LAWYER LAWYER BRIEFS ON FIRE
My dad wanted me to be a lawyer. I don’t know what kind of girl he thought I was but frankly, knowing what I know now, I’d be marginally less offended if he’d suggested I become a prostitute. Or a politician. (Well, perhaps I exaggerate a little there. Even I have some standards).
In the end, it all came down to whether or not my landlord had known there was damp in the property at the time of entering the Tenancy Agreement with me. Which, looking back, of course he did; he showed me around the newly-painted, unfurnished flat, and I commented on the dehumidifier in the living room (just a little bit of condensation, he said). Is there damp? I asked. No, the previous tenants thought there was damp, but I had it checked out in March, there’s no damp here. REASSURING (IN HINDSIGHT, CREEPY) SMILE.
And so I moved in. With a van load of furniture.
Two weeks later the strong smell of fresh paint was wearing off, to be replaced by a stronger aroma of must. The kind you get when you’ve unwittingly taken a flat with a damp problem and only realize two weeks later that you’ve taken a flat with a damp problem unwittingly. Despite having been told by the landlord that there isn’t any damp.
Cue asthma. Quite severe asthma. In fact, the very first asthma attacks in four years, severe or otherwise.
I contacted the landlord. Asked him to get an expert in. Which he did. The landlord couldn’t be there, but the expert confirmed to me there was definitely damp present, and that he sympathized greatly as his wife was asthmatic, and many a time and oft had he had to drive her to A&E.
The landlord didn’t like this report, and so he got another expert to visit the property the next day. This new guy also affirmed there was damp on the walls, and that he didn’t know Nice but his girlfriend had a place in St Tropez – which he loved – and they went down there every year and it was his grandparents’ damp business and they’d badgered him to join it and so he did because he didn’t want to go to university quite yet because he was sick of studying after his A Levels but he’d already been there for 4 years and he was only 24 and oh this instant hot chocolate’s nice, he’d never had it before [this is the kind of posh damp expert person we get around this leafy part of town. Instant hot chocolate?! Amazing what they make for the masses these days!]
(I had that NotNiceEtoile in her living room once…)
Anyway, since we’re talking about being had…the landlord told me how ‘shocked’ he was that damp had been found. That’s right, ‘shocked’ was the very word he used. He told me this was contrary to what the report he’d had done in March said, and that he’d forward it to me.
And forward it to me he did.
You didn’t have to read far. Just down to Paragraph 2. Which came straight after Paragraph 1.
There is damp present.
The landlord denied there was damp present. I asked him what he thought the letters D A M P spelled? Ah, he said, there might be damp present, but it’s not due to ingress of water.
I put on my best NotNiceEtoile voice and told him it was totally irrelevant to my lungs as to whether the damp was as a consequence of ingress of water, had been delivered by Tesco’s or was left there by aliens (really, I did, and you know it, don’t you?), but ‘there is damp present’ meant – for some obscure reason that escapes me now – that there is damp present.
I took legal advice. Obvious case of misrepresentation, said the lawyer, which voids the contract you signed because you were induced to move in by way of factual erm, misrepresentation.
This news I gave to the landlord. I told him I would move out as soon as I found a suitable new property, and since the voided contract meant he was not entitled to take any rent off me in the past, present or future, I wanted back the rent money I’d already paid him. I also required him to meet my moving costs (didn’t see why I should pay to move my stuff in, and then out again a mere five weeks later) and other assorted expenses. Otherwise, I told him, I would take him to court (the damp contravenes the Housing Act, in that it made the place unfit for habitation), not to mention pay a visit to the local Environmental Health Officer and invite them to make their own report, which would result in the landlord not being able to rent out the place until the problem was fixed, and which additionally could entail him being sued by the Council for having let out the property over the years in an unfit-for-habitation kind of a state.
The landlord plainly did not want to be taken to court. And he plainly did not want to show me he plainly did not want to be taken to court. He entered into negotiations. Which, on his side, more or less amounted to giving me 50p off a small Marguerita pizza if I happened to find myself in Loch Lomand on 15th November between 5.06 and 5.07pm. I knew I had a strong hand (the other one’s not bad either), and I held out.
He engaged a lawyer. Well, when I say ‘engaged a lawyer’, I think she must be a friend of his; he’s in a building industry-related job, and she resides two hundred miles away from where he lives, working in an area of law associated with his line of business, which is entirely unconnected with our disagreement. And really, though he was not the most honest person in the world and compromised my health in no small way, I do so hope he didn’t give her any money for the service she provided…
…for she was one of the thickest and most inept people I’ve ever had the misfortune to slap around the head with my sparkly wand. For example: she wrote to me that Mr Landlord did not believe that there was damp present in the flat at the time of signing the contract with me, and that this was still his position. Still his position? I asked her if this was the same Mr Landlord who had sent me an email a week ago telling me there indeed was damp in the property? (And I copied her said email, all for her delight). So what exactly WAS his position???
She (eventually) replied that Mr Landlord was basing his belief that there was no damp in the property at the time of entering the Tenancy Agreement with me on the expert’s report of March 10th 2011. Well, I replied, that’s very good to know, since Paragraph 2 of that report categorically states there IS damp in the property.
She came back with an expert says there’s no damp, so I wrote that was a most interesting interpretation of an expert saying there is damp, since it appeared to be an interpretation amounting to exactly the opposite of what an expert had actually said.
We batted a few more emails to and fro before she obviously got a bit bored with it all, with her then communicating to me that if I didn’t accept my 50p pizza token as full settlement of the dispute Mr Landlord would withhold my deposit when I moved out, not accept back the keys, and sue me for indefinite rent.
[WHAT’S THAT SOUND, DEAR READER? YES, THAT’S RIGHT, IT’S A MENOPAUSAL FAIRY JUMPING UP AND DOWN, RUBBING HER TINY HANDS TOGETHER IN GLEE!]
Well, I replied, I’m not a lawyer, but I have a feeling that the threat to withhold my legally-refundable deposit in a bid to intimidate me into dropping my case in favour of her client and thus relinquish my right to seek justice and a fair settlement in what was plainly a matter of whether the Agreement was valid or not in the first place was unlawful, and if this turned out to be the case I would report her and her firm to the Law Society. And do you know, dear Reader, the very next email I received from her listed various things they were offering me, including the return of my deposit in full. Not another mention of (unlawfully) retaining my deposit!
And so negotiations entered a new stage. In spite of her writing one missive to me addressed to ‘Dear NotNiceEtoile’ (I answered that, to her, it was Dear Ms NotNiceEtoile), and her asking me to give an undertaking that I would vacate the property by 10th June 2010 (I replied that although I was a fairy of many talents, sadly time travel was not one of them, and so sorry as I was, I would not be leaving the place 11 months before I moved into it), we finally came to an agreement.
This was of no mean satisfaction to me. For although I was more than willing to take the little shi…fty landlord to court, and was very confident of winning, I would have had to wait several months for my money, and a bird in the hand is worth two in a flat which is plainly unfit for habitation.
Won’t go into the protracted negotiations here, except to say that the landlord volunteered to pay my gas and electricity bills for the duration of my stay in the place; this I had demanded before – I had to have an electric blanket running all night long because of the cold, even though it was early summer, and the heating went on every day to dry the towels after my shower, otherwise they would still have been wet through the next morning – but I had long since stopped mentioning it. So when, in the last stages of hammering out the final settlement, they offered this to me in an effort to get me to drop my more expensive demands, I said you know what? Since Mr Landlord is offering this, let’s add it to the list of what I’m claiming. Thus they induced me to up my demands! (I think ‘irony’ must be one of my favourite words).
He offered me something towards May’s rent in the end, and I got him to double it. He paid for my removals out of the place, returned my deposit back to me in full, and is indeed meeting the gas and electricity bills. It was important for him not to give me back the whole of my rent money because that would have implied admittance of liability, and I understand that.
Oh, funny thing I forgot to mention was that I had written to the landlord at the end of May telling him I would not be paying any more rent on the advice of my lawyer, and this he didn’t respond to (although I know he got the email). A few days into June he sent me an email – please could I pay June’s rent into his account asap? Here were his bank details…as if there had been no on-going dispute between us for the past couple of weeks!
I’ll do the jokes, mate. (Well, perhaps not, but don’t tell him, eh?)
And so I’m a happy bunny. I got most of my money back for the past five weeks of London
coughing living, and found the most beautiful place half a mile away from where I was: no damp, freshly-decorated to a very high standard, new carpet and appliances, west-facing balcony over-looking the river. Cheaper rent, too. So nah nah nah naaah naaah, Mr Landlord.
Anyway, this one’s for my dad. Long passed away, but probably looking down and thinking Told you so, NotNiceEtoile. You should have listened to me all those years ago.