What happens when a tenant is unable to contact their landlord?
Miriam* works as a heritage consultant and lives in Bethnal Green, Tower Hamlets. She moved into her flat in October 2015. Initially, Miriam’s landlady was good at getting back in touch; then she started disappearing for a few months at a time, and Miriam and her flatmates would have to hassle her to get things done.
During the first winter, the boiler broke. The household was without heating for a week; “it was so cold, we literally had ice inside the kitchen windows,” said Miriam. The landlady eventually got back in touch and paid for the boiler. But then the windows in the bathroom, the kitchen and Miriam’s bedroom stopped working properly. Condensation created “massive mould issues” all over the ceiling and the landlady stopped replying to Miriam’s emails.
The following year, Miriam’s flatmate wanted to move out but couldn’t get her deposit back from the absent landlady. At the same time the washing machine broke for the third time. It took the threat of legal action to get the landlady to respond to the deposit, but Miriam was forced to pay for the new washing machine herself. “I emailed [the landlady] the invoice, I said I’ve paid for this from my rent now… but she never responded again.”
“I emailed [the landlady] the invoice, I said I’ve paid for this from my rent now… but she never responded again.”
At this point, Miriam’s flatmates had both moved. She wanted to fill the other two bedrooms, not wanting to pay for all the bills on her own. But this, too, was impossible without the landlady’s approval. Miriam “kept messaging” her landlady, but heard nothing.
After six months of no reply and many unacknowledged emails about the deteriorating state of the flat, Miriam stopped paying her rent, hoping to catch her landlady’s attention. “I was concerned that if there was a major issue in the flat, for example if the boiler breaks again and it costs another £1,000, I don’t have that money saved”, she says.
Even after this, however, Miriam heard nothing. Her last official contact with her landlady was in September 2017. Miriam was was beginning to wonder whether she has been taken ill, but then received an invitation to connect with her landlady on LinkedIn two months ago.
Since her landlord disappeared, Miriam has paid for a £500 washing machine, a gas check, new flooring in the bathroom, and a kitchen counter to replace the old one, which was rotten.
Miriam, who is originally from Germany – where there’s more regulation in the private rental sector – says her landlady’s apparent termination of contact makes her “feel very disrespected as a renter because I’ve taken really good care of this flat.”
*All names and identities have been changed to protect those involved