The landlord, Mrs Minter, signed up to a local authority scheme where they provided her with tenants from their social housing list and a deposit bond.
They assured her that they would only recommend ‘good’ tenants, and that her property would be returned to her in the same condition it was when the tenant moved in.
The tenant recommended to Mrs Minter, one Lisa Alexander, turned out to be a nightmare tenant who left a trail of destruction in her wake, the full cost of rectifying which came to some £8,000.
Mrs Minter, not a lady to take this lying down, duly sued the Council, Mole Valley District Council, in the Reigate County Court and emerged victorious. She was awarded £4860.27 plus interest of £1153.21 and small claims expenses.
One of the factors in her favour was that she had overheard a housing officer saying to Ms Alexander in a separate room: “we don’t want another Abinger.” This, she discovered later, referred to the condition in which Ms Alexander had left a previous property at 18 Abinger Close. The report in the paper states:
Its landlord described it as ‘filthy and disgusting’ and called a cooker he had installed a year earlier as ‘in a terrible state and beyond repair’.
Invoices showed it cost him £25,000 to repair the damage, which included a ‘ruined kitchen’ and rubbish in the garden.
Notwithstanding this, Mole Valley had assured Mrs Minter that Ms Alexander had not left her previous property in a dirty state. A misstatement if ever I heard one!
The Council tried to wriggle out of this by saying that they were bound by Data Protection legislation. However, the Judge was unimpressed, saying that had they asked Ms Alexander for her consent to pass on information and she had refused, that alone would have warned Mrs Minter that not all was well.
Thoughts about the case
This is an interesting case as it seems that it is the first time that a Council has been found liable where they recommended a tenant to a landlord. Nearly Legal is of the view that this type of case is unusual as they don’t think Local Authorities are going to “undertake to vet the suitability of accepted homelessness applicants” very often as this would be “too onerous a task”.
However I am not so sure. Landlords are going to be very wary about entrusting their properties to Local Authority recommended tenants, if they think they are going to be tenants of the calibre of Ms Alexander.
No landlord in their right mind is going to enter into an agreement which will result in their being left with a repair bill of £8K when a tenant leaves. They are going to want assurances that the tenants housed will be ‘good’ tenants, OR an assurance that the Local Authority itself will foot any repair bill.
Indeed, I would advise all landlords thinking of entering into any such agreement with their Local Authority to make sure that something along these lines is included as part of their agreement.
So if Local Authorities then knowingly place unsuitable and destructive tenants with their landlords, we may be seeing a few more of these cases.
What do you think?
Picture from one by Colin Smith on the Geograph site