Catherine Findlay writes about her experience when she relocated from the USA to London & rented accommodation from a bunch of cowboys because there was nobody to protect her interests.
It’s become a common theme these days in the UK to see reports of rogue landlords taking advantage of innocent and naïve tenants. Over the past few weeks numerous cases have been in the media about landlords being taken to court after being found sequestering their tenants to unimaginable living conditions.
Recently another report came to light of a landlord being fined £70,000 for cramming twice the number of people legally allowed into a property. Balwinder Singh Kahlon was found guilty by Ealing Council of cramming 20 people into a maximum 10 occupancy property.
This reminded me of my own experience dealing with an unpleasant, landlord/property management company.
Here’s my experience:
In August 2014, I relocated from the US to London to complete my final years of university and start my professional career. At the time, being a student and vastly unaware of property law and tenants’ rights, I entered into a contract with a “professional” management company. I use the term “professional” loosely.
The first challenge I faced was not physically seeing the property before I moved in. My friend and I were looking for a property, within a reasonable budget and easy commute to work and university. She was based in the UK for the summer, while I was in the states; therefore it was up to her to do all the property viewings, which can be very stressful.
3 viewings had already been cancelled because the flats had been rented so fast due to high demand. So we had no other choice but to either test our luck with a reset in the market or go for the only property that allowed viewings, which was a house-share.
We ended up going for the house-share as we didn’t want to end up with nothing and the ‘agent’ said there was other interest in the property so we’d lose it if we didn’t act fast!
Upon arrival in the UK and to the house, I had to pay the remaining deposit and 1st month’s rent. I knew this was a common practice, but I was a little worried as I did not see a contract until I arrived, suitcases in hand and suffering from major jet-lag.
I had no other choice but to sign on the spot, without having a chance to read through the contract. Nobody helped me understand the legal jargon that was all foreign to me! I had previously tried to find a contract online through the company website but only found general requirements of a tenant.
After my arrival, things went downhill. There was an extra person living in the flat who was not contracted. I came across rat droppings, mould and water damage causing wall paper to peel off!
However, it wasn’t until the beginning of summer 2015 that I truly understood how shady our landlords were. We got a visit one day from a ‘random’ person who turned out to be the owner of the property. He took a tour of the house and was shocked to see how the conditions were and asked how many people were living in the property.
A few weeks later the house received a letter stating that we had until mid-July to move out of the property as the landlord was choosing to end his contract with our managing agents.
Upon confronting the management company, they denied the letter was valid but one month before the move out date they wrote and confirmed it was valid. It became clear that the random visitor was the true owner and he had rented the property to the agent who was his tenant, but our direct landlord.
Because the agent (our landlord) was in breach of their contract with their landlord (Mr Random), we had to leave the house!
In a panic, we had to find and secure new living arrangements at very short notice. They did offer us alternative accommodation, but we were not about to repeat the same mistake!!
This panic searching did not affect my friend and me too badly. Because we had “smelt a rat”, we took the precaution of already finding another rental flat through a reputable source. Our flat mates however were left to scramble.
It wasn’t until I felt secure and stress-free in my new rental home that I got fully to grips with what I had lived through over the past 10 months. It turns out that since September 2014 our managing agent had been battling with the local council over violating the maximum occupancy law. In short, they had been placing as many people into our property to maximise their profits without consideration to the people living there and the conditions we had to endure. Eventually they got caught!
What I needed:
What I needed to make my move less stressful was to be represented by professionals who could guide me through the dangers inherent in the London rental market. People like us arriving from overseas need a service that helps us understand our rights as a tenant before and after moving into a property.
Fortunately I found the right service, ironically enough at my place of work.
After I had moved into my unpleasant house-share I secured a job as a relocation assistant at Saunders 1865- The VIP Relocation Company. I was not aware of the extent of services that the company offered until I started working for them and I quickly came to know that they were EXACTLY what I needed throughout my entire ordeal.
The company offers various services that can help anyone relocating to the UK feel comfortable and secure. Though I am still new to the company, the knowledge that I have gained helped me greatly when finding my current property. I am more aware of the rights that tenants have and the stages of the negotiation process of a tenancy agreement. I need assistance from time to time and the specialists were always there at my side to help me, no matter how silly my questions may be.
Saunders 1865- The VIP Relocation Company- were there for me throughout my experience and offered terrific support and advice. I would highly recommend them to anyone relocating to the UK. Trust me, I am just one of many in the world that have benefited from their expertise.