Ryan Insalaco v i) One Room UK ii) Paulo de Souza iii) Alisson Teixeira. County Court at Willesden, 6 July 2018
An unlawful eviction claim, notable for the casualness of the eviction and the efforts the defendants then went to to pretend the claim wasn’t happening.
Mr Insalaco had a tenancy of a room in shared house in St John’s Wood. This was an assured shorthold tenancy starting about 4 December 2016, for a fixed term of 8 or 12 months (Mr I had lost the tenancy agreement and wasn’t sure). The landlord was ‘One Room UK’ (here they are). Mr I paid a deposit of £400 and two week’s rent. Mr I:
was told that there would be a fee of £30 for late payment of rent and that the rent would be collected by someone who came to the flat. If the Claimant was out, he would call the Defendant and ask to go to their offices to pay, but the Defendant always refused to give any address and instead charged a late payment fee.
That is completely lovely and not at all unreasonable. Nor should it interest HMRC.
On 4 February 2017, Mr I went on holiday for a week. He left a note on the door for the Defendant as he knew he would be away on the rent collection day, he also asked a flatmate to call the Defendant to inform them. On his return on 10 February, Mr I found the locks had been changed, the entry codes to the building had been changed and, a flatmate told him, all his belongings had been packed into boxes and moved from his room.
Mr I stayed on the sofa at a friend’s flat. Despite calling the Defendant, he was not given an office address. The Defendant instead demanded an address to send Mr I’s belongings to. Viewings were taking place to re-let Mr I’s room.
(On belongings, some were eventually sent to Mr I’s solicitors in March, some were damaged and other were lost).
Mr I was left sofa surfing between friends in London, Paris and Morocco, until at least October 2017 (the period of the claim, as we’ll come back to below).
Mr I had instructed solicitors on 24 February 2017. The solicitors called One Room UK and spoke to a ‘Kevin’. The solicitors raised the unlawful eviction and asked for One Room UK’s address. Kevin said there was no office, he wouldn’t give a postal address, but gave an email address. A letter of claim was emailed. Further emails asking for an address for service and the whereabouts of lost belongings were ignored.
In October 2017, proceedings were issued. Having established that One Room UK were not a company, Mr I’s solicitors applied for substituted service by email and were granted it. The claim was deemed served on 1 December.. Defence due within 14 days. No defence filed.
An application for default judgment was granted on 26 February 2018. The disposal hearing listed for 6 July 2018. Mr I’s solicitors, having had investigations carried out, applied to amend to include Paulo De Souza and Alisson Teixeira as defendants as being the individuals trading as One Room UK. This was granted.
Still zero response from One Room UK.
At the disposal hearing, damages were assessed as follows:
The period of the claim was limited to 10 February 2017 to 31 October 2017, on the basis that the tenancy agreement may have been for 8 months, so the term would have ended on 31 October. (Following what I still regard to be the manifestly wrong judgment of the Court of Appeal in Smith v Khan (2018) EWCA Civ 1137 (our note)).
General damages for a period 202 days were awarded at £125 per night, (£25,250) and for the last 60 mights, when Mr I’s situation had somewhat improved, though still sofa surfing, £50 per night (£3000).
Damages for harassment £1000
Special damages awarded in full: £1,952.10
Aggravated damages – awarded on the utter failure of the defendant to engage with the situtation and the seizing and lack of care on belongings – £1,500
Exemplary damages – conceded by the claimant to be at the lower end of conduct but should be an award – £1,500
(I interrupt to ask why? Exemplary damages are not on conduct per se – that is aggravated damages – but on the defendant seeking gain through their breach of the law. Here – eviction with no warning or notice, let alone the proper legal means – this strikes me as the poster child for exemplary damages).
There was also an order for the return of the unprotected £400 deposit and the maximum three time penalty – so a further £1,600 total.
Interest at 3.25% from issue of claim.
Total: £36,557.36 to 20 July 2018
Costs – awarded on an indemnity basis because of the defendant’s total failure to engage. A payment on account of £7,500 ordered.
The claimant’s solicitors efforts to identify the people behind One Room UK, who had unlawfully evicted Mr I, found that the registration of the website led to an email address related to rentandroomsmanagement.com (a non existent site, but valid domain) which in turn led to Rent and Rooms Management Limited and thus Paulo De Souza and Alisson Teixeira.
Hi Paulo and Alisson. You owe a lot of money and shouldn’t be anywhere near a tenancy.
Any landlords considering letting One Room UK manage property, let alone enter a ‘rent to rent’ or ‘guaranteed rent’ arrangement should take note.
(Many thanks to Will Ford at Osbornes for the judgment and notes)