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Tenant unable to move in – what are her rights?

HousesHere is a question to the blog clinic from Carolyn who is a tenant

I recently tried to rent a property through an agent that went horribly wrong.

I viewed the property, which at the time was empty and paid a deposit to an agent. My tenancy was due to start on 1st February, but on 28th January, I was told that there was an illegal tenant and that he would be out by 7th February.

I was given an assured new moving date of 8th February. A few days before, I was told once again, that I would not be able to move on 8th and the date was rescheduled to 14th February, but again, this didn’t happen.

When I called the landlord, he said he knew nothing about the illegal tenant and said I should have been able to move in, but the agent says he has proof of the situation.

I have now got a refund of my deposit but I am nearly £1000 out of pocket due to this fiasco. What are my rights?

You don’t say whether or not you signed a tenancy agreement.  This is important.

If you signed a tenancy agreement

If you signed a tenancy agreement then this is a legally binding agreement which has been broken by the landlord – who is liable for the things done, or not done, by his agent.

You are entitled to be put in the position you would have been in had the contract been  properly performed.  So you are entitled to the refund of all additional expenses incurred by you.  Such as additional removal fees, hotel expenses etc.

Also, if you are unable to find a similar property at he same price, you will be entitled to claim the difference in the rent you have to pay for the fixed term of the tenancy you signed.

So if you signed a tenancy for a fixed term of six months at a rent of £500 but you have to rent somewhere at £550 then you will ne able to claim back the extra £50 for the six months.

The fact that the agent was physically unable to let you into the property because there was an illegal occupant will be no defence to this.  They should have made sure that the property was available before they signed you up.

If you did not sign a tenancy agreement

If you did not sign a tenancy agreement then you may have a claim for the lost removal expenses etc relating to the changed dates (depending on the circumstances and what was said or done at the time).

However, you will not have the claim for any subsequent difference in rent you have to pay for the new property you find (if there is any).

Generally your rights will not be as strong.

Who do you sue?

In either case the person you sue will be the landlord not the agent.

Under agency law it is the principal (in this case the landlord) who is liable for the acts done by his agent.  In most cases, whether they were authorised by him or not.


You first need to check that you have proof of all your expenses, for example receipts – keep them safe.

Then write to both the agents and the landlord setting out the details of your claim and requesting payment within 14 days.  See if you can negotiate some sort of settlement with them.

If they fail to respond, you may want to seek a bit of advice from a litigation solicitor before actually starting any court claim.

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Important note. If you are reading an old post, remember that the law may have changed since it was written.

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7 Responses to Tenant unable to move in – what are her rights?

  1. I see a lot of these.

    It is usually the case that the agent has served notice and the tenant has said they will move out but for some reason it doesnt happen. The agent then says the old tenant is there illegaly, which isnt the case.

    Its a tricky situation this handing over of tenancies malarkey because even if the outgoing tenant formally terminates, if they dont actually move out a possession order still has to be obtained.

    The other version of this of course is where the outgoing tenant intends to resolve their housing situation by applying to the council as a homeless person, only to find reality kicking in when they get told ‘No’ for a variety of reasons.

  2. Hi, this was my issue and thanks Tessa for answering it.
    Yes, I did sign the tenancy agreement, so it’s good to know I have a case. Also, in answer to the comment above, the property was empty when I went to view it but then became occupied shortly after and both the landlord and the agent had different versions of what was happening, so I don’t know the truth, but at least from a legal perspective I know where I stand. What makes me wonder is that the property was advertised with several agents so maybe one of the other agents had got a tenant in, but either way, this should have been checked by the agent that I was dealing with.
    Once again, thanks for the advice

  3. Note by the way that I have a special website with guidance for tenants regarding tenancy deposits here:

    I am also writing a do it yourself kit for tenants to help them bring a claim which will be sold via that site, but this has been seriously delayed by Conference and various other work things that have been taking precedence.

    It WILL get done one day! Hopefully not too far off. It is about 2/3 completed.

  4. Thanks Tessa. I’ve written my letter to the agent and landlord (in the same letter as I don’t know where the landlord lives) and haven’t had a response yet, but will keep you updated.

  5. Just one comment which as I am no lawyer Tessa may care to comment on but I’m not sure that actually just signing gives as many rights as two other stages.

    One is both parties holding signed copies as opposed to the agent holding them all in a file.

    But the big one is was the execution date completed, by hand? If so then you definitely have an enforceable contract, or ‘damages’ by way of compensation at least for all reasonable costs.

  6. OK, I am now trying to take this matter to small claims court. However, I have discovered that the company name the landlord was trading under was dissolved by Companies House in 2010. I have his home and mobile telephone numbers but cannot find the address linked to these. The Agent has not replied to the letter I sent more than 4 weeks ago, except to say that they don’t have the address of the landlord, so I’m not sure what to do next…any ideas?

  7. If the company was dissolved BEFORE you paid your money then the landlord will have personal liability. As the company would not have been in existence at that time.

    However if the company had been dissolved AFTER you paid your money, then you would have effectively lost it.

    You could try doing a search at the Land Registry to see who owns the property.



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

The Landlord Law Blog from Tessa Shepperson

Tessa is an English lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law.

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Legal services are provided via Tessa's online service Landlord Law. Some advice services are provided by Tessa, other legal services are provided by specialist housing firm Anthony Gold.


The purpose of this blog is to provide information, comment and discussion. Although Tessa, or guest bloggers, may from time to time, give helpful comments to readers' questions, these can only be based on the information given by the reader in his or her comment, which may not contain all material facts. Any comments or suggestions provided by Tessa or any guest bloggers should not therefore be relied upon as a substitute for legal advice from a qualified lawyer regarding any actual legal issue or dispute.

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