Moving into a new flat should be an exciting time, especially for a couple who have just married. But for 42-year-old Chris the new flat rent in south-west London turned into a nightmare.
“It seemed nice at first,” he says. “It was a top floor conversion and we could sit on the sofa in the lounge and see the River Wandle.” But problems quickly arose and ended with the sports development consultant being pelted with stones by his landlord.
Troubles began when the couple spotted damp in the bedroom and then discovered there was a leaking roof. There was no gas safety certificate and lots of other little things, recalls Chris.
“The kettle would sometimes blow up because there was an issue with the wiring. The sink leaked into the flat below so badly that it damaged their television and ruined their baby photos.”
The couple counted 18 things wrong with the place so, when it came to renew their contract, they tackled the landlord. Despite promising to make repairs, the work was shoddy and useless and when he was contacted again, the landlord turned to intimidation.
“I’d written to the landlord and told him that we would be taking him to court because of the problems but one day he started to become aggressive, shouting and calling me names.
“Then he picked up some stones and started throwing them at me. We felt really intimidated by him so eventually we decided to leave. It was a stressful and horrible experience.”
The alarming tale is not the only one in the files of the housing charity, Shelter. It has published startling statistics today that show that more than 125,000 tenants have fallen victim to abusive landlords in the past year.
As well as threatening or abusive behaviour, renters reported rogue landlords cutting off utilities, entering homes without permission, and not protecting deposits.
Now the housing charity has warned that these rogue landlords are causing chaos in the lives of renters, who often don’t know what their rights are or where to go for support and advice.
But it’s a matter of law that as a tenant, you have the right to live in a property that’s safe and in a good state of repair. If it’s not, your landlord should resolve problems without becoming abusive.
“No one should have to put up with a landlord who breaks the law and it’s so important to know your rights as a renter,” says Shelter’s helpline adviser, Mark Cook. “Every day we speak to people desperate for help because their lives are being made unbearable by a rogue landlord. Some of their experiences are awful – from renters who’ve been illegally evicted and had their belongings burned, to those who had utilities cut off because their landlord wants to intimidate them.”
If there are problems, you should contact your landlord in the first place to try and resolve them. “Make sure you’re clear about the facts and what you want to happen,” advises Mr Cook. “Explain what you’ll do if the situation doesn’t improve and describe how the problem is affecting you. But make sure you always stay polite and reasonable.”
If you can’t resolve the issue with your landlord, you should make a complaint to a “designated person”, such as your MP, a local councillor or a tenant panel. Contact your council or local authority if you and your landlord still can’t resolve the problem.
You’ll find full details of your rights (as well as your responsibilities) as a tenant at the official government website gov.uk/private-renting/your-rights-and-responsibilities
Shelter’s own website, at shelter.org.uk/advice, also includes lots of useful information about your rights. You can also call the charity’s free housing helpline on 0808 800 4444 for help.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies