What can you do when a flatmate turns into flat hate?

September is a peak time for the rental property market with thousands of students embarking on their new life at university and looking for a property to rent.

16th September 2019

Sharing a flat is a popular way to help pay the rent but sharing a home is not always easy; with very different definitions of what ‘clean’ means, countless friends sleeping over, parties, and of course, furry friends. 

But how do you deal with a housemate drama and what are you legal rights when it comes to resolving disputes? Nicole Rodgers, solicitor at DAS Law, has the low-down on what prospective flatmates need to know…

The condition of my shared housing is so bad that it is causing me to have health issues; can I force my housemates to clean up?

The first step is really to try and have a discussion with everyone in the house about the effect this is having on your health. It is usually best to try and have a constructive round table discussion, and to avoid ganging up on a particular culprit.

If possible, you should come to a joint agreement as to how to manage the cleaning duties moving forward. If the problems persist then you may need to consider reporting these issues to your letting agent or directly to the landlord.

If the health impact is so serious to you that it is affecting your health, then you may have to involve the Environmental Health Department within your local authority.

My flatmate’s significant other is over at our flat a lot of the time it feels like they live here also. They use our utilities, food and Wi-Fi free of charge. Can I ask them to leave, and how can I enforce this?

Some allowance should be made for infrequent visitors, but if the non-tenant’s presence becomes a nuisance then it is would be best to have an initial discussion to try and resolve the issues between yourselves. If this is not possible and you have separate tenancy agreements then there is likely to be a term in your flatmate’s tenancy saying they cannot sub-let or move non-tenants into the property.

There is also usually a clause stating they should not do anything or allow any behaviour which may be construed as a nuisance to other tenants. You could then report the presence of the non-tenant to the landlord who will decide whether to take action in relation to any breach of tenancy.

My flatmate has purchased a dog, but I don’t like it and our contract states that we can’t have pets. What action can I take?

Because you have to live with this person, the best option is to try and resolve it amicably before making any complaint to the landlord about your flatmate’s breach of the tenancy agreement. If you have a joint tenancy then this means you would be jointly liable for this breach and any damage the dog causes, so your flatmate should be made aware of this.

My landlord has refused to return our deposit for damage caused by someone that no longer lives with us, what can we do?

Again this depends on whether you have a single or joint tenancy. In a single tenancy an individual deposit should have been taken from you, and as long as you abide by the terms of your tenancy and cause no damage yourself then the landlord cannot make any deduction from this deposit.

If a joint deposit has been taken then there is likely to be joint and shared responsibility for damage amongst all of the tenants, and the landlord could dispute the release of some or all of the deposit if they can show they need this money to rectify the damage.

In any cases of dispute, the deposit should have been protected in a deposit protection scheme and their dispute resolution process can be used to decide upon the fairness of any deduction.

We have received final demands for bills but I have paid my share, what can I do?

It does depend on what the bill is for (electricity, council tax etc.). However it is usually presumed in the case of shared accommodation that all tenants agree to pay an equal share of any bills for the property.

Utility companies will usually target the named bill payer first, but in theory they can pursue other tenants if they can show that the person named on the bill contracted on behalf of all the tenants.

If your name is on the bill and you cannot get the other tenants to pay up for their share, you may need pay the whole bill yourself (if possible) and try and recover their share from them via a legal route.

Before I sign a lease, how do I know if or make sure that the contract is fair?

All residential leases are governed by the various Landlord & Tenant Acts. The majority are likely to be ‘Assured Shorthold Tenancies’ (AST) which offer tenants a certain amount of security in the property.

Generally, tenants have security of tenure for the initial six months of a tenacy and the landlord cannot seek repossession within this period without grounds (e.g. failure to pay rent), and only then by serving the appropriate notice on the tenant.

Landlords also have a statutory obligation to repair the structure and utilities in the property within a reasonable time if something goes wrong. It is essential for the tenant to fully understand their obligations under the lease, and for a full inventory of the property to be completed prior to the tenant moving in, as allegations of property damage at the end of a tenancy are a common dispute in landlord and tenant relationships.

As of the 1st June 2019, landlords and letting agents are prohibited from charging tenants certain fees by the Tenant Fees Act 2019. For example, any fees which relate to the carrying out of referencing checks or administration charges are not permitted. Before paying any fees to a landlord or letting agent you should check whether they are permitted under this new legislation.

Disclaimer: This information is for general guidance regarding rights and responsibilities and is not formal legal advice as no lawyer-client relationship has been created. Note that the information was accurate at the time of publication but laws may have since changed.

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