Liaw v Sohal. Central London County Court, 10 January 2019. (unreported elsewhere, we’ve seen the approved judgment).
A county court first instance deposit claim decision, but with elements of interest and broader relevance (as well as some lessons to landlords as to how not to conduct a case.)
Ms Liaw was granted an assured shorthold tenancy of a central London flat by Ms Amrit Sohal beginning 2 October 2013, with a 12 month term. A deposit of £2100 was paid by Ms L to Ms S.
Ms L left the tenancy on 1 October 2016. Ms S did not return the deposit. Nor did she take it to the deposit scheme arbitration. Ms L – supported by University of London Private Housing and Advice Services (for transparency, my firm does advice work for UoL HAS) – brought a claim for a) return of the deposit, and b) penalty for failure to provide the prescribed information for the original tenancy and for two subsequent renewal tenancies, each of a 12 month term.
Ms S defended on the basis that the prescribed information had been served within 30 days on the first tenancy, and that there were no renewal tenancies, only a statutory periodic tenancy. Ms S counterclaimed for rent loss for tenant’s short notice, council tax after the tenant had moved out, repair costs and ‘administration and time costs’.
Ms S’ defence on sending the prescribed information did not succeed. A purported letter of 25 October 2013 was not accepted as genuine. As the District Judge put it:
I am very concerned that given no original can be produced, there has been some attempt to impose Ms Liaw’s signature on this letter, which can only have been done by Ms Sohal, given I am confident Ms Liaw never received this letter, nor the prescribed information said to be contained within it. I am fairly certain in my findings in that regard, because even up until lunchtime today, Ms Sohal was not in a position to even begin to demonstrate to this court, evidence of the tenancy deposit certificate. It was only because I asked her over lunchtime to contact them and to actually produce the evidence that I have finally seen the same.
The deposit was protected, but the prescribed information was not served in 2013, in breach of s.213 Housing Act 2004.
On Ms S argument that the tenancy had simply continued as a statutory periodic after the initial term, there was clear evidence that Ms S had sent renewal agreements to Ms L, and that Ms L had paid the advance rent according to those agreements, and:
Although Ms Sohal tells me today that there has to be a signed tenancy document in order for it to be a renewed fixed term tenancy, this is not correct. It is quite often a method used particularly by letting agents to renew agreements by either using the form of a memorandum or in this case, which is much clearer, a renewal agreement.
It is clear from the exchange of correspondence that took place between the claimant and the defendant, particularly regarding the second renewal, that even though no signature is on the renewal agreement itself, the term and the rent and the six months’ clause break is clearly set out and agreed. This is particularly the case when one considers that Ms Liaw then immediately pays the rent that is due and owing.
The court found that there had been two renewal tenancies.
On Ms L’s claim for return of the deposit, and for the penalty claims for 3 tenancies:
On each occasion, a tenancy for a 12 month term had been entered into.
On each occasion, Ms S was under an obligation to serve the prescribed information, given that she had not done so on the first occasion and so the Deregulation Act amendments to Housing Act 2004 did not apply.
Therefore a penalty must be awarded for each occasion. Ms S was aware of her obligations, having let the property several times prior to the letting to Ms L. However, she had actually protected the deposit. On that basis:
I award to Ms Liaw the return of the deposit of £2,100 and in light of my concerns as to the manner in which the alleged notice of 25 October 2013 has been presented to this court, I award two times the return of the deposit on three occasions as damages to Ms Liaw.
Therefore, that is £4,200 multiplied by three. Therefore, Ms Sohal that makes £12,600 plus £2,100
On Ms S’ counterclaim:
On Ms S contention that Ms L had not given adequate notice at the end of the last tenancy and that two months notice was required, the court noted that the tenancy agreement made clear that two months notice was required for the exercise of the break clause and expressly said:
It is not a requirement upon the tenant to give notice when a fixed term tenancy is in place and which naturally comes to an end on the last day of the stated period.
So, a weeks’ notice at the end of the fixed term was not in breach of tenancy, and the claim for council tax and rent were dismissed.
There was no legal basis for the claim in disbursements and time. This was dismissed.
The Scott Schedule on claimed repairs was largely for items of fair wear and tear, which were not claimable, or had already existed, given the photographic evidence at the start and end of the tenancy. A claimed sum of £575 paid in cash to ‘a gentleman’ did not correspond with the invoice present in evidence.
Some labour costs were allowed for dealing with the purchase of a hosepipe and mixer tap, amounting to £140. This was the total allowed on the counterclaim.
Court fees and photocopying costs to Ms L.
We have seen that the ‘multiple tenancy’ claim has been an issue at times, with conflicting views, but District Judge Wilkinson has no hesitation here, and I think quite rightly. It would be helpful to have a Circuit Judge’ view on an appeal, and more helpful yet to have higher court authority. But given that most of these cases have at least one, if not both parties in person, that may be a long wait.
For defendant landlords, the point to remember is that these days, the tenant will almost certainly have kept all the emails and messages, and their own dated photos. Don’t make stuff up…
In this instance, the landlord (acting in person) attempted in cross examination to suggest that the tenant’s documents were not truthful
In particular, the manner in which she began to make allegations against Ms Liaw as to her truthfulness, only for them to be retracted once Ms Liaw could demonstrate that photographs had been taken when they were stated to have been taken. In addition, emails had been sent when they were said to have been sent and that attachments certainly were attached to emails, as was evidenced by Ms Liaw’s mobile phone, when I could be absolutely certain that she had returned renewal tenancy documents to the defendant.
So, landlords, if you did breach the deposit rules, and you know you did, try to come to a quick settlement with the tenant rather than bluff your way out of it, no matter what you think about the fairness of the situation. It is unlikely to work at trial, and will cost you much more.