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Tenant legal help – problems with other tenants

Sharing a homeThis blog post is for tenants who rent a room (or two) in a shared house where they share facilities, such as kitchen and living room, in the property with other tenants.

I was prompted to write this as I had an email from a tenant who said that one of his co-tenants smokes cannabis and leaves his dishes unwashed for long periods which he thinks is a health hazard. What can he do?

This is a very difficult problem. If you are a joint and several tenant with this person, ie if you both signed the same tenancy agreement, then at least you have only yourself to blame, as it was your choice to share a property with them.

However if you rent a room in a shared house, then you generally have no control over who the other tenants are – this is up to the landlord. So you may be living with congenial people one day, and then suddenly find that the whole tenor of the house has changed due to the landlord letting a room to one incompatible person.

What can you do?

The immediate answer is not much. You do not have any legal rights regarding this and have no power over the choice of your co-tenants. This is the problem about this sort of accommodation. Some landlords are considerate to their tenants and take care to choose someone acceptable, but not all.

There are really only three solutions. Either

  • you move out,
  • the disagreeable other tenant moves out, or
  • you put up with it

Moving out

This is may be the only solution long term. However you probably do not want to move out. You may like the house and its environs, and why should you be the one to move out anyway?

The other tenant moving out

This is the preferred solution! However he won’t want to move out either, so you will need to get the landlord on your side.

The best thing is to join forces with the other tenants (assuming they also dislike the new tenant) and make a joint compliant. The landlord is more likely to do something if you all complain. For example if you all threaten to leave he will not want this. He may be willing to speak to the tenant and serve an eviction notice on him.

Putting up with it

If you are not able to move out, and the other tenants refuse to join forces to complain to the landlord, and/ or the landlord refuses to do anything, this may be the only option.

If the other tenant is doing something illegal such as using prohibited drugs, one option is to inform the police or (if you want to be anonymous) ring crimestoppers.

But overall it is a very difficult problem and there is no easy answer. Do you have any solutions?

Photo by Steve Parker

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22 Responses to Tenant legal help – problems with other tenants

  1. I definitely think this is an issue of concern, especially should the housing benefit/ LHA changes go through and so many more people will have to share accommodation.

    I have heard of sexual harassment between tenants, theft of course is common. I have also heard of people cloning credit cards, and running up debts in housemates names, theft of mail, and on and on. Police seldom interested unless it becomes “big news”.

    the problem for the “offending” tenant is that also they may well have signed a lease, and be obliged to pay that to the landlord, so have all desires to stay put, even if “it not working out”. For the person that has been aggrieved, they have no choice either.

    I guess its one of those examples of things where if you are economically disadvantaged ( even paying 150 a week for a room in a shared house is not uncommon here in London) you have no choice.

    The only real option is for people who live in shared accommodation (whether HMO or not)should not be tied into a contract unless they went in jointly & severably liable on the tenants side- IE the tenant can live month by month, but the Landlord has to offer min 6 months? then the tenant could move out if there is a clash of personalities.

    If the Landlord sees this sort of churn then she/he can then give notice after the 6 months to the “offending tenant”

    landlords could undertake interviews regarding reasons for leaving, just like when one leaves a job.

    Would the lack of care for investigating complaints against co-tenants count for much against whether one is a “fit and proper” person to run a HMO? Tenants in a HMO could then highlight the issue to the LA and they could pressure, but this puts LAs in a very difficult position, not to mention that so many sharers do not live in HMOs.

  2. Thank you for your thoughtful answer LB.

    So far as HMOs are concerned, if there are three or more unrelated people living in the shared house it WILL be an HMO, although not necessarily one which needs an HMO license.

    So most of these properties will be HMOs and subject to the HMO management rules. However these are mainly health and safety related and do not cover things such as allowing tenants to break tenancies early if an offensive tenant moves in to a house share.

  3. And therein is the eternal problem of HMOs.

    I know from posts and private emails with ‘HMO landlady’ who posts here sometimes, that HMOs dont have to be run that way but they all too often are.

    And with changes to housing benefit afoot we will need more of them.

    HMOs definately need a more hands-on approach, in terms of day to day management than self contained lettings and that is what is all too often lacking.

    As Tessa points out in her article there isnt any legislatavie protection for tenants who find themselves sharing with the anti christ.

    I once had to deal with a horribly racist tenant, a biker, sharing with loads of lads from Bangladesh. He wired up the cooker to the mains in an attempt to kill the unlucky chef. Landlords responsibility?????

  4. Smoking cannabis, like other anti-social traits is becoming more common. In fact, I had such an incident this weekend: I received a call from one of my more muscular tenants saying “When you next see xxxx can you tell him not to stink the house out with his blxxxy mates smoking drugs”, so I asked him why he didn’t confront him (as he’s never been known to be shy of a good confrontation) but he said he had to go out and meet a new girl. The point is: whether it’s loud music, noisy friends, leaving dirty plates or anything else, the truth is the tenant only has confrontation to rely on. In my experience, cannabis smoking is usually a sign of potential dealing and tends to attract undesirable friends to the property. The alledged smoker’s a nice bloke and I’m hoping he’s just made a stupid, thoughtless mistake as he’s knows I have a zero tolerance policy on drugs. Just to make sure, I wrote a note to all tenants reiteratng that smoking is not OK as they’ll all be made homeless in the event of a fire, and informing them that I’ve given our local PCSO a key to the house to make spot checks. I also called the tenant who denied all liability and invited me to sniff his sheets if I didn’t believe him! Being half term, with kids in tow, I declined.

    There needs to be a specific tenancy agreement for HMOs to protect the tenant and landlord. Unfortunately, antisocial behaviour in an HMO is a contentious issue and not easily solved which is why you need a proactive landlord. 2 weeks ago, one of my tenants invited some drunken friends back who took a dislike to another tenant and her disabled brother and punched them. I won’t tell you what I did on that occasion………..!

  5. Thanks for commenting HMOLandlady, its a shame more landlords are not like you.

    Incidentially, what sort of things would you want to see in the tenancy agreement for an HMO tenancy?

  6. Haha What I love about your posts HML is that you talk about your tenants as human beings, almost part of your family and I love that.

    Infuriating, mad, occasionally gormless but real!!!!!! an extended, disfuntional family, not just a barrier between you and your income.

    You actually make me want to meet your tenants. That is down to your attitude to them rather than anything they do.

  7. I have had some horrid experiences in shared houses – for example, in one house, myself and another female tenant were threatened with violence by a male tenant and ended up having to lock ourselves in a bedroom! The police were called but didn’t do anything (!), luckily for us the landlord threw him out. I’m a TRO now so obviously do not condone illegal eviction but to be honest, when you’re a tenant on the receiving end of violence from another tenant, you thank your lucky stars the landlord is willing to illegally evict! If I had to wait for the landlord to go to court for a possession order, I don’t know what might have happened.

  8. I suspect that in circumstances such as that – if the tenant had brought a claim for compensation for unlawful eviction, he would have just got nominal damages and possibly an order for costs made against him.

  9. Alice, on the other side of that, a common plot for landlords in illegal eviction does seem to be smearing the tenant and claiming that sort of thing – cf. the broken glass in food tale I posted on one of Ben’s recent posts. So I’m not sure that I agree with Tessa in this as a Judge may think it was simply unfounded smearing. I was at a trial of such a case last year in which the Judge said of the landlord’s mate’s witness statement that he was going to disallow it because it was simply smearing the tenant and claiming he was dirty, drunken, lazy, etc., and “that sort of thing does not happen in my courtroom.”

  10. I stand corrected! I suppose it would depend on the view the Judge took of the evidence and the people giving evidence.

  11. You’re right, Alice, illegal eviction is not to be condoned. However, neither is illegal or irresponsible behaviour to fellow tenants. I sit the perpetrator down and give them an honest talk about why I find the behaviour/event unacceptable and give them a choice – redeem themselves or find somewhere else to live. This way, it is their choice and not me “throwing them out”. If I consider their behaviour to be a security threat to my good tenants I try to reason with them and offer them the choice of leaving or pursuing court action. Depending on previous behaviour the threat of court is enough to get them to leave (they don’t realise I’m talking civil court!). We always part amicably as I insist that they make the choice and sign a letter of voluntary leaving.

    Tessa, I’d like to see a more specific HMO tenancy agreement to reflect this market. E.g. not a 6 month initial term – this is too long for a transient market and difficult to enforce; a shorter eviction period due to illegal/threatening behaviour using existing tenants as witnesses and being able to fast track it through the court (with police statement if they have previous convictions); specific terms relating to friends and antisocial behaviour.

    I suppose that, because I already have 3 children under the age of 11, my attitude is this: have the attitude of a child and I will treat you like one, have the attitude of an adult and we will have a successful business relationship. Not exactly groundbreaking words, but at least they all know where they stand with me.

  12. I think it does depend on the magistrate – I’ve come across many that fall for the ‘tenant from hell’ stereotype – which is good for the landlord when the tenant is the devil incarnate, not so good for the tenant/TRO when it is just deliberate smearing. I guess it works the other way too

  13. HMOlandlady – the Landlord Law tenancy agreements allow you to put whatever fixed term you like – it does not have to be six months.

    However I am afraid nothing in the tenancy agreement can alter the procedure you need to follow to evict a tenant through the courts. This is set in stone (or rather statute).

    Any attempt to change this via the tenancy agreement will be invalid, and may also result in the Office of Fair Trading coming down on you like to ton of bricks telling you that it is in breach of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999.

    The only way the eviction procedure can be shortened is by Parliament changing the law, or amendments being made to the Court Procedure Rules. Which is probably unlikley to happen.

  14. Tenant smearing is always a difficult prospect ( especially if meat paste is involved LOL)

    The recent harassment and illegal eviction case of Strydom v. Fowler, where the judge knocked £10,000 off of the damages simply because the tenant wouldnt respond to the landlord’s texts is a nasty development.

    Judges responses are always a mixed, unpredictable bag.

    A few years back I had a case that went to jury at Inner London Crown Court. It took 2 years to get it in there and 5 minutes after the trial started everyone walked out. It turned out that my chief witness tenant gave their testimony perfectly, was excused, walked past the landlord standing in the dock and threatened her in front of the judge, who promptly threw the whole thing out.

    My tenant then simply decamped to court number 3 to lend support to his brother who was on trial for arson…..charming family and not much smearing needed at all

  15. Alice, in civil court I have yet to see a “tenant from hell” ploy be successful other than to the extent in Strydom as cited by Ben. I suppose the argument there would have been that the tenant didn’t mitigate his losses?

  16. I’m talking criminal cases we take to the mags court – The case I was thinking about was one where the landlord made a messy tenant sound like she was going around wrecking the place, which I’m sure reduced the fine for an illegal eviction case

  17. From a TRO point of view the problem is that we are investigating criminal allegations, so the minute a landlord throws that stuff down we have to go into it and either account for it in the proceedings or discount it, either way it means the case drags on. That’s one of the reason why prosecuting rogue landlords is so difficult.

    A TRO’s dream is a landlord who just admits everything but doesnt think that they are acting illegally. I once had such an open and shut case in Wells treet Mags, where we had the landlord bang to rights as they say in the weeney, but once in the witness stand the tenant turned into Charles Dickens and blew the case. When I asked him why he did that on an open and shut case he looked a bit stunned and said “I dont know, but when I was in the stand it didnt sound enough on its own”

    Mud slinging means work and numerous delays.

    But how do you determine the difference between smearing and a genuine counterclaim? A landlord may well be telling the truth and the solicitor or TRO has to sort the wheat from the chaff before moving forward.

    Its an eternal headache for me, thats why I look for quick results, ie forcing re-entry.

  18. I can imagine that in Magistrates’ Court a lay magistrate, esp. a hangings-too-good-for-em Captain Square type, might be tempted to sympathise and let the landlord off.

    But at the end of the day, the tenant is still illegally evicted and unless there are Police reports and evidence of injury or suchlike it’s pretty arguable that the landlord is simply trying to smear him. Therefore while it may be right in theory that in such an instance the landlord could be effectively excused, in reality this is not really going to be so in County Court.

    Therefore unless the harassed tenant can obtain injunctive relief with an exclusion zone (unlikely as that would be an IPO by the back door) the best thing to do is still to go to the Police and hope they do their job properly (NBL.)



About the post author:

Tessa Shepperson

Tessa is a lawyer and specialises in creating products and services which help landlords and letting agents learn and understand landlord & tenant law. For example, she runs the Landlord Law website (now in its 14th year) and is a director of Easy Law Training Ltd and Your Law Store. Tessa also sits on the Property Redress Scheme Council. When not working she enjoys reading, cooking and messing around on the computer. You can also find her on Google

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