Thursday, August 13, 2009

Case throws up injustices in the tenancy deposit scheme legislation

A very interesting article in the New Law Journal (NLJ) from Laura West, barrister, Arden Chambers and Marianne Rivett, solicitor, Kennedys (currently available here) highlights some of the injustices and inconsistencies in the current tenancy deposit protection scheme (TDPS) legislation.

The article considers a case heard in May 2009 in the Central London County Court, Jacklin v Fraser Property Management Ltd, T/a Martin and Co (Bedford). Here the landlord was supposed to protect the deposit but failed to do so. When the agent (the defendant in the case) discovered this, he arranged for the deposit to be protected. The landlord subsequently went bankrupt, and the tenants abandoned the property during the fixed term and stopped paying rent. However despite this, on discovering the problem with the deposit, they brought a claim for the penalty for default, which is the fine of 3x the deposit sum.

The Judge chucked the case out because the claim had been improperly brought by only one of joint tenants (something future joint tenants should note when bringing claims). However the Judge went on to point out various problems as he saw it which would have put him in an impossible situation, had he not been able to do this (this section quotes from the NLJ article):

- He found he would have been compelled to order that the defendant pay the penalty despite the clear arrangement between the defendant and landlord—a completely unjust result. The inequity of such a decision would have been compounded by the fact that the landlord had since gone bankrupt and, had it not been for the actions of the defendant, the monies would have been as good as lost to the claimant.

- Had he been compelled to order the payment of the penalty by either the defendant, or indeed the landlord, the claimant may well have benefited from an enrichment which would have been unjust since he had abandoned the tenancy during the fixed term—where the landlord did not accept the abandonment—and ceased to pay rent without any legal basis for doing so.

- s 213(3) would require the court to either order the person who appears to the court to be holding the deposit to repay it to the applicant (s 213(3)(a)) or order that the person pay the deposit into the designated account held by the scheme administrator under an authorised custodial scheme (s 213(3)(b)) within 14 days.

Any such order would be completely pointless in the circumstances since the deposit was already protected in the insurance backed scheme. Furthermore, were the deposit protected in a custodial scheme the court would be compelled to order the return of the deposit to the tenant (even where the landlord was entitled to a set off).

However, where the landlord had chosen the insurance scheme (as in Jacklin) the court could manipulate the system and merely order the transfer of the deposit funds from an insurance backed scheme to a custodial scheme pursuant to s.213(3)(b) in order to avoid returning the monies to the tenant.

The NLJ article then goes on to consider three other problems with the legislation:

(1) Set off: the Judge in this case appeared to think that he would have allowed set off, whereas in another case, Stankova v Glassonbury, the Judge refused set off on the basis that if the landlord had registered the deposit he would have been able to do this via the arbitration scheme. But then in another case in Tunbridge Wells, Davies v Smith, set off was allowed!

(2) New tenancy agreements. It now seems that deposits paid in respect of a tenancy starting before TDPS came into force in 4/07 will be caught if a new tenancy agreement is given to the tenant but this is not clear from the legislation, and

(3) Whether a tenant receive the benefits of the legislation after the tenancy has ended. The legislation does not define 'tenant' and it is arguable that it only means current tenants. Although I would say that this would also be unfair, as often tenants only discover that a landlord has failed to protect after they have left the property and seek to claim the deposit. They then find that the landlord unreasonably fails to return it and that they are deprived of the benefit of the free arbitration service, because the deposit is unprotected.

I think we will all agree with the NLJ article's concluding comments:

As a result of the draftsman’s haste to get this scheme on the statute books, it would seem that this supposedly “no fuss” mechanism for tenants has run into problems. County court judges seem increasingly perplexed that they are compelled to make orders within a rigid system, with the potential for inequitable and unjust results. This is in clear conflict with the original aims of the legislation. In giving his judgment in Jacklin DJ Lightman commented that “the sooner Parliament looks at this the better”. In the interim it would seem that there is a real need for guidance from the higher courts and, in the longer term, need for amendment of the legislation.

If you have found this summary interesting, I would recommend you read the original article in the New Law Journal. Authors Laura West, barrister, Arden Chambers & Marianne Rivett, solicitor, Kennedys.

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