues and have annotated it ourselves. A property manager from the lettings agency representing the landlord attended the property yesterday. We have put everything in writing to them more than once.
They were supposed to be getting in touch with the landlord and having a meeting with the company directors today. The agent 'fully manages' the property.
We have contacted the private rental sector team at the council and they say they can intervene if we give the landlord 2-3 weeks first.
We have an appointment with citizens advice next week.
Do we have any way of escaping from this tenancy agreement?
Any advice would be much appreciated.
Thank you for your question. My name is ***** ***** I will try to help with this.
Have you reported this to environmental health?
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

We have not reported this to environmental health, just the 'private rental sector team' at the Council

I am sorry but its bad news although the liability may not be as bad as you think.
I know this isn’t going to be the answer you want to hear, and it’s certainly not what I want to tell you. However, I wish to be completely honest with you, so I feel obligated to not give you false hope.
Unfortunately ASTs are very hard to escape. You pretty much have to show that the property is gutted by fire damage or flooding and so you cannot live in it. Another acceptable reason would be that a person's life is in immediate danger like a gas leak.
I'm afraid that things like change of circumstances of the tenant or the fact that the premises is not salubrious is not sufficient.
You could try to negotiate with the landlord. Sometimes they will agree to allow tenants to leave as its in their interests too on occasions.
If that is not possible here then I'm afraid you will be acting unlawfully if you leave early. However the landlord is under a duty to mitigate his loss by seeking a replacement tenant and he will not get forever to achieve that. Realistically, if a landlord is really trying, most properties can be let to another tenant comfortably within a month. You will only be liable up until the time that the landlord is able to replace you which will be nothing like the remaining months due under the contract.
Of course, there is a risk that the landlord will not be able to find a replacement. If so, the Court will ask him to prove that he has looked for a replacement. If he is able to do so to the Court's satisfaction then you would be liable for that period but that is very unlikely.
That is not to say that you don't have a disrepair claim against the landlords. You are describing disrepair and you could seek a reduction in rent to recognise that.
You can also complain to Environmental Health who will issue an improvement notice to the landlord if the facts are as you say. That is a very effective way of resolving disrepair issues.
Sorry thats probably not the answer you wanted but it is the position that you have and I have a duty to give you truthful and accurate information even though its not what I want to say.
Hope this helps. Please let me know if you need more information
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thanks for your answer - much appreciated. Yes, not at all what I wanted to hear.

Do we need to give the landlord time to make repairs before Environmental Health would issue an improvement notice? If so approximately how long is reasonable?

If we seek a reduction in rent how do we work out what to ask for? Would that literally mean we pay them a lower amount of money each month until the property has had remedial maintenance carried out?

(obviously we have already paid the first month's rent in full prior to moving in along with all the other fees)

We are concerned that realistically we are likely to be given our notice as soon as the landlord is able to serve us with it (month 10) as a result of demanding the disrepair is rectified and 'causing hassle'. Presumably there is nothing we could do and we may well have to move again next year?

We are pretty cheesed off as you can imagine with the world of private renting.

Also, fortunately my husband was unharmed by the electric shocks but does the letting agent / landlord really have no duty carrying a legal penalty for failing to keep us safe from injury caused by the property's defects?

No, if it is something that interests environmental health then they will give him a timeframe.
Reductions are always very difficult to assess but probably you are looking at between 10 and 30%.
It is quite likely that environmental health would be interested in this.
Failing that, you can always do the work yourself and sue him for the cost or withhold from rents but the latter is more dangerous.
The other alternative is to just plain move out and if he sues defend on the basis of disrepair. That is more dangerous as you may end up being sick but whether or not he would want to risk having to defend this level of disrepair in court is open to question.
Jo C. and other Law Specialists are ready to help you
Customer: replied 3 years ago.

Thank you for your help today.

We will get on to environmental health next and hopefully they will be able to assist with getting some action underway.

Customer: replied 3 years ago.

My husband and I have been looking at our tenancy agreement.

Could you let me know if the following makes any difference whatsoever?

With all our other tenancy agreements at other properties we have rented in the past both parties have signed the paperwork.

However, in this case the first few pages of our tenancy agreement concern the details of the deposit and we have signed this but the space for the landlord's signature is blank.

Then at the end of the tenancy agreement we have signed in the boxes and it was only witnessed by the letting agent (so they signed it as a witness to our signatures not as the other party).

There was no space at the end of the tenancy agreement for either the letting agent or landlord to sign it and they haven't signed it anywhere else.

The lettings agent has the second copy of paperwork signed only by us in exactly the same places and witnessed by them in exactly the same places. They had both sets of paperwork for over a week and we expected that the landlord's signature would have been added.

We haven't received any other document with the landlord's signature.

Is this still a valid tenancy agreement?

Does this help us in any way to leave early?

We have asked in writing for the landlord's address within 21 days under s1 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985.

In the tenancy agreement it just has the letting agency's address for him (they say that is where to serve notices under s48 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1987).

Not lawfully.

Come what may, whatever the discrepancies in the agreement, you did move in and you have paid which is enough to evidence an agreement.

If you do leave then you take a risk but its quite unlikely he would sue in the circumstances. What he will do though is keep the deposit. You could counter claim for disrepair though and, in the circumstances, he would be stupid to contest that.