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Probably few of you will have time to watch Judge Rinder now he has taken over the slot left vacant since Jeremy Kyle’s fall from grace; to be honest, neither do I. But last Monday I happened to flick it on, and surprisingly there was a landlord and tenant case being heard.
The landlord seemed a very decent man, as his tenant confirmed. He and the property were in Wales and he had done all that was required of him under Welsh legislation. He had attended training courses and was aware of the legislation around letting a property, either as a landlord, or as in his case as an agent, managing the property on behalf of his mother-in-law.
Judge Rinder inspected the tenancy agreement and felt it was a well-drafted and legal document. So what was the problem? Why had this upright landlord found himself in the position of seeking a judgement from a television judge?
The tenant had asked permission of the landlord to change his gas supplier, which had been freely given; why would he not want his tenant to save some money, if this was possible?
Unfortunately, what seemed like a very simple change to make became more complicated. To change utility supplier, there was a condition that a smart meter must be installed. Smart meters are being promoted as money-saving, so the tenant had no argument about it being installed, along with the other 13 million customers who we are told now have smart meters.
However, what the tenant was unaware of was that the pipework needed for the gas had to be of a certain gauge and the meter could not be fitted without several hundred pounds worth of new pipework being installed. The tenant had the work done and asked that the bill be sent to the landlord.
The landlord had given no permission for a smart meter; a survey done some years previously had shown that the pipework, though completely safe, was not sufficient to have a smart meter installed; had the tenant asked permission to have a smart meter, the landlord would have explained that there would be a substantial cost involved and if he wanted a smart meter, the cost would have been down to him.
The landlord refused to pay; the account went to the tenant and the tenant? He went to court.
If I had been advising the landlord, I would have said that the landlord could not be held responsible for the bill. But it turns out I’d have been wrong. Judge Rinder stated that as the tenant had not been required to ask for permission to have a smart meter, as the pipework was inadequate to allow this, the landlord, as responsible for installations for the supply of gas and electricity, had a duty to pay for the improved pipework.
I felt Judge Rinder had some sympathy for the landlord, despite the negative result he felt he had to deliver. However, the tenant was also in rent arrears and the landlord had agreed that he should pay him £1.11 per week until the arrears were cleared. If the tenant stayed in the property until October 2022, the debt would be cleared.
Judge Rinder seemed to feel this was inadequate under the circumstances and ordered that the tenant pay the rent arrears.
The lesson from this for landlords is: Make sure your tenancy agreement is tight, that leaves no room for discussion or dispute. There will be more and more tenants who want to change utilities providers and may find that they are also required to have a smart meter fitted.
Write it in to your tenancy agreement, along with the requirement that permission be asked to change provider, that permission is required for a smart meter and that any pipework which needs changing is at the tenant’s cost.
Of course, it may be good management practice to pay for the pipes or to check the gauge of the pipework next time you have a void property. You don’t want to end up on Judge Rinder!
For advice on buy to let issues – Ask Sharon