Horror Story - They told me I could stay there as long as I liked!


A tenant agrees to take on a tenancy of an old run down, but potentially attractive, house at a low rent on the basis that she will renovate it herself.

She is given to understand by the landlords (three sisters) that she can stay there as long as she likes afterwards, but the tenancy agreement she is given is a normal assured shorthold tenancy for six months. She signs it thinking that the paperwork is irrelevant and relying on the assurances she has received from the landlords that they would let her stay in the property as long as she wants.

She then starts work on the property. Believing that she will be staying there for good, she spends over £20,000 on renovation work including a new kitchen and bathroom and structural alterations to the ground floor. Part of this is funded by her boyfriend cashing in his pension plan, and she and her boyfriend do the majority of the work themselves. All of the work done is to a high standard, with expensive materials and fittings used.

While the works are being carried out, the landlords are very friendly.  However when the work is finished and they see the vast improvement in the property, their attitude changes.

About ten months after the works have been completed, the tenant is horrified to receive through the letter box a notice seeking possession under section 21 of the Housing Act. She tries to discuss matters with the landlords but they refuse to speak to her saying simply that circumstances have changed and they need the property back.

The tenant refuses to leave and eventually court proceedings are started for possession. She seeks legal advice and tries to defend the claim on the basis that the landlords are ‘estopped’ from gaining possession as they let her carry out the works knowing that she believed she could live there as long as she liked.

However ignoring much of the advice she has been given, she decides to represent herself to save legal costs. She then fails to comply with court orders or to turn up for court hearings due to ‘stress related’ illness.

The court decide against her in her absence, and when she tries to appeal the decision they refuse to allow her appeal as the application was made out of time and they do not accept that her illness was of sufficient seriousness to prevent her from dealing with the case at the proper time.

She is eventually evicted from the house and the landlords sell the property at a high price due to the improvements she has made.

(This story is based on a real case Tessa dealt with in the mid 1990s.)


(1) Never, ever do expensive repair and renovation work to a property you are renting, unless you have signed a tenancy agreement which gives you long term security of tenure and you have obtained legal advice before the works are carried out, and

(2) do not ignore court cases or assume that as a matter of course the court will allow you any latitude because you have failed to comply with orders/attend hearings due to illness.

The full horror story only happens rarely - but this does not mean it cannot happen to you!



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