I'll try to keep this brief.
My girlfriend (Alana) responded to an advert on Gumtree to rent a room from a girl (Fiona) in Edinburgh, Scotland. During initial communications via text, Fiona asked if Alana would she be looking for a 6 months lease, this being a standard lease Alana's response was "yes". So approx. 5 weeks ago Alana transferred £400 into Fiona's bank account as a deposit, a receipt for the deposit was supplied and signed by Fiona and an agreed move in date was noted on the receipt as 15th of Nov. 2014.
A verbal & text agreement was made for Alana to start moving her belongings in a few days early. However when Alana arrived to move her belongings in, Fiona had no spare key ready and no lease for Alana to review and sign. With Fiona's permission, Alana started to move her belongings in gradually from Friday 14th Nov. Fiona simply told Alana to leave the key under the front door matt, which Alana was not comfortable doing for obvious security reasons. During the course of Friday night, Alana and one of her friends were finishing off moving items when Fiona arrived home and they chatted. Fiona was very intoxicated and acted in a very crazy manner, which made both Alana and her friend feel uncomfortable, Alana was scared for her own safety if she was to be living with this girl.
Alana decided to give Fiona the benefit of the doubt. So early evening Saturday 15th Nov. Both myself and Alana moved one more car load of belongings into Fiona's house. Fiona was present and I met her, she seemed nice enough, however she had just returned from the bar and was a little drunk but not inappropriate.
Fiona still had no lease for Alana to review/sign and still no front door key, Fiona claimed she had lost it and would, "sort it out tomorrow".
Alana and myself left Fiona's house stating we would finish the move tomorrow. Within less than 30mins of us leaving, Fiona proceeded to send a barrage of aggressively worded text messages to Alana asking for her first months rent (£550) to be transferred to her account. Alana was reluctant to transfer money without first reviewing a lease agreement, but reluctantly arranged a bank transfer to go in on the 16th Nov. 2014. Shortly after Alana made the online transfer arrangements, more aggressive texts messages came in from Fiona, so much so that Alana cancelled her bank transfer and decided Fiona's behavior and communications were too much and that first thing on the Sunday morning (approx. 09:30) she would remove all her belongings from Fiona's house, using Fiona's key (which was Fiona’s one and only key). Fiona awoke and witnessed us moving items out of her house. Wary of Fiona's unpredictable behavior, Alana explained to Fiona that she was simply moving items out because she felt she had originally brought too much stuff. Fiona proceeded to the kitchen to make herself tea etc. while we continued to move items out.
Alana handed Fiona's only key back to her and we left Fiona's home. A few hours later Fiona sent more aggressive text messages to Alana calling her a coward and and accusing Alana or me of stealing
money from her kitchen and stealing her key, saying she would now need to change the locks, which is an utterly false accusation.
Fiona is now refusing to return Alana's initial £400 deposit claiming that Alana moved out with no notice period, despite Alana never actually signing any lease, however Fiona may still be in possession of Alana's text response to Fiona's original question, 5 weeks prior with reference to the lease length. When Alana asked Fiona for her £400 deposit to be returned, she polity offered Fiona to deduct £55 from the £400 deposit, which was the equivalent of three days of a monthly rent, this was a gesture of goodwill since Alana had moved some belongings in a few days early, Fiona still refused to repay any of her initial deposit.
Alana took a day off work and spent a few hours with the citizens advice bureau this morning who advised her it was not an open and shut case, despite the fact she had not signed a lease from Fiona, there was still the matter of Alana’s response via text stating “yes” regarding a 6 month lease. So if Alana took Fiona to a small claims court and if Alana was to lose, Fiona could then claim 6 months of rental income from Alana and perhaps the cost of changing locks. They mentioned because Fiona is only letting out one room, she isn't classed as a "landlord" as such. The only thing the advice bureau suggested was to send Fiona a lawyer’s letter in an attempt to have her return Alana’s deposit.
This is a horrible situation for Alana, who is now sleeping on her grannies couch for the immediate future.
Your professional advise would be most welcome, thank you for your attention and I look forward to your reply.