Money back from letting agents?
December 2, 2012 3:24 PM   Subscribe

UK Rental filter [posted for a friend]: My friend paid the deposit + first month's rent for an apartment, but has yet to sign the lease; his circumstances have changed suddenly and he now wants to back out - can he get his money back?

My friend was supposed to sign the lease and move in to the new place on December 1st, and since that was a Saturday was asked to provide the first month's rent + deposit (£1500 in total) beforehand by direct bank transfer.

On Friday night, my friend's father was taken severely ill. This means that he's needed to travel back to his home town, some 200 miles away from his new place. My friend's a freelance worker and can easily shift locations for work purposes, but he doesn't know how long he'll be down there - quite possibly for some months to come.

Naturally, this all means that a) He hasn't signed the lease yet - he never went into the agent's to pick up the keys - and b) He'd like not to sign the lease and to get his money back - he doesn't know when he'll be ready to move to a new place and he's got friends (including me) happy and willing to put his stuff in storage until he can finally get round to moving.

My friend's question is this: under UK law does he have the right to get his money back without repercussions? He submitted an application form, which warns against defaulting on his tenancy obligations, and he paid a separate admin / holding fee when he did so (£150). But he's never actually signed a lease. At the moment my friend's out of pocket to the tune of £1650; is there any chance he can get the deposit and first month's rent back?
posted by gmb to Law & Government (5 answers total)
I don't have high hopes for your friend, but I don't actually know for sure what the law would say. In the UK he could contact a Citizen's Advice Bureau to get expert assistance.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:55 PM on December 2, 2012

I've not had experience of this as I always signed the lease, but I would imagine he would be entitled to get the deposit, but the letting agents/landord might quibble about the one month's rent in advance, so he might have to be prepared to lose that. I don't think you would be able to recoup the admin fee as the work has been done already. I would hope, given the difficult circumstances, the letting agents would be human and let him have the month in advance AND the deposit back, but estate agents can be pretty low sometimes.

Seconding the Citizen's Advice Bureau. They're very good on housing issues.
posted by stenoboy at 11:47 PM on December 2, 2012

You are highly unlikely to get the deposit back. That's what it's for - financial compensation for the landlord if you pull out of the rental.

The Shelter website is a good resource for tenant's rights.
posted by EndsOfInvention at 2:39 AM on December 3, 2012

Your friend paid actual money without signing a contract? Ouch.

On the plus side, it means he can pull out now & not be on the hook for the first 6 months rent (which he would be under most standard tenancy agreements, although if you're willing to go to court you might not have to pay all of it...) On the negative side, he's certainly going to be out the deposit & he'll have the devil of a time getting that first months rent back. (Again, small claims court should do the trick, but it'll take a while).
posted by pharm at 4:14 AM on December 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

The deposit was given in good faith that the contract would be mutually agreeable. I guess if there was some major point in the contract that both parties could not agree on, then the contract would not be signed, and would be void. (in contract law terms there would be no "meeting of the minds"). At that point the deposit should be returned (perhaps with deductions claimed?)

Just freely associating here ... YMMV.
posted by jannw at 5:42 AM on December 3, 2012

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