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14/06/2016

Don’t believe the hype – a subletting site

Purely by coincidence, someone brought a tweet and linked article by @unleasehello to my notice:

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 21.41.38

(Screenshot because now deleted)

Here is the linked article on Unlease.io (And screenshot in case of deletion here)

Titled “Subletting as a tenant right”, a taste of the article will give any housing lawyer a sense of just how bad it is…

As long ago as 1927, the Landlord and Tenant Act explicitly stated that while a fixed-term contract requires the landlord’s consent to sublet, “the landlord may not withhold consent unreasonably.” This means that subletting is a tenant right that has been enshrined in common law since 1927!

Well… no. And it somehow appears that the DCLG Model Tenancy Agreement gives every tenant a right to subletting generally, and..

This means that, tenants can in fact sublet as long as they are following the guidelines on subletting. Namely, tenants need to make sure that if they rent out their place, the property won’t become overcrowded or violate the landlord’s Multiple Occupancy License. Tenants should also bear in mind that if they use the property for short-term holiday rentals and charge guests in excess of what they are paying in rent, their landlord’s insurance policy may be invalidated (because the property is no longer just used for residential purposes).

The whole thing is just catastrophically wrong. All of it.

Why this awful, misleading, potentially dangerous (for tenants) guff, you might ask? Because Unlease are an AirBnB wannabe, targeting students (in London and Oxford so far) to sublet their tenancies on short term lets. Some of the same people were/are involved in Absoletme – another wannabe shortlet site – William Morton and Magomed Chilaev, Mr Morton wants to be Uber

They are, basically, making stuff up to encourage students to sign up with them, completely misleading the students as to the very real risk to their tenancy if it prohibits sub-lets, as many will.

Regular readers will not be surprised to find that I headed off on twitter to point out to Unlease that the article was dangerous rubbish

And then I tracked down a couple of those involved – the ‘head of marketing’

And then Mr Chilaev, charmingly going by @magonads

Mr Chilaev @magonads replied

Screen Shot 2016-06-14 at 21.18.34

(Screenshot because he then promptly deleted the tweet and blocked me). Apparently he doesn’t respond well to abuse. I don’t respond well to legal nonsense, so I guess we’re even.  The link in his tweet, to the authority that was supposed to show the legality of subletting, was to this from David Holland at Landmark Chambers from 2004 on statutory provisions on subletting in L&T Act 1927 and L&T Act 1988, on ‘consent not to be unreasonably withheld’. A perfectly fine article, of course, but nothing at all to do with any general right to sublet where contractually prohibited.

I told Mr Chilaev this. Blocking and tweet deletion promptly followed. The ‘head of marketing’ also blocked me, without a word. The @unleasehello account frantically deleted various tweets pointing at their article.

Now, having invited students to breach their tenancy agreements, Unlease T&C states

Accordingly, you represent and warrant that any Listing you post and the booking of, or a Guest’s stay at, an Accommodation in a Listing you post (i) will not breach any agreements you have entered into with any third parties, such as homeowners association, condominium, lease or rental agreements, and (ii) will (a) be in compliance with all applicable laws, tax requirements, and rules and regulations that may apply to any Accommodation included in a Listing you post (including having all required permits, licenses and registrations), and (b) not conflict with the rights of third parties. Please note that Unlease assumes no responsibility for a Host’s compliance with any agreements with or duties to third parties, applicable laws, rules and regulations. Unlease reserves the right, at any time and without prior notice, to remove or disable access to any Listing for any reason.

Laughably, this is a complete word for word copy of AirBnB’s terms and conditions.

To add regulatory breach to legal insult, neither Unlease or Absoletme appear to be registered as data controllers with the ICO, which they would really, really have to be.

So, anyone working in University student advice, or who is a student would be well advised to treat Unlease with extreme caution. They don’t appear to know what they are doing (and their crisis management sucks).

https://twitter.com/HenryPryor/status/742819828256407553

And a little digging later, it gets worse. According to their entry on a seedfunding startup site

6. Unlease
Property tech is gathering more and more attention as new online business models increasingly threaten high street agents. Attempting to create an online platform for medium-length rentals of one or two months, Unlease is a peer-to-peer market for subletting. Founded initially with students in mind, who often end up paying rent for an empty room outside of term times, the company says increasingly mobile workforces are creating a need for these types of rentals.

‘One or two month rentals’, of a room that is not occupied by the ‘landlord’ student during the holidays. Yes, absolutely no legal complications there at all…

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

4 Comments

  1. Robert

    With this grasp of the law, surely a career in politics or a certain London borough housing department beckons for these two “experts”…

    Reply
  2. Andrew

    This would be laughable were it not for the terrifying complications that could follow for anyone who falls for it.

    Reply
  3. Martin Madden

    I’ll be honest NL, I thought this was a new stand up comedy routine of yours…utterly terrifying that it’s true.

    Reply

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