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agent enforcing early exit fees on what should be periodic tenancy?

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460 views 11 replies latest reply: 18 November 2015
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Tenant

our letting agent sent us a renewal contract in june [joint tenancy]. i signed electronically but my partner didnt as he wasnt happy. we didnt pay the renewal fee but we did start paying the increased rent our landlord had asked for.

the agent wrote to us in july saying the tenancy hadnt been renewed as we hadnt both signed it. they sent us another blank copy electronically, asking us both to sign and pay the renewal fee.

my parnter electronically signed his copy [he received it by email and we hadnt had chance to discuss it]. I read the agreement again and had some queries, so I refused to sign and wrote to the agent with my list of queries.

To date the queries have never been addressed, neither of us have signed the same agreement, but we have been paying the increased rent [we assumed we’d be evicted if we didn’t!]

now we have served notice assuming that the tenancy had not formally been renewed and that it should be periodic.[we didnt pay for the renewal service]. the agent is now telling us we are ‘joint and severably liable’ even though we haven’t both signed the same document, and they never got back to us on any of the queries. They have told us we need to pay a full months rent plus VAT as an exit fee, and that we are liable to pay all future rental costs until a new tenant moves in.

i wrote to them this morning but the reply is simply that their solicitor says we are liable and all fees must be paid straight away.

should I go to the CAB for more advice ? are we really liable even though we didnt both sign the same document, didnt pay their renewal fee and i sent them a list of queries? thanks

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Tenant

just to say ive tried CAB but been redirected to shelter! been trying to get through all day but sadly no luck yet 🙁

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Administrator

Hi Sarah

You say ‘the agent wrote to us in july saying the tenancy hadnt been renewed as we hadnt both signed it.’ So, that first tenancy agreement isn’t valid, they’ve said that themselves. And the second tenancy renewal is only signed by your partner and not you? In that case, neither tenancy renewal is valid surely? 

Perhaps ask them for the name of their ‘solicitor’ and a contact email so you can put this question to them directly. That’s most likely just designed to scare you.

Jointly and severally liable simply means that you’re responsible for the rent of the other person if they don’t pay (or if they breach any tenancy obligations), I don’t see how it applies here, you still have to sign the same tenancy. To be clear on that, you don’t have to physically sign the same document but your signatures must be on copies of a tenancy of the same date. I’m not a lawyer but if they were to print these two tenancies out they’d have one of your signatures on a tenancy dated June and one on a tenancy dated July, but neither one would have both on, which makes neither valid I would have thought. 

Have you tried a local Law Centre? They might also be able to help with legal advice.

Alex

 

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Tenant

thanks for your reply 🙂

spoke to Shelter yesterday and they thought the same as you – that the agreement isn’t really valid and the agent are just pushing their luck, trying to bully us into paying some hefty fees. The early exit fee is £1500! as for being liable for rental payments up to June 2016 unless they get a new tenant, I don’t think so…

Luckily I have kept all correspondence from them, I guess the worst thing that can happen is that they will instruct a solicitor to start proceedings against us when we leave; but it can’t be very likely. I’m no expert but if they tried to take us to court I think we’ve got a better case then they have!

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Tenant

sadly there isnt a law centre anywhere near us but fingers crossed this won’t go any further now that i’ve sent them the response, with a bit of help from Shelter! 🙂

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Administrator

Ok good luck!

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Tenant

so heres the latest:

email template from Shelter didn’t make much difference, the agent are persistent in trying to get us to pay the fees on the basis they think there is a formal contract in place

we’ve followed their internal complaints procedure, the matter was escalated to one of their directors who responded to say he is sticking to their story and we’re liable for fees and rent until a new tenant is found. (they advertised the property last week, despite the fact that we’re apparently bound to contract)

We have requested the signed copy tenancy agreements they are telling us they’ve got – the email arrived yesterday. The tenancy agreement is blank and doesn’t have signatures from either of us or the landlord on it.

Also attached were a couple of emails from an electronic system. One email was relating to the second electronic contract they issued in July – all it says is: “firsttenant@live.com has signed the document. secondtenant@live.com has not signed the document. you will received the full signed contract once signatures from both tenants have been received”. The other email was from the third contract they issued and it said exactly the same thing. So there’s no complete contract on either occasion (which is what we already knew).

So all in all they’ve got a couple of automatically generated system emails and a blank tenancy agreement. Plus they’ve also got an email from us a few weeks after the last agreement was issued, with a list of queries explaining why we haven’t completed the renewal. (they never responded to this)

For a joint tenancy agreement to be in place our understanding is you have one agreement/document, signed by both tenants? This is obviously not in place here. What the agent are trying to say is that they’ve got two separate contracts for the same property; this can’t be right in itself before even taking into account that neither agreement is signed?

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated. Our stance at the moment is that we’ll keep the blank copies the agent has sent us and we will simply leave on our intended notice date and forget about it. We don’t believe they have grounds to pursue us for exit fees or rent … I’m no expert but I think if they were to instruct a solicitor to take this to court it wouldn’t get very far.

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Administrator

Hi Sarah

I have to reiterate that I’m not a lawyer so this is not legal advice. I just cannot see how they think there is a contract in place unless they really don’t understand the basics of contracts (which is entirely possible) or unelss they have knowledge of an obscure piece of contracts law that creates a contract in this situation (on balance I’d say that was unlikely but I guess it’s possible). Perhaps you should ask them how the contract is formed if it hasn’t been signed by all parties? I’m not sure if anyone else on here is able to provide more info…

If you move out then what will likely happen is you’ll get a letter informing you that they’re keeping your entire deposit so you’ll need to be ready to raise a dispute with the deposit protection scheme that holds it. It will then fall to the landlord via the agents to prove a right to hold on to the deposit to the disputes service, which may well mean they need to prove the validity of the contract. So, make sure you keep all your correspondence on the topic and also be very focused on leaving the property in good condition as they will try to claim for anything and everything. Some agents can be really malicious when a tenant behaves as if they have rights (!) and sadly many seem to think they’re untouchable (they’re not).

It might be worth making a call to the scheme that holds your deposit now and explaining the situation to see if they have any advice to offer, seeing as it’s likely to end up on their desks. Be wary of them though, they are not legal experts and I’ve spoken to a couple of their call centre people who have given me terrible advice that was clearly designed to reduce their work burden rather than help me.

My only slight concern in all this is that you started paying the increased rent mentioned in the tenancy. I don’t have the legal knowledge to know whether that might be some kind of constructive acceptance of the tenancy – or if that even exists. I think it’s important you find out from the agents on what basis they/their ‘legal advisors’ believe there to be a contract – whether they’re insisting it’s because you both signed separate tenancies or whether there is something else, such as an acceptance of the contract based on paying the new rent. Don’t prompt them on either, just ask them for the legal basis of the contract.

Have you spoken to Citizens Advice? They might also be able to help. If you really want to be sure then it might be worth looking for a solicitor who will agree to give you half an hour’s advice on a fixed fee basis. This should be a simple question and it might be worth paying the money to get a definitive answer that you can also show to the agents – you can find a solicitor via the law society.

Alex

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Tenant

Thanks Alex

We spoke to Shelter for advice and they told us that paying an increased amount of rent definitely doesn’t constitute a renewed fixed tenancy agreement – a landlord and tenant can agree between themselves to pay less or more rent at any given time (apparently) so this isn’t sufficient to suggest we’ve inadvertently accepted the full terms of a new contract. Paying the rent is in itself enough to constitute ‘a tenancy’, but it doesn’t go as far as to suggest what type of tenancy, or what the term is.

Thanks for the advice re putting a call into the deposit holding scheme – I think I’ll get on with that this afternoon just to see what they say!

The agent are actively marketing the property and are booking viewings already; surely if they were convinced we were bound in a contract they wouldn’t be doing this… none of it really makes any sense!

They are chopping and changing their story as and when it suits them, presumably just to make us feel overwhelmed and that we’ve got no choice but to cough up!

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Administrator

It sounds very much like they’re just opting for bluster and bullying – which is quite typical in my experience (and many others). I hope you manage to get away from them soon!

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Tenant

Thanks very much. i’ve got all the documents in a file ready to tackle the tenancy deposit scheme in a few weeks! the fun never ends. I’ll be back next month to let you know what happened 🙂

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