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In October last year (2019), I (22, M) moved into a houseshare in Bristol to attend my final year of university. I signed the contract knowing that I would be moving out after exams finished in May/June, which the landlord said was fine provided I found a suitable replacement. This was proved in December when one of my housemates moved out and there was a new tenant in 2 days later.

Forward to March, coronavirus shuts down the university and everything moves online, so I decide to move back home to be with my family and hopefully save some money on rent. On the 22nd March, I posted an advert on Facebook marketplace and my landlord assured he would do the same (he did not). I was immediately inundated with messages from eager prospective tenants wanting to move in ASAP. As the landlord instructed, I passed on his email address to suitable prospective tenants.

A few days passed, and I had not heard anything, so I messaged my landlord for an update and he responded that due to new social distancing rules he would not be able to do any viewings, so finding a new tenant would be unlikely. I informed the landlord that the other housemates all said that they were happy to host viewings themselves either in person or via video, which he ignored. Repeated follow up messages regarding this and asking about the possibility of subletting for a month or two were similarly ignored. Eventually I called him to discuss the situation, and he told me that he would not allow subletting under any circumstances (did not provide a reason) and to find someone who could show proof of income and three months rent upfront, and he would do his best to move them in as soon as possible.

I found four people who had proof of income and were happy to pay the three months upfront, all wanting to move in ASAP. After informing the landlord of this, I was again repeatedly ignored and heard nothing back until 1st April when rent was due, which, reluctantly, I paid. The landlord then told me that again due to coronavirus, the earliest somebody would be able to move in would be the 1st May.

I continued to pass on his contact details to those who seemed suitable, letting the landlord know the names to look out for in his emails. I had passed on the details to over 20 suitable candidates, but heard nothing back from the landlord. Eager to not have to waste rent for a second month, I sent messages asking for an update on the 21st, 24th, 27th, and 30th April. I did not receive a reply until the 30th, when the landlord informed me that he would now be unable to move anyone in until the 1st June, but that he did not see a problem with moving someone in then.

May passed by, and I continued to direct people to the landlord, and continued to be ignored when I informed him or asked for updates. Around the 24th May, I decided to message back one of the prospective tenants asking if they had had a viewing/heard back from the landlord. To my surprise, they told me that they had sent an email but received no reply, so had assumed the room had been taken. I contacted the landlord about this and (surprise surprise) he did not reply. I decided to ask a few more prospective tenants about this, and all of them had messaged him and either been declined a viewing or got no reply at all. When I confronted the landlord about this, he simply said that he gets a lot of emails and he's too busy to go through them all, and to pass on his mobile number instead.

By this point, it was now 1st June and there was still nobody to take the room. The landlord spoke to me and said that rent was still due, however I would be reimbursed when someone else moved in, which the landlord assured me would be within a week as he had several viewings booked. I was hesitant, but knowing that I had sent many more people to him, I once again paid.

Passing on his number managed to get a few people booked into viewings, however nowhere near as many as people I spoke to. I decided to chase up the prospective tenants again to see if the landlord had responded. It may not come as a surprise that the responses I got back consisted mainly of:

'he read my message but never responded'

'I spoke to him on the phone and he said he'd call be back but never did'

'I've called him a few times but he hasn't picked up"

What was surprising, however, are the messages from people who said they had spoken to him, but had been refused a viewing. I again confronted him on this to which he responded 'No one has been refused viewings'. I sent him the screenshot of the conversation with the prospective tenant, which he again ignored.

Now comes perhaps the most infuriating part. A girl who had viewed the house messaged me saying that she would like to take the room. I told her that I was happy for her to take it, and that she should contact the landlord to arrange contracts and details. I also contacted the landlord letting her know that I was happy for her to take it. He did not respond. I told her to try him again the next day. Once again, no response. We have both been messaging him and calling all week, and neither of us have received any reply or acknowledgement.

The girl has now contacted me again voicing her concerns about moving into a place with such an unreliable landlord, and I am now unsure what to do if the room does not get taken.

My question is, do I have any legal standing that I could use to stop paying rent/take the landlord to court? I have been paying rent on a place that I have not been living in for three months, essentially wasting ~£1500, which as an unemployed student is really not an affordable loss. Has the landlord breached any contractual agreements that could potentially be used against him to possibly recover any of the money? For info, it is a joint tenancy for the whole house and I am the lead tenant.

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  • Would you mind breaking up the first paragraph, it is literally a wall of text and is difficult to read/process...
    – Ron Beyer
    Jun 19 '20 at 14:27
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    apologies, copied the text from a word document and messed the formatting up, fixed it now.
    – James
    Jun 19 '20 at 14:54
  • Have you tried asking Shelter for advice? england.shelter.org.uk/get_help
    – Lag
    Jun 20 '20 at 8:22
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do I have any legal standing that I could use to stop paying rent/take the landlord to court? Has the landlord breached any contractual agreements that could potentially be used against him to possibly recover any of the money?

Yes. You have a viable claim of breach of contract or, in the alternative, of unjust enrichment. If you stop paying the landlord, you would have a valid claim (or defense) of constructive breach of contract, in addition to the aforesaid claims.

The agreement whereby the landlord allows you to move out if you find a replacement appears to be an amendment of your lease. Each and every [landlord's] failure to follow up with the potential replacements you submitted for his approval is a breach of that agreement, more so given the landlord's misleading assurances that he would follow up. However, it is unclear from your post what the lease says in regard to modifying it. Likewise, the timing, form, and circumstances of that [subsequent? oral? informal?] agreement are unspecified. But it is common for contracts to outline the conditions for amending it, whence --for instance-- an oral agreement might not supersede and replace the terms of the written & signed contract.

Even if the terms of the lease don't reflect the agreement you describe, the landlord's pattern of conduct warrants voiding the contract and treating this controversy as a claim of unjust enrichment. The same can be said about the coronavirus/lockdown circumstances insofar as these frustrate the purpose of your contract, in which case the matter might take the form of a quasi-contract. The differences are rather subtle and likely needless to be addressed this time.

If you stop paying and the landlord sues you, you also have the defense of unclean hands, meaning that the landlord's wrongful conduct bars him from recovery of any pending payments. This also relates to constructive breach of contract, which means that the landlord's misconduct left you no options but to breach the lease, hence precluding his alleged entitlements pursuant to the terms of the lease.

For evidentiary purposes, your subsequent interactions with the landlord should be in writing whenever practicable. Likewise, securing evidence from the potential replacements would strengthen your credibility if the matter is brought to court.

Generally speaking, it is in your best interest to ensure that a counterparty's concessions are stated in writing. And, if contemporaneous to the formation of the contract, those concessions and representations ought to be in the contract itself. Anyone who intends to take advantage of you will tell you whatever you want to hear, but later on that person would prevail on grounds that the contract does not support what "you allege" he promised you elsewhere (i.e., outside the contract).

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  • It depends on the wording of the lease. If there is any language about changes being in writing then the landlord's verbal promises are even emptier than usual. Jun 20 '20 at 9:01
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    @PaulJohnson Generally speaking, yes, as I pointed out at the end of the 2nd paragraph. But the landlord's pattern of conduct would fail the test of not being "wholly unreasonable". See Reichman and Dunn v. Beverige and Gauntlett, 2006 EWCA Civ 1659 at para. 40. The pattern described by the OP warrants an intervention of equity, Id. at para. 35, thereby superseding English precedent as to landlords having no duty to mitigate losses. Thus, your conclusion & answer are accurate in ordinary scenarios but not in the OP's matter. Jun 20 '20 at 12:18
  • Why is this being down-voted? It looks like a perfectly good answer. Jun 21 '20 at 11:48
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I have been paying rent on a place that I have not been living in for three months

That is probably unrecoverable. A court is likely to view your payments as an admission that you owed the money.

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