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Who owes whom? Agent threatening with costs of call outs but we believe we are owed compensation

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425 views 2 replies latest reply: 19 August 2015
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Tenant

My partner and I visited our current flat before agreeing to rent it. During the visit I asked the usual questions, one being “What is run off gas and what is run off electricity?” They stated that the hob and heating were run off the gas and the water was run off the electricity powering the immersion heater.

We moved in the end of last year. Beginning of March this year we awke to find all of our power out. We call the letting agents and they send out an electrician as we did not have a breaker in our fuse box to turn the electricity back on once it had tripped. After the electrician had left it went again. I went to the fuse box to turn it back on but as I did the electricity immediately tripped again whilst the switch was still in my grasp. A huge bang came from the immersion heater so we knew where our problem was. Little did we know this was just the beginning.

We turned off the power supply to the immersion heater and a plumber and an electrician was called out to inspect. We were told we would not have any hot water until a new element was fitted. We were specifically told then also that the gas boiler was COMPLETELY SEPARATE and would NOT be able to be used to obtain hot water. The element in the immersion heater had eroded so that the live wires were exposed and were going straight into the water in the tank, which is obviously pretty dangerous.

After that was sorted we had hot water again but only for a few weeks. Might I also mention here that the plumber also turned up the temperature on the immersion heater to around 70 degrees C at the time of us moving in. We called again and the plumber was again sent out to us. The thermostat had tripped and had to be reset, although when I questioned him why he stated he did not know and to call him if it happened again.

Well it happened again. I called him and had no response after leaving messages so after 4 days I decided to go through the agents again. The plumber came back and reset it again, still unsure as to why it tripped and left. It then happened a third time. Someone different came out to us this time, I’m not sure what his profession was as it was not stated as far as I can recall, but I believe he replaced the thermostat (although not 100% sure) and turned the temperature down to around 55-60 degrees C.

We began having problems again when we were only getting lukewarm water, which would turn cold mid-shower. Again we contacted the letting agents stating how unacceptable this was and began questioning if the people they were sending out even knew what they were doing as they had to come numerous times for the same ongoing problem. We were told the element was faulty and a new one was put in place.

Then, we get our electricicty bill. The bill was THREE TIMES more than the bill before, which might I add was over the Christmas and New Year period when we were in more and had guests over. You would expect that quarter to be the most expensive! Our fist bill was around £60, our second was £100 (Christmas period) and our third was a staggering £301. We knew that this was due to the numerous problems we had with the immersion heater as it started after we recived the bill for the Christmas period. 

We emailed our letting agents highlighting all the faults we have had and stated that we are not at fault and can’t possibly be expected to pay this. We had around 3 weeks worth of time (all added up) with no hot water over 2 months. The rest of that time it was lukewarm at best. They then decided to inform us that the GAS boiler CAN BE USED TO OBTAIN HOT WATER. This means that 1) We were given FALSE, MISLEADING and INCORRECT information from their staff on TWO SEPARATE occasions when ASKED DIRECTLY. 2) Over the course of the two months we had problems and emailed regarding the immersion heater and the electricity tripping because it was powering the immersion heater not ONCE were we questioned on using the electricity instead of the gas, as the electricity is a back up in case the gas boiler does not work – which we would have obviously reported. and 3) It costs more to run it off electricity full stop, never mind with all of the problems on top!

I emailed stating this and said we were told otherwise. We received a response telling us that we should try it and it included instructions on how to do so. I follwed the instrustions given to me, to no avail. I stated this in an email I sent back. They then proceeded to send out a Gas engineer the next day, who got it to work by doing something COMPLETELY DIFFERENT as to what was stated in the email prior.

After three weeks of emailing them and having the sum of the bill being taken from our accounts via Direct Debit before the matter could be resolved we received a responce regarding any form of compensation.

They said that they are NOT LIABLE to pay and that they would NOT state that the water was powered by electricity only when that information is incorrect. They said the repairs that were required were due to our “misuse” and using the immersion heater “in a way that it was not designed to operate”. They said that the manual for the gas boiler is in our premisis and we should have looked at that for obtaining hot water. They stated that they had to pay the cost for when the gas engineer came around to see the boiler only to find out it was working. They stated that the element had to be replaced because of “the way we were using it” (although the plumber told me it was faulty when replacing it) and went on to ask “Should we not in fact be charging you for this damage?” They said they “expect some degree of common sense” from their tenants and stated twice in the email about how they had to incurr uneccessay costs, giving across a threatening sense that they wish to charge us for them.

We are both students and are very careful with the amount of gas, electricity and water that we use as we can not afford extrotionate bills like this. Oviously we aren’t going to read an instruction manual for a GAS boiler when, as far as we know, the immersion heater which runs off ELECTRICITY has a fault. I feel if we pursue this further and state that they will continue in this manner and may try to charge us when we acted on the information what was provided to us from their staff.

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Administrator

Hello

This sounds like a horribly complex situation that may have been created by poor maintenance/installations that aren’t functioning properly. I don’t know if you’ve been using the equipment incorrectly as I wouldn’t know how to use it myself but it’s worth bearing in mind that the ‘misuse’ line is the ONLY way that agents (or landlords) can ever shift the blame for problems with heating and hot water. And even then, it’s a dubious one. That’s one of the fundamental things you pay for as part of your tenancy.

Don’t let them intimidate you because the likelihood is that they’re doing that because they know they’ve made a total mess of it and desperately want you to stop so that they don’t have to account to the landlord for the mess they’ve made/for not fulfilling their contract with the landlord to look after the property. If the landlord decided to take action against them as a result it would cost them a lot more.

So, in your current situation: is it worth engaging with them? They have a lot to lose and agents love to bully and threaten. If you do want to take action make sure you have proof of the way everything panned out and that you can show you didn’t misuse anything. If you want compensation from them you’ll need to be able to demonstrate a breach of contract and cost to you as a result. It might be worth speaking to someone at the Citizens Advice Bureau or a law centre just to get some supportive advice on how to do that and see if there is a chance any of it could fall to you.

If they do try to charge you for costs then you would have the opportunity to fight it. If they do this via your deposit then you can raise this with the disputes service of whichever tenancy deposit protection scheme your dispute is held with. They would have to prove misuse that caused damage before they could keep anything. If it came to the threat of legal action you could perhaps raise the breach of contract on their side – the dangerous equipment raises also raises a whole lot of health and safety issues. I think if you were suddenly presented with a bill then it would be worth speaking to a solicitor. Agents often assume tenants don’t understand their rights so a well worded response to something that like – which lays out all the consequences for them and all the faults on their side – can sometimes be enough to stop them in their tracks.

Either way, don’t be intimidated by them, if you want to take action and seek compensation then gather proof, and get professional advice if it comes to that. You also have the option of making a complaint about them to the professional body they are registeredwith (ARLA etc) or the Property Ombudsman.

Alex

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Tenant

An immersion heater is either on or off. How could you possibly have been misusing it?

This is very typical of agents which is why we no longer use them. look to OpenRent for your next move.

Don’t be intimidated. They are full of hot air. Send them the bill and if they refuse to pay it take them through the small claims court. That should rattle their cage a bit 🙂 Also make sure you ONLY deal with them in writing, never on the phone. You need a paper trail of communication. That goes for all companies you deal with. They will often tell you something verbally and then deny they said it. If you have a hard copy of what has been discussed they cannot do this.

Best of luck

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