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Court over damp issue?


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Hello all

I'd be grateful for some advice regarding a tenant who wants to take me to court over repair/maintenance issues. I own a leasehold flat (freehold owned by a local council) and rented it to a solicitor in December 2019. It is fully managed by a local agent. The tenant expressly provided, in an addition to the standard AST contract, that by the commencement date certain repairs would be made, these included remedying a damp issue in one bedroom - a small (roughly 2 inch) area of flaking plaster next to a window.

Unfortunately this was not attended to before the tenant moved in. A maintenance firm did subsequently make a repair (damp proofing and sealing the area), but unfortunately the problem has recurred, and worsened. Another maintenance firm has since attended and suspect an external leaking drain/gutter is allowing water to penetrate the brickwork. A repair to this is the responsibility of the freeholder (in this case, the local council), who have been informed, but who have yet to attend (they are notoriously slow in previous dealings with them over maintenance issues).

The tenant claims the bedroom is uninhabitable and has been uninhabitable since he first arrived. He states "I am paying for a two-bedroom flat, and your client has effectively provided me with a one bedroom flat." He is demanding a reduction of nearly 30% of the rent, backdated to the start of the tenancy, and continuing until the damp issue is fixed, claiming I am in "material breach of contract".

I have already offered him an early termination of contract at a date of his choosing, and explained I have little/no influence over the ability of the freeholder to attend to the repair work. Personally I think he is trying to exaggerate his claim to a significant degree, but I'm unsure as to the best course of action:

Do I refuse any rent reduction and let him take me to court?

Do I try to agree a smaller amount with him (I can't afford what he is asking for) in recognition of his apparent suffering?

Should I try to get the external guttering fixed at my own expense and then claim back from the council?

I'm more than willing to supply any further detail to clarify the situation if that helps. Thank you very much for any advice!

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If i were in your shoes I'd let him take me to court ie call his bluff.

From your post I can see you have tried to get the issue fixed and I'd write out the timeline with dates so the court can see the action you've taken and the request made of the freeholder.

Tenants are not entitled to any benefit more than an owner occupier would have just by virtue of paying rent. Your tenant can wait like every body else has to until the freeholders gets around to fixing the issue.

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Technically he could put in a claim for the non-use of one bedroom but that would mean the room is empty and not being used for anything.

If you were to accept his claim for a deduction make sure it is a sensible amount. Do your own research and find out what similar one bed properties in the same area rent for and use a average of those figures which I would guess is a lot lot less than a 30% reduction he is demanding and if the room is being used for storage of any kind with his belongings in that figure is reduced further. 

Write to the council with details and photos of the works that are required and give them a sensible timescale to fix but also add if the works are not completed by xx/xx/xx you will instruct your own contractor and deduct the cost from the next service charge demand without further notice.

Never a good idea to rent to solicitors but trainee solicitors are worst. 

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Call his bluff. Just another know-it-all barrack room lawyer. You have done everything possible to resolve this situation and with a good timeline of events leading up to any court ruling... a court judge would see this imo.

Never ceases to amaze me. If, as a tenant, you are not happy with your rental accommodation and your landlord then why not just berluddy move out.

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Whereas I feel the same gut re-action of Richlist and Melboy the court will look more sympathetically on the Landlord if he has offered the tenant some form of  small compensation be it reduced rent or whatever.  Seems you have done the best you can in writing to the freeholder. So would he be bringing a private prosecution as small claims do not deal with this type of thing?  Seems like a sledgehammer to crack a nut IMO and may not be looked upon favourably by the courts by way of time wasting.

I would firstly check that this joker is a solicitor and not just a para legal.  I've lost count the amount of times tenants have said their father, mother is a solicitor as a threat and turns out they are in some other job not related to legal services.

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