‘That house was a death trap’ - Tenants share horror stories of rat plague and mushrooms in the shower

PUBLISHED: 06:00 01 June 2019 | UPDATED: 13:10 01 June 2019

When the cooker was removed from under the counter, rat droppings and more mould was discovered. Picture: Kaye Nichols

When the cooker was removed from under the counter, rat droppings and more mould was discovered. Picture: Kaye Nichols

Kaye Nichols

East Anglian tenants have revealed a host of horror stories about their rental homes - on the day that a new law to protect them comes into force.

Mould and moss grew along the walls of this property in Suffolk. Picture: Kaye NicholsMould and moss grew along the walls of this property in Suffolk. Picture: Kaye Nichols

Among the worst examples are living with rats in the walls, being charged a £1,800 cleaning fee upon leaving, and having mushrooms growing in the bathroom. The Tenant Fees Act 2019 came into effect today, and is expected to save English tenants on average £240m a year, while strengthening their rights.

MORE: Anglian Home Improvements boss got £46,000 pay rise as company lost £4.7m

The legislation caps security deposits at five weeks rent, and stipulate that money can only be withheld for "reasonably incurred costs".

However, where tenants have been given a greater level of security, it detracts from the protection for landlords.

Mould inside broken cupboards at a property in Kessingland. Picture: Kaye NicholsMould inside broken cupboards at a property in Kessingland. Picture: Kaye Nichols

Because of the cap, landlords may not be able to cover damage caused to a property by inconsiderate tenants, leaving them out of pocket.

Ahead of its introduction, this paper asked for your rental experiences.

Those who have been taken advantage of have reported feeling powerless to stop liberties being taken.

One cost which seemed sensible to 23-year-old Abbie Wood was being told a portion of her deposit would be held back at the end of her contract for cleaning ahead of the next tenant moving in.

Georgia Boyle, 22, still hasn't had her deposit returned from September 2018. Picture: Georgia BoyleGeorgia Boyle, 22, still hasn't had her deposit returned from September 2018. Picture: Georgia Boyle

"It seemed fair enough, it was reassuring to know the estate agents enforced this rule and so we would be moving into a clean house," she said.

However, upon moving in, Ms Wood discovered there were rats living in the walls and loft of the property near the University of East Anglia.

"An exterminator was sent over, but he said he needed a key to the loft. However the landlord refused to give it to us, so it couldn't go any further," she said.

Ms Wood and her four housemates still had the cleaning fee taken from them at the end of their contract.

Adrian and Kaye Nichols. Pic: Kaye Nichols.Adrian and Kaye Nichols. Pic: Kaye Nichols.

Another tenant left in the dark over his deposit is Adrian Nichols, who rented his home in Kessingland for just under a decade.

Mr Nichols, 39, said: "We had mushrooms growing in the bathroom; we had moss growing on the walls. When we raised this with the landlord they said: 'Well you can always move out'."

The professional gardener said he and his partner felt they should not move as they were saving towards their first home.

Mr Nichols and his wife Kaye are now struggling to get their damage deposit back, despite sinking hundreds of pounds of their own money into decoration and upkeep.

Abbie Wood, 23. Picture: Abbie WoodAbbie Wood, 23. Picture: Abbie Wood

"It should be illegal to own a property if you don't have the capital to make it a safe environment," he said. "We had asbestos in the garage; there was water in our electrics. That house was a death trap."

Yet, for those landlords who are fair with their tenants, the new legislation is a new burden on top of an already stressful process.

"The government is doing everything it can to squeeze the private rental market," said Arnolds Keys partner Phil Cooper. "A lot of landlords will be looking at their business models. The more professional landlords will be able to restructure their businesses, but those who don't have the time to do so may decide it's more hassle than it's worth."

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Landlords have been further hit by tax changes which means by 2020 they will no longer be able to offset mortgage interest payments against rental income.

Mr Cooper, head of lettings, said: "We could see rent going up as landlords attempt to absorb these changes and cover their risks in other ways."

Tenancy disagreements can cause more strain than just financial hardship, with tenants saying the impact can cause long-term problems.

Georgie Boyle, 22, said her unreturned deposit from a property she rented in Norwich city centre in 2017 still brought her to tears.

Miss Boyle told her landlord that she was moving to Australia and when, and was told a week after landing that she would never see her money again.

She said: "He waited until I was over 10,000 miles away and when he knew I wouldn't be able to fight my case."

- Great Yarmouth's crack down on squalid housing:

Great Yarmouth Borough Council has introduced a selective licensing scheme for its most deprived ward, Nelson.

The scheme requires landlords of most private rented housing to be licensed and meet conditions around health and safety and standards.

The scheme aims to help improve living conditions and quality of life for private sector tenants, while creating a level playing field for ethical landlords - by making it harder for unethical landlords to prosper.

The scheme came into full effect in January of this year.

Carl Agar, chief executive of Home Safe - which processes the applications - said: "We are delighted to be working with Great Yarmouth Borough Council as their delivery partner for this selective licensing scheme and look forward to working with landlords in the Nelson ward.

"This is a truly innovative concept where landlords who are members of Home Safe will receive support and development opportunities to help them remain compliant and keep their properties free from hazards."

- What can you do to get a deposit back?

Housing charity Shelter can offer advice and support to tenants who are struggling to get their deposits back:

1. Check the information you should have been sent when you paid your deposit to see if it was protected in a custodial or insurance-based scheme.

2. If your deposit is protected in an insurance-based scheme you can send your landlord a letter to dispute it. You can notify the scheme if your landlord doesn't return your deposit within 10 days of your written request. The scheme will order the landlord to pay the disputed amount to them and hold the deposit until the dispute is resolved

3. If your deposit is protected in a custodial scheme you should use your scheme's online refund process.

4. Use a tenancy deposit scheme's dispute resolution service if you disagree with a charge. The service is free.

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