In fact there were two. A few years ago a distraught landlord came to my offices literally begging for help. He had recently lost his father who lived next door to him, and was unsure as to what to do with the property. Whilst walking past the village post office he spotted a postcard advert in the window which read “Genuine quiet retired Christian couple seeking long term home to rent, willing to undertake maintenance”.
He rang the mobile number and a meeting was set up and an “elderly retired charming couple” moved in not long after. The couple had indicated they were coming into some inheritance and would actually like to buy the property, and as a result, the landlord offered a discounted rent and took no deposit as the rental was to be so short term. They had provided the landlord with glowing written references, could not be more friendly and everything appeared to have worked out well. The tenants made friends with the landlord’s family, were putting little notes through the door to say how happy they were and paid their rent on time every month in cash, despite
the landlord asking for it to be paid direct into his account. Furthermore they drew up a list of items they would like to purchase from the landlord that were left in the property together with the prices they were prepared to pay for each.
Within a couple of months the tenants had reported there was a leak at the property and that there was no gas safety certificate, the boiler was falling off the wall and that the electrics were not safe. The landlord was somewhat surprised by this, he promptly gave them a copy of the Gas Safety Certificate, went to look at the leak and also instructed an electrician to call at the property.
The relationship between the landlord and tenants then rapidly began to decline. The tenants were assured that the boiler was safe and that there was, and always had been, a gas safety certificate, that there was no mandatory requirement for an electrical safety certificate but as a precaution one would be carried out and the leak was repaired, albeit exceptionally minor and not in the main part of the dwelling, but in an external lean-to area to the back of the cottage. Upon carrying out the repairs the landlord had spotted that the tenant had made significant alterations to the property including some D.I.Y electrical work and some very dodgy tiling – words were exchanged.
Everything went downhill from there. The following morning the landlords woke to find notes stuck to their windows. They were relentless in their letter writing which got completely out of hand, dozens a day, some through the letterbox, others stuck to doors, windows, cars to the extent that the police became involved. The landlord also made an audio recording of the tenant admitting threatening behaviour and shouting verbal abuse through his letter box.
The majority of the letters received were not in relation to the tenancy itself but were of a far more personal nature, involving the landlord’s family, including his deceased father, brother and abhorrent and unfounded claims of child abuse. The letters caused untold upset to the landlord and his family, causing great rifts.
Furthermore the tenants wrote to anyone and everyone who they thought could have any influence over the tenancy including Housing Advice, Environmental Health, the CAB, MPs and the like informing them of their version of events only. The responses then gave the impression that the tenants had the full backing of these influential people and that action must be taken/compensation must be given by the landlord or else. The sum of £5,000 was demanded.
I stepped in as Managing Agent when the Landlords were at breaking point and could take no more. I then started receiving letters from the tenant, telling a very different side of the story, and to the contrary to the letters they had sent to the landlords. They implied that the property was not safe and in disrepair, that the Landlord was harassing them and that he had even forced them to buy junk furniture that they did not want and had been conned out of hundreds of pounds!
I served a Section(21)(4)(a) Notice to bring the tenancy to an end but the tenants made contact to say you would be gone within the week. I then drew up a Deed of Surrender in order to end the tenancy early, which they failed to sign but put back through the office door with keys, along with another note, but with no forwarding address.
As far as both myself and the Landlord were concerned, this was the end of it … or was it?
Far from it!
Less than a year later, I had a visit from the police at my offices. They were having numerous complaints from neighbours about troublesome tenants and asked if I could help. It turned out that when the tenants had fled the first property, another landlord a few miles away who had also read an advert for a “genuine retired Christian couple”, had taken them on in exactly the same manner.
Again, the tenants had stated that they were coming into a lump sum of money and would like to purchase the property. Again the landlord took no deposit, took less than the market value rent and this time the contract was only verbal. Again the landlords received notes to say how happy they were and insisted on paying in cash.
At first, despite the complaints that had been made to the police and the landlords direct, the landlords felt that the tenants were being victimised. Eventually the police arranged a meeting with the landlords and myself who talked them through what had happened at the previous property and the problems it had caused and even then the landlords were reluctant to believe that this “frail old couple” could be the cause of such deceit and unrest.
In the meantime, the tenants continued with their hate campaign amongst the quiet close they were living in. They would write to neighbours, pretending to be other neighbours so that the whole community was at war with each other. If neighbours had pets, they were reported for abuse to the RSPCA, if they had children to social services, if they were self employed to the Inland Revenue and so on. Neighbours would wake to find quotes from the bible stuck to their windows or through their doors and the tenants by this time had put up cameras pointing directly into neighbours properties.
The police were called time and again but the cameras were fake and the tenant was treading just the right side of the law that the police could not specifically arrest the tenants, although they were given behaviour warnings… as were the neighbours!
The police appealed to the landlords once more and at a further meeting were shown the ridiculous number of files and piles of paper that had been generated as a result of their tenants. At this point the landlords finally decided they would serve notice on their tenants in order to restore peace in the area and indeed their own lives. Again I was instructed to help.
Due to the fact there was no written confirmation of the terms of the tenancy, solicitors decided the best course of action would be that the notice date would run from the first of the month from when the tenants had been making their rental payments, providing them with 3 months clear notice instead of the usual 2 and adding a saving clause.
However, after serving the Section 21(4)(a) Notice, it was pushed back through the Landlords door stating “Not Applicable, Not Legal”. It then transpires that the landlords had received a scrawled copy of what the tenants claimed was the tenancy agreement. The landlords denied having ever seen or signed the document. Furthermore the document stated that the tenancy was for a period of 3 years! The burden of proof fell on the landlords to confirm otherwise.
The tenants then persisted in making the lives of the landlord a complete and utter misery with relentless letters and phone calls. They even went to the landlord’s building society to inform them that the landlords were renting out the property without their consent. They were so convincing in what they told them, and also sought advice from the CAB claiming that the property was going to be repossessed by the lender, that the Building Society wrote the landlords a reprimanding letter before actually checking the facts. The landlords had a Buy to Let mortgage in place, and were fully up to date with payments and the Building Society have since apologised for their actions. However the apology does not compensate for the huge amount of stress and the time off work the landlords had to take in order to put matters straight, nor did it explain how the tenants had access to the information they had given to the CAB and Building Society.
The landlords then started receiving letters from the tenant saying if the landlord paid compensation they would go. They demanded £5,000 and stated it would be cheaper to pay them off then to be dragged through the courts saying it was no skin off their nose as they would be entitled to Legal Aid.
Further letters and phone messages were left by the tenants including a very distressing one whereby the tenant is screaming down the phone that his wife has collapsed on the floor and is dying with the stress! (you’d have thought he would have called an ambulance not his landlord!)
Letters to the neighbours became incredibly derogatory and upsetting, to the point where they make it clear they are pleased about the ill health of two of the neighbours. One neighbour is involved in an accident and another suffers a major heart attack, the tenants say they have prayed for this and God has listened!
After seeking further legal advice regarding the “tenancy agreement”, solicitors cannot guarantee that the courts would dismiss it as a fake. It is therefore decided a Section 8 Notice, Grounds 14 & 17 is served instead and thankfully neighbours had kept diaries which we were able to use as evidence. Police could not part with information to assist in the serving of the Section 8; they could only do so once it got to Court.
Once the notice was served there was a short period of unrest whereby neighbours, the landlords and myself were in the firing line of the tenants. I went to work daily to find hate mail and unnerving notes saying things like “God will strike you down” and “You will be removed from Gods earth today” – Charming!
The police stepped in and arrested the tenants for suspected fraud in relation to the tenancy agreement and other paperwork found at the property, harassment and something along the lines of “procuring an advantage” where they had received a significant discount in the rent based on lies. The tenants surrendered the lease and disappeared… over the border into Hampshire where another landlord answered an advert in a local shop for a quiet, retired, Christian couple looking for a long term let. My files have yet again been taken away by police and more than a year on we’re still waiting to hear of the outcome.
In both cases the landlords left themselves wide open. The references that were provided had no dates, no references to past tenancies, how much rent they paid, if they had paid on time, if they had looked after the property etc. They merely said what a nice couple they were. There were no addresses, no telephone numbers or email contact, so there was no way of actually checking the facts with anyone.
The tenants were on full Local Housing Allowance, although did not declare this to the landlords, they were basically having their rent paid then after a period of time demanding compensation back from the Landlords to the tune of £5,000. The police now suspect that they have done this many times before, so basically they are on a nice little earner!
Neither landlord had a decent tenancy agreement drawn up, and of course one did not have a contract at all and neither landlord took a deposit on the basis that the tenants “were so nice!”
The second tenancy took nearly 2 years to come to a head. The police have no legal powers to insist that a landlord serve notice on his tenants but of course there is a strong moral issue here. In all the time they were living at the second property, the neighbours lived a most miserable existence and the tenants almost took the life of one of the neighbours through the stress and trauma that was inflicted.
The case cost thousands to bring to an end and even though the Section 8 did not get to Court, the landlord was vastly out of pocket through solicitor fees, even though my time collating everything and liaising between parties was given for free. They also had to take time off work and there was significant damage at the property (one example being the tenant had artexed all the walls very badly and glossed them purple and orange before he left!)
When the police accompanied myself and the landlords to the property when the keys had been returned, the property was full of letters intended for us and the neighbours. Each one had been torn into bits and we had to piece them back together like a puzzle to receive our “message”.
The front garden wall had been dismantled at one end which was puzzling, until we found a large hole with a full sized bin buried in it. We think he used to hide in the bin to spy on the neighbours, the wall was probably removed as we think it blocked his line of vision from the hole!
The first landlord is still not speaking to various members of his family and now opts for a fully managed service, despite living right next door. The second landlords were so distressed by events they sold the property and have no intentions of ever being landlords again.
Both cases would have been avoided if the landlords had carried out proper set up procedures. Who are your tenants? You might well be lucky or you might just pick up a money launderer, a terrorist or a “genuine, quiet, retired Christian couple. The moral of this story is clear – ALWAYS REFERENCE YOUR TENANTS! If not, you might just not get a “happy ever after”ending!