Third-year Law student to take letting agent to court

The following is an article provided by Palatinate.

A third-year law student is preparing to take a letting agency to court after they allegedly took too long to put the deposit in a government-protected scheme.

India Hitchen lived in Flass Court Upper on Waddington Street last year, a property let by MC Lettings.

She told Palatinate that, given the deposit was paid in cash, the money was sitting at the company’s offices for months.

“The security risks were very high and [it was] incredibly disrespectful,” she said.

According to the timeline of events Hitchen gave to Palatinate, the deposit of £2,800 was paid in cash to the estate agent on 12th December 2013, yet the money was not put into the Deposit Protection Scheme in its entirety until 24th April 2014.

She says she found this out when she rang the Deposit Protection Service in March 2015. She also claims that during the tenancy, MC Lettings refused to provide her and her housemates with the deposit repayment number.

When contacted by Palatinate, MC Lettings claimed this issue related to the landlord of the property and had nothing to do with them. They said they paid in the deposit soon as they received it.

Landlords must generally protect deposits for assured short-term tenants in a government-backed scheme within 30 days, although there are a few exceptions, such as with student accommodation let directly by universities or colleges.

Tenants must also be given details about the how the deposit is protected. Landlords found to have breached these rules can face paying back up to three times the amount of deposit paid.

Hitchen said that studying Law has helped her in “getting the ball rolling” for preparing the case. She covered the relevant Housing Act briefly as part of her course. However, she recommends students who have problems as tenants contact the Durham SU advice service for consultation.

Also of help has been the website Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity which helps student tenants.

“The process isn’t as difficult as society seems to think it is,” the law student told Palatinate.

Hitchen is now in contact with another organisation, the Student Law Office Northumbria, which connects students to solicitors. She believes their practical experience makes them a better choice for representation in a small claims court than the Durham SU.

Professor Graham Towl, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Deputy Warden, told Palatinate: “According to UK law, landlords must put a deposit in a government-backed tenancy deposit scheme if they rent their home on an assured shorthold tenancy.

“On the University’s Accommodation Office webpage, there is information regarding deposits.

“The University’s Accommodation Office works in partnership with the Students’ Union and supports and recommends the services they offer.

“If any student has an issue with their landlord, or has another house-related issue, we suggest contact the Students’ Union Help and Advice Service.

“We also specifically recommend students use the Union’s Help and Advice Service’s contract checking service before signing a contract.”

Photograph: Cressida Peever