In February, my relative agreed to rent a house. She paid a holding deposit, and after numerous credit checks the move was agreed - to begin on 1st April 2020. She paid the deposit and first month's rent.
However, the COVID-19 crisis has meant that she has been unable to move in to the property due to the lockdown, as she's in one of the 'at risk' groups. I phoned the estate agent to explain the situation in late March, and the person (a director) told me that they'd handle the situation.
Then, on 7th April I received an email from the estate agents. It was from a different person, also a director. They offered 2 options: (a) to pay the rent as if the tenancy had commenced, making my relative responsible for all further rent, or (b) to consider the tenancy didn't go ahead, lose the deposit but they'd return the rent. They would then re-let the property.
I emailed them back, saying that my discussion in March suggested they would hold the property until it was possible to move in. I added that I understood the nature of this things was far from ideal, and suggested that the first month's rent be paid along with the deposit, in return for holding the property until lockdown measures had been eased. The person in question replied saying that she'd ask the landlady.
Today I've noticed that the property has been advertised for rent both on a sign outside and over the internet. They haven't contacted either me or the relative since the last contact on 7th April.
Of course, this is a matter for a lawyer if we were to take it up. However, what legal position would my mother be in? Surely they can't take the rent and offer to re-let the property at the same time? Would they even be entitled to retain the deposit under these circumstances? Finally, I'd rather not go down this route but is there any protection for my relative for not being forcefully 'evicted' - since she's paid the deposit, rent - and those haven't been returned?