Can I go to court for this?
July 16, 2012 8:48 AM   Subscribe

UK tenancy filter: I'm in a shared house. Our contract is up at the end of the month. Against my advice, a few of my fellow tenants are refusing to pay their rent for the final month - claiming they need the money to afford to move. They claim that the landlord will be able to take the arrears from the security deposit and that we won't be taken to court over it...

I think this is a spectacularly bad idea for a number of reasons. But my real fear is that the deposit won't cover the cost of arrears + damages, and that our landlord could try and take all of us to court. THAT is the situation I really want to avoid - a CCJ against my name that will screw up my credit rating for years.

I pay my rent monthly directly to another housemate who pays the entire sum to the landlord. He's withholding the full amount this month, so my payment is just sitting his account. Apparently the landlord refuses to take partial payment.

This last month's rent is already more than 2 weeks overdue.

I guess my question is - will the landlord just take the rent arrears from the deposit and that'll be the end of it? What if the damages+arrears outweight the deposit? Can he take us to court then?

I am hopelessly confused and incredibly stressed out by this situation. Sorry if it's a bit muddled. I'm willing to write off the deposit just to get the hell out of this situation - but I just can't face going to court for something that is not my fault and out of my control.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Are you on the lease? If so, have your roommate refund you back what you paid and send it to the landlord directly. Certified mail, to insure it's received (whatever the Royal Mail equivalent fo this is)

Let everyone else do what they're going to do.

If you're on the lease, you're on the hook, and in the US, the landlord can go after each roommate Jointly OR Severally. That means that the landlord can choose to sue one, or all of you, for his/her money. If you're the one that gets nailed, you have recourse in that you can turn around and sue your roommates. It's an awful lot of hassle.

Call the landlord and let him or her know that this is what your roommates are doing, see if he or she will work with you to clear off your part of the deal and leave the rest of the roommates to their richly deserved rewards.

In the future, don't be on the lease, or be the only one on the lease.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:10 AM on July 16, 2012

Write a letter to the landlord explaining the situation, bring it to him in person, and get a signed copy of it from him. See if he will agree not to sue you because of how your roommates are acting (and sign that agreement on paper).

Do the same with your roommates - write a letter clearly explaining the situation, and how it is their choice, you strongly object, and have paid your last month's rent already. Get this signed by everybody.

Every decision they make you should protest, and document your protest.

Get everything in writing before step two - if I were in your shoes I would threaten to sue them right now for 1. basically stealing your share of the rent and 2. breach of contract, and I wouldn't be bluffing.

Make it clear to them that the decisions they are making will screw you over, and that you will fight them on it.

Make it clear to them that if they screw the landlord, the landlord will find things that will soak that security deposit right up, and they will be in court.

They sound like very stupid and selfish people, and the only way to get those kind of people to do something is to put it in terms of their best interests.

Good luck, that sounds very shitty.
posted by amcm at 9:10 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Regarding the jointly or severally bit: I'm going to point out something here that may be off the wall, or ruthlessly on-target.

You apparently are the most responsible, ethical and financially sound member of your group of roommates.

If you were a landlord faced with trying to sue a group of roommates for back rent, one of which is apparently reasonable and responsible and honors their obligations, and the others who have no qualms about skipping out on their obligations, who would you sue first?

Consider making your partial payment of rent to the landlord contingent on the landlord signing a legally binding agreement not to pursue you for the balance of the rent.
posted by de void at 9:25 AM on July 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

Are you financially able to pay the rent on your own?

If I were in your situation, I'd strongly consider telling the roommates that either they're paying their share of the rent, or you'll be suing them. Paying the entire balance and then suing the pants off my roommates to recover may be a better alternative for you than letting your roommates screw up your credit.
posted by zug at 9:57 AM on July 16, 2012

Yes the landlord can take all of you to court or any of you individually - whoever he can get a hold of. I'm guessing your roommate isn't going to leave a forwarding address.

I guess my question is - will the landlord just take the rent arrears from the deposit and that'll be the end of it?
Most likely yes, he may be annoyed about the late payment of rent but if you've always paid on time every other month and haven't trashed the place, he's likely seen worse. Has he been in touch about the late rent?

What if the damages+arrears outweight the deposit? Can he take us to court then?
Yes. How much does the security deposit exceed the last month's rent? How significant are the damages? (he cannot deduct anything for normal wear and tear). He doesn't want to go to court any more than you do, everyone's personal threshold is different but unless he's going to be significantly out of pocket, chances are he'll eat the loss or pass on the costs to the next tenants.

Realistically, unless the place is very dirty and/or has a lot of damage, you'll probably be fine but you should get your roommate to give you back your money. If she refuses then it should be a very straight forward case for small claims court, you can even file online. Usually just the threat of legal action is enough and you wont actually have to go through with it.
posted by missmagenta at 9:59 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm not an expert and the answer is complicated. In the UK it depends in part on the type of lease you've got and in part on the nature of your deposit (most reputable landlords use a deposit protection scheme).

I wouldn't think it sensible to contact the landlord prior to getting advice from someone who can look at your situation and give you specific advice. Fortunately you can get this advice from a local expert for free.

Go to the your local Citizens Advice Bureau. This is exactly what they are for and they can give you sensible personal advice about your particular situation. There is one in every area of the UK, they don't charge and they are really helpful.
posted by Gilgongo at 10:02 AM on July 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Er, first and foremost you need to work out what your lease says. It makes an important difference.

If you and your flatmates or housemates all signed a single tenancy agreement with a landlord when you moved in, you will have a joint tenancy. This means that you will all have exactly the same rights and responsibilities.

If each of you signed a separate agreement with the landlord, you have separate tenancies.

If it's separate tenancies, go ahead and pay your last month's rent. You still might get screwed on the deposit if the landlord is feeling cranky, but you will fulfil l your obligations.

If it's single tenancies, I'd make a concerted effort to show your housemates what not paying the final month's rent means, legally. It's not great because you expose yourself but you're still a few steps away from a CCJ - it is far more in the landlord's interest to remind you of your obligations without involving a court.

However, and this is the big point: if your housemates are withholding the rent and there is damage to the property that would get paid for out of the deposit, your landlord could take the money for the damage and you to court for the unpaid rent. Practically, rather than legally, speaking, work out how much damage there is. Legally, you are jointly and individually liable for paying the rent so unless the landlord is going to give cast iron guarantees you're off the hook (which he could do, and still take *your* share of the deposit) and will return your deposit in full, you actually might be better off not paying money.

Rather, I'd focus on leaving a clear paper trail between you and your housemate.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:06 AM on July 16, 2012

The Shelter website has some useful information about tenancies. I am not a lawyer, this is not legal advice, but if your security deposit does not cover your last month's rent and any other deductions your landlord is entitled to make, then it looks like he can take you to court to get the difference. If you do try and pay your part of the rent, make sure you know how your deposit is going to be returned to you - if they're going to split it equally between all the tenants, then you'll be worse off for having paid that month's rent.
Witholding your last month's rent

If you are thinking of withholding the last month's rent in case the landlord refuses to return the deposit, bear in mind that you are legally liable to pay rent and your landlord could take you to court to recover it.

If you do withhold the last month's rent, make sure your landlord would have no other claim to your deposit. Repair any damage that may have occurred and be sure to keep records to show the condition you leave the property in and anything you have paid for such as cleaning. Keep the money in a separate bank account in case your landlord does try to claim it back.
posted by penguinliz at 10:14 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

UK housing law is a pain in the arse so seconding Gilgongo and MuffinMan - talk to your local CAB and check your tenancy agreement type. Keep in mind also that if you had to provide guarantors (Your situation kind sounds studenty and guarantors are often required by anyone letting to students/limited rental history) and they will also be held legally responsible for unpaid rent, which may backfire on your housemates, if their guarantors are their parents...

Good luck.
posted by halcyonday at 10:21 AM on July 16, 2012

You have little power to make your co-tenants pay up and I imagine you will not be able to persuade them to do so. (Most likely because they have been robbed by a previous landlord who dicked them on paying back the full deposit on they are aware this happens *A LOT*.)

There is a non-zero chance that you will get dicked on this rent by this landlord, and while you may be able to sue him under deposit protection this is sub-ideal, drawn out and may not achieve the result you want.

If you get your money to him while your housemates do not you may well be lining yourself up to receive the full weight of the dicking because he will take your rent, keep the equivalent of the missing rent for each of your housemates from the deposit, make any other reductions (legit or otherwise), and return the remains of the main deposit, so that you get to soak up the full costs, while your housemates can claim they paid the full rent and it is your own fault for being an idiot. (I am not saying you are an idiot, just guessing how the conversation will go.) (For example, say you all owe £500 rent and have £500 in the deposit. Housemates withhold final rent and write off £500 deposit. You pay £500 rent. Landlord now has £3000, £2500 covers the last months rent. The remaining £500 is in the deposit account (legally anyway). He assesses inventory and damage and decides to keep £400. You get £100 back. You could make claims against your housemates for £80 each but this will be a pain in the arse, and there is a good chance you will see nothing of it. If the agreement isn't joint you might have some claim against the landlord but it will still be something of a pain to pursue.

It may well be that the easiest route is to hold back your own rent for the two weeks and then see what happens. A professional landlord will have been in this situation before and be used to this happening. If he does get shirty and threaten legal proceedings you can be stood there ready to pay your share of the rent as necessary.
posted by biffa at 10:46 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

op, you stated "apparently the landlord refuses to take partial payment."
i'd find that out from the landlord directly.

because pretty much every solution offered here is you giving the landlord your part and having him accept it.

maybe your roommate is just saying that, so i'd check that out.
posted by sio42 at 11:22 AM on July 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'd agree with biffa here - I had a similar situation with housemates when I first moved to London 9 years ago, but with randoms I'd found in Loot rather than friends (the most common way of finding accommodation there at the time). They didn't pay the last month's rent, one of them stayed in the house for an extra week 'cleaning', and the landlords added £210 a day for every extra day he stayed. They scarpered without leaving forwarding addresses. It was then I found out that Cleaning Flatmate hadn't paid his rent for six months. Landlord left a message on my machine asking for a forwarding address for me. Turns out that any one of you in a JT can be responsible for all arrears/charges. This is the part where I started really freaking out.

A quick phone call to a lawyer friend of the family gleaned this advice: do not give them your forwarding address. The only way they can bring legal action against you is if they can serve you the papers. In the UK this also means using the Royal Mail (doesn't even have to be recorded delivery) to an address you can be proven to live at. I was still antsy for about 2 months as they had my work address, but after cutting off contact nothing happened.

Over the years, as landlords were known for just keeping your entire deposit because, well, there was nothing you could do about it - fuck you!, I watched all of my friends live in multiple places and never ever pay the last month's rent. No one ever came after them with papers or CCJs. It's too time consuming and expensive to have someone find you.

These days, with the tenancy deposit scheme, I'm not sure how that works. I'd definitely try to get some kind of legal counsel either from the CAB or ideally someone you know. What I would say is that this actually ending up in court is an unlikely outcome, so try not to worry too much about that.
posted by everydayanewday at 1:54 PM on July 16, 2012

I've just had bit more of a poke around on the legalities of this, and if the worst comes to the worst and you guys do get a CCJ letter, as long as you pay it off within 28 days it will not affect your credit rating.
posted by everydayanewday at 2:32 PM on July 16, 2012

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