We hope our issues with our previous landlord are now resolved.  At least, we hope that the electric company will honour their word and not come after us for the unpaid bill, which all, except the landlord, have agreed is the landlord’s responsibility.

We have dealt with so many people throughout the course of our dispute, and each one seems to give different advice.  It was extremely confusing and every time we talked to a new person, we had to describe everything from start to finish.  “Frustrating” is an understatement.

But, in the process, we have learned a few lessons.  Lesson number one: we need to be more aggressive.  It wasn’t that we just let everyone walk all over us.  We tried not to be a pain, so we didn’t whine and complain about everything.  We reported problems when we needed to and left it up to the agents and landlord to work out what needed to be done.  Unfortunately, neither showed any inclination to fix any problems.  They blamed each other when it came down to figuring out what went wrong where.  Lesson number two: due diligence.  Don’t rely on someone else’s word for it, do it yourself.  Lesson number three: the Brits have an “I don’t want to get involved” attitude.  We get the sense that most Brits don’t want to give third party advice unless they are in alliance with you for some personal gain.  For example, we considered getting someone close to the landlord to reason with him, but felt that we would be given the cold shoulder.  Lesson number four: know who to turn to.

This last one could be tricky.  Everyone tells you to go to the CAB for advice.  We had gone to them several times during the course of our stay, but nothing useful was forthcoming.  They can be helpful in many areas, but in our case, it seemed they were at a loss.  It wasn’t until our account came up to the Live Debt department at the electric company that someone came up with a solution (though we cannot be certain that the issue is resolved yet).  They’ve decided to proceed with a power shut-off to force the landlord’s hand.  (Apparently, they wouldn’t do it if we were still living there.)  So, the higher up the ladder you move, the more ideas you can come up with.

But, in the midst of all this, we found out through the RAC Legal Aid that we should have reported our landlord to the council.  Apparently, it is not just for social housing landlords.  Had we done so, we could have had an independent appraisal of the situation, and we could have had a refund on our rent.  Perhaps, that would have also helped us to deal with the electric issue.  Lesson learned.  Hopefully, we won’t go there again.

No, our landlord issues have not gone away.  Our previous landlord issues remain unresolved, and we fear we may have others looming ahead.  However, that’s not something we can control and we will only be affected indirectly.  If that should amount to anything, I’ll be sure to mention it.

But, getting back to our previous landlord.  He has been an obstacle to getting the bills resolved.  And now he has conveniently gone on holiday.  But while he thinks he can escape his problems, we feel we have finally made some progress and have confidently swung the ball back in his court.

After many weeks of phone calls to the estate agents, to no avail, we put in a dispute.  I had forewarned them of it, so before they were forced to do anything, the agents sent us a partial refund of our deposit.  They’re still holding an amount equivalent to two-and-a-half times what we believe we owe on the water bill.  Despite knowing how much we used, neither they nor the landlord can figure out what we owe.  They seem to think they need to get all the bills and decide our portion.  I will be searching around the internet and make complaints on some landlord/estate agent forums.  No one should ever be put through the misery of working with any of these people. 

And the electric company finally came up with a figure that we can agree on, but it’s questionable whether the landlord will accept.  The figure given to us is just a little over what we had offered and he had turned it down.  Now, we have both the electric company and the estate agent agreeing to it, so if he won’t agree, we may have to take legal action.  We could have had this resolved sooner had the electric company agreed to look back at previous usage by the landlord as we had requested.  They finally did so, and came up with the figures.  Our portion is rather generous (all but the landlord will agree); however, we are willing to be generous just to get this resolved.

We do not have the ready cash to hire a lawyer.  We are also not the litigious type.  We have sought advice from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau several times, but they cannot give legal advice.  However, they do offer Legal Aid, a free legal service to those who are impoverished.  You have to be below a certain income level to qualify, and we do not.

We had tried the third party negotiation through the estate agent and it had not been going well.  Our next step was to go to an ombudsman.  There are several around – The Property Ombudsman (for estate agents) and the government Housing Ombudsman (for landlords).  However, they all want a protracted formal dispute process going through other channels first; i.e., through the landlord’s and agents’ in-house complaints procedures.  The ombudsman could take up to a year.

We have RAC membership and my husband knew he could get legal advice on motoring issues through the RAC.  So, he asked them about other legal services.  We were told that for an additional 15GBP per year, we could get legal advice on all other issues.  He was reluctant to join because it sounded like many of those internet services where you make an offer for advice and the advice will vary depending on how much you were willing to pay.  After exhausting all other avenues, we finally signed up for the RAC legal aid.  It sounds even better than we thought.  The advice comes from real practicing lawyers and if they take your case, they will even represent you in court.  All this is included.  They’ve given us a two-week trial and if we don’t use it, we can cancel it.

We called the lawyers first thing and they told us to start with EDF, the electric company.  It was funny because I was writing a letter to EDF while my husband had them on the line.  He repeated what the lawyers had advised us, and they denied any responsibility.  At that point, my husband called OfGem, the electric utilities ombudsman, who made a note of the complaint.  Shortly after, EDF called back and gave us a figure for what they felt we owed.  It was as if the call to the lawyers had set a string of events in motion.

If things work out well, we may not need the legal service after all and can cancel it.  However, given their usefulness, we may decide to try it out for a year.  It’s like having a lawyer on retention for only 15GBP a year.

I find it hilarious that the agent wants to come see the house tomorrow with the goal of trying to market it for a new tenant.

Her colleague had had the audacity to send us a letter stating that he could not talk to the electric company, so it was up to talk to them and we should do so ASAP as our lease is quickly nearing the end.  First of all, why send us a letter to tell us that?  The previous agent (who no longer works with them) had no difficulties; the postal service is extremely unreliable given the postal strikes (it took my occupational health assessment a full week to travel a couple miles); the ball is no longer in our court as concerns the electric company.  No replies to our email stating all this.  Then, out of the blue, they want to see the house because the landlord wants to remarket it.  That’s on top of telling us that our lease will expire exactly 30 days from when we definitely stated we will not renew.  Never mind that we had suggested this two months earlier but no one bothered to acknowledge or question it then.

I wonder what the agent will think when she parks up and sees the rubble in front of her.  Our nearest neighbours, also tenants, are showing signs that they are possibly moving out.  They have been the longest tenants on the estate, but I suppose that when the adjacent storage collapsed one morning, they decided that the safety of the structure they are living under is suspect.  We all knew that it would collapse eventually, but to see it happening in front of your eyes was quite novel.  Luckily, no one was hurt.  This was two months ago, and the only thing that has happened is that the landlord’s workers removed the collapsed bricks and placed a metal fence around the area, which meant that our neighbours have been a bit inconvenienced.  Well, we’ve seen furniture being removed from their property and their chickens went today.

I also wonder what the agent will think when she actually walks through our house and sees the mess.  What more surprises will she have in store for us? How will she react when we confront her for maladministration on their part?  We have a very strong case against them and the landlord.  How can they justify forcing us to pay for an extra week when we aren’t even being compensated for living in this neglected property?  And, of course, what have they decided about the electricity?  Still no answers from them on that score.  Yet another example of maladministration.  They drag their feet when it benefits us, but rush when it benefits them.  And they tried to tell us that as agents, they work for us as well as the landlord.  Pull the other one.

Well, I guess, if they will force us to pay for the extra week, we’ll have to prevent them from coming in sooner to fix up the house.  They cannot possibly expect someone to move in with these conditions, unless the new tenants are gullible enough to believe that repairs will be done before they move in.  Wish I could be a fly on the wall when that happens.

Financial stress is still fever pitch, but we’ve agreed on another house and will sign the lease tomorrow.  The movers will come next week, my first day at work.  All I can think is, if we get through the next 3 weeks without further financial burdens, we will manage.

I never intended for this blog to be a rant.  But, sometimes, circumstances beyond my control have me going out of my mind, and if I can’t vent it, I take out the stress on my family.  And right now, I’m in panic mode.

I have two weeks until I start work.  I have not actually received the contract to sign (may be a result of the postal strikes), but the verbal agreement is still binding.  (Just received it by post after I wrote this.)

We have not yet moved to a new house.  Our lease expires the first week of October.  I told the agent that it was highly unlikely that we would be renewing.  At the time, I had just received my registration and started applying for jobs.  Of course, that was in an email.  No response.  This was at a time when the agent was trying to renegotiate the terms of the lease to decrease the amount we were paying for electricity.  We had complained that our electric bill was too high.  In all that mess, we finally got the landlord to admit that the meter at his house measured not only our house, but several other buildings.  And it was that meter that was read by the electric company.  We have not paid our last bill because there is a dispute about how much we are responsible.  Obviously, he owes us some money and the electric company is siding with us on this.  Given his record on promises, we are not about to turn over money, waiting forever to be reimbursed.  Besides this, the house is in disrepair and he has done nothing.  I thought, they really believed we would renew?  The agent said they would discuss issues with the landlord and come up with some solution.  After not hearing from them for a month, I emailed them to find out what was going on, only to be told that the agent we have been dealing with was leaving (fired? quit? who knows.).  She forwarded everything to two colleagues.

Next thing we hear is that we have to give 30-days written notice.  So, I responded with the above.  Seeing that my language might not have been strong enough, I said we were not renewing (not “highly unlikely”, but “no, we are not renewing”).  I asked if they wanted an actual written letter rather than an email.  Still no response.  Emailed again yesterday.  Still no response.  Are they dragging it out to force us to stay an extra month?

In the meantime, we do have to move.  Not just because the house is falling apart around us, but because I need to be closer to work.  We have been duped into paying out more than we needed to in this past year, so we have run down our savings to almost nothing.  We have not resorted to government benefits.  Yet because we have not worked in the past 6 months, some of these letting agents refused to rent to us unless we put up 6-months rent as a deposit.  What?!!  If someone was coming off unemployment and they didn’t have that amount saved up, how can they ever get a leg up?  Luckily, not all agents are like that, but you do have to be very careful.  One agent actually took the deposit off someone, ran a check, then declined them because they didn’t make enough money.  They use some formula, like you have to make three times the rent to qualify.  Why weren’t they upfront with the person to begin with?  And, of course, there is no appeal with these guys, and the money is nonrefundable.

My situation is that I can’t sign any leases until I get my contract all sorted out.  Also, I do not want to be paying rent on two properties at the same time.  Lastly, we will need to transfer money from our US account into our UK account in order to make all this happen.  Our US bank said we could initiate the transfer from this end, but the banks on this end said that was impossible.  It seems like we keep hitting one brick wall after another.  I will be so relieved when all this is settled, if ever.

As the green campaign is very important in the EU, we’d like to do our part.  Our grass, which stayed green throughout the whole winter practically, shot up in the last month.  It is nearly a foot in some areas, with the weeds even higher.  We don’t have a lawnmower and it seems a waste to get one.  We would have no place to store it anyway.  The edge of the lawn by the fences are nice and trim due to the sheep sticking their heads through and feeding to their content.

We had considered letting the sheep graze on the lawn to keep it low.  We see that they are doing a wonderful job along the edge.  But we worry about the smell and mess of sheep manure.  After all, the kids still like to run around in their barefeet.  The landlord had even suggested this option when he saw the lawn, so he would have no problems with it.  It’s been rather tricky catching the farmer, though.  He visits once or twice a day, very briefly to do what he has to do.

In the last couple days, one of the lambs has found his way outside of the gates and was grazing on common grass areas.  I was tempted to lure him into our yard and let him feed, but the sheep and lambs are still somewhat wary of us (except for the flocks that chased us in the fields).  Even the ones feeding on the edge would turn and rush away when we open the front door.

As I said, we’d like to do our part to reduce carbon emissions and there’s no greener lawnmower than a sheep or goat.  We just need to resolve the manure issue.  Oh, and get the farmer’s permission as well.  We wouldn’t want him to think we were stealing his animals.