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Tenant seeking compensation following Bed Bug infestation

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Hi,

I am wondering if anybody could give me some advise on the following:

I have a 4 bedroom flat in Harrow, London, rented to the current tenants since 29th September 19 under a AST agreement.

I have appointed the letting agent to manage the property for me and on 30th Jan 20 I received a call to inform me that one of the tenants had made a complaint about a bed bug infestation in her room..
I gave the go ahead for a pest controller to visit the property and carry out treatment without delay.

The pest controller visited the property, said "the room was not overly infested but need to be treated before it got worse", he informed the tenant that they could not stay in the room while the treatment was carried out and that this would take a 10 day period.

The treatment has now been carried out , the tenant stayed in an Air B&B while the treatment was ongoing.

The tenant has now claimed that she first noticed bites in mid-October but had only reported this to her parents at the time, and not to the letting agent. She has forwarded photos and text messages to the letting agent that seem to support the fact she had received bites by Nov 30th 2019.

At the time of the pest treatment the tenants father became involved in the correspondence over and back between the letting agent and the tenant.
He went into detail to explain that there was no way( in his opinion) that his daughter could have brought the bed bugs into the room, and that they must have been present before she arrived.
He made a request that his daughter be reimbursed the cost of her accommodation for the 10 days, the cost for her to launder her clothes(as recommended by the pest controller) , and compensation for her trauma and suffering for the period this has been going on. 

I responded to the letting agent to say that I had no intention of offering compensation of any sort, from my point of view if the problem existed in Oct/Nov19 then it should have been reported to the letting agent so that it could have been dealt with before it became a major issue. I also highlighted that although the tenants father outlined in detail that his daughter could not possibly have brought the bed bugs into the room , in my opinion there are many ways in which the bed bugs could have been introduced to the room in the time of her tenancy, like a friend visiting or returning from a trip etc. There had been no reports of bed bugs from the previous tenants and when informed of the issue I instructed the treatment to go ahead immediately.

The tenant's father has since responded back to say he has sought legal advise from 3 separate practices and that they have told him he has a strong case against me. He states:

"The presiding advice being that landlords are legally obligated to provide habitable living conditions and there is no reasonable grounds to ascertain that the tenant  brought the bed bugs with her from her previous residence. Compensation claim calculators seem to indicate potential claims ranging from £6,700 to £97,500 depending on the severity of the bites and whether the bites result in permanent scaring."

He goes on to make a settlement offer of £3140 based on the 5 months rent she had paid to date plus the cost of her 10 days accommodation and the cost to launder her clothes.


From my point of view I feel I have acted perfectly reasonably by instructing the bed bug issued be dealt with as soon as it was brought to my attention and I fail to see what grounds the tenant or her father would have to bring a case against me.

Does anyone have any experience of a similar situation or have any advise on how I should proceed?

 

Thank you in advance.
 

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Lots of people threaten legal action but until you get the first letters before action from the solicitors it is still just a threat.  I would try to come to a compromise. Just because she has pictures of bites dated earlier there is no evidence where she got them and you could argue that it proves she brought them with her from somewhere. You could threaten to counterclaim for the costs of the pest man  and potential lost rent and replacement furniture. 

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I'm surprised that there aren't more reports of bed bugs in rented accomodation. I suppose it's because many properties are let unfurnished and tenants supply their own bed/ mattress.

I think the claim hinges on a number of points.

* Was the bed/ mattress supplied by the landlord.

* The void time between previous and latest tenancy.

* How old was the mattress and the mattress protection.

* What preparation, cleaning, vacuuming efforts had been used by the landlord.

If there is any suggestion that the landlord did not act in an appropriate way to ensure the cleanliness of bed/room before occupation then a claim will be considered valid in my opinion.  I'd expect the landlord at least to pay the alternative accommodation expenses. I have no doubt the claim will be inflated by the tenant but I think the landlord should offer to pay some costs.

This is a lesson to all of us. There are things that can be done, products that can be purchased, not least mattress covers & protectors that go someway to combat bed bugs. 

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Ignore it.  Let them take legal action against you. Tell the Father that the tenancy contract is with his Daughter and not with him.

Tell the Daughter that you took all reasonable steps to resolve the issue once the problem had been reported to you. You could have done nothing more than you actually did. Any reasonable court judgement would have to agree with that statement.

5 months occupation by your tenant is more than enough time for a 3rd party or even your tenant to introduce bed bugs into the bedroom.

I have a feeling the meddlesome father is acting no more than a barrack room lawyer and trying to drain your bank balance with a highly suspect claim. The tenant cannot just go into alternative accommodation and expect you pick up the bill unless you have approved them to do so. Why didn't she just go back home for a few days?

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On 2/23/2020 at 8:50 AM, Richlist said:

I'm surprised that there aren't more reports of bed bugs in rented accomodation. I suppose it's because many properties are let unfurnished and tenants supply their own bed/ mattress.

I think the claim hinges on a number of points.

* Was the bed/ mattress supplied by the landlord.

* The void time between previous and latest tenancy.

* How old was the mattress and the mattress protection.

* What preparation, cleaning, vacuuming efforts had been used by the landlord.

If there is any suggestion that the landlord did not act in an appropriate way to ensure the cleanliness of bed/room before occupation then a claim will be considered valid in my opinion.  I'd expect the landlord at least to pay the alternative accommodation expenses. I have no doubt the claim will be inflated by the tenant but I think the landlord should offer to pay some costs.

This is a lesson to all of us. There are things that can be done, products that can be purchased, not least mattress covers & protectors that go someway to combat bed bugs. 

Thank you Richlist.

To answer some of your questions:

The bed was supplied by me

The void time was 3 weeks

The mattress is 3 years old and has a mattress protector fitted, through this was not new for this tenancy.

The room was inspected by the tenant and letting agent before the start of the tenancy, there were items requested to be improved all of which were carried out. There was no mention of cleaning or replacing the bed. The flat did get a professional clean before the tenants moved in.

I don't have a particular issue paying the cost of the accommodation and laundry , I just don't want to make an offer that could be construed as me admitting liability and so leave me open to the further claim.

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On 2/23/2020 at 8:51 AM, Melboy said:

 

* If the mattress protector is washable it might help your case if you can state that it was laundered prior to the tenants occupation.

In my opinion......and playing devil's advocate :-

* Inspection of the room by tenant and letting agent has no bearing on the presence of bed bugs (which are virtually invisible).

* The fact that they did not request the bed cleaned or replaced is not relevant.

* Professional cleaning is an ambiguous phrase. It does not infer the bedroom was clear of bed bugs.

I think the right thing to do is to pay the alternative accommodation costs which for 10 days can't be that high. Going forward, I think you should rely less on your agent, tenant and professional cleaners and more on your own inspection and check list. Your checklist should instruct your cleaner to thoroughly vacuum the mattress and wash the mattress cover or replace it at the start of each tenancy.

Alternatively you could do what many of us already do and let the tenant provide their own bed/mattress.

 

 

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Advice from 3 practices is BS and weakens his stance in my view, but not the validity of claim.

By instructing the cleaner you have admitted a level of responsibility, and very possibly validated the claim some.

Am I correct that your Agents failed to inform you of the situation for 2 months?

Do you have insurance that might cover this event? More valuable would be a legal protection cover if you have it.

Do you want an ongoing relationship with this T, or have you decided that the relationship is unlikely to continue on a good working basis?

There is no legal reason to deal with Daddy, but you might consider a meet and see if reasonable discussion can result in an easier resolution than what 'may' just feed the Vultures.

 

 

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Thank you Carry On.

The agents didn't know anything about the bed bugs until January, the tenant failed to inform the agents until then which has only served to exacerbate the issue further.

She did sent messages to her parents complaining about getting bites in Oct/Nov, but did not report anything to the agents.

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 I'm guessing ......

* the tenant is quite young as her father is fighting her corner.

* this may be the first time she has rented and may not understand the need to raise issues promptly with the agents.

* that she has no previous knowledge or experience of bed bugs.

* she did not become overly concerned initially about the marks on her legs. It was not until later when things got worse (or more noticable) that the situation was reported.

Everyone handles issues differently. Younger people prioritise differently to older people.

It sometimes helps to try to understand the mind of your opponent.

Pay up, close the matter, do it differently in the future.

 

.....and as it's a 4 bed flat......is this an HMO ?

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If you may an offer do it in writing and make sure it states at the top “without Prejudice” which means you are not admitting to anything.

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