- This piece was written over a year ago. It may no longer accurately reflect my views now, or may be factually outdated.
- TL;DR: Always keep a paper trail.
- If you are considering legal action as a result of this report, please read the legal note at the end first.
This report is about the 2017–18 and 2018–19 tenancies of 64 Blades Street, Lancaster, a six-bedroom house let by Student Housing Lancaster (SHL). It was initially produced for the purpose of disputing unreasonable deposit deductions proposed by SHL at the end of the second tenancy.
The structure of this report is as follows:
- the first section contains an executive summary;
- the second section lists the dramatis personæ, to assist the reader in following along;
- the third section lists chronologically and in excruciating detail all relevant events from before, during and after the tenancies; and
- the fourth section goes through each deposit deduction proposed by SHL and our response.
We have tried to provide as much evidence as possible for every claim made below. Unfortunately, such support is not available for all claims, particularly from the 2017–18 tenancy where many conversations were carried out in person or over the phone. Claims that are only backed by our word and no external supporting evidence such as emails from SHL staff or photographs are therefore clearly marked with a
no-external tag and can be hidden by clicking here:
SHL have seen fit to let out a house that we believe to be barely fit for human habitation and have done so for at least four years. They and/or the landlord of the property1When asked, SHL refused to tell us whether they had been passing on our concerns to the landlord of the property ( Email ). As such, we are unable to determine who is truly at fault for the experience described in this report, whether it is one, the other or both parties—we seem to have conflicting evidence, where one minute the landlord (or a woman who claimed to be the landlord, at least) seems to have no idea about the condition of the property  whereas the next they are issuing instructions to SHL  or being complained about  . However, as SHL state in that same email,
we act on behalf of them[the landlord], and as such we shall assign responsibility to SHL. have continually ignored repeat attempts to raise the multitude of serious issues with the property. Despite this, they have been more than happy to pocket the money for it, even increasing the rent year-on-year as the condition of the property deteriorates.
When issues have been raised or SHL have been confronted about their pattern of poor behaviour they have routinely either ignored it             , made excuses      or, most seriously, seemingly attempted to gaslight the tenants into believing that the issues are their own fault    . Numerous promised inspections and renovations do not appear to have ever come about        .
As SHL's target market is students who are generally a) inexperienced in matters of property b) unaware of their rights as tenants and, in many cases c) foreign students with limited access to means of redress in this country, we consider this situation to be particularly concerning. Specifically, when the authors have mentioned their deposit deduction issues to other former SHL tenants, many expressed that they felt they had been similarly unfairly charged, but had just found it easier to pay the money and be done with it.
Unfortunately, we had a lot of spare time on our hands.
Note that we shall be applying Hanlon's razor—i.e.,
never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by foolishness—throughout this report. That said, we believe there is a public interest in publishing this account for the benefit of prospective future SHL tenants, whether our experiences were the result of malicious intent or simple incompetence. We do not make any claim here as to which we believe to be more likely, but we do find it interesting to note that SHL have been operating since at least 2004 and do not seem to reflect a decade and a half of experience.
Note also that our goal is not necessarily to criticise or embarass the individual SHL staff members featured below. Though they are all complicit in this behaviour, they also need a job just as much as any of us and seem, in some cases at least, to be genuinely trying to do their best. Also, SHL have demonstrated time and time again that if given the opportunity to pass blame on to an individual scapegoat (especially if that scapegoat no longer works there) they will attempt to do so, and we do not wish to give them this chance. The issue is SHL as a company, and the abysmal behaviour they both exhibit and enable.
Note, finally, that others do appear to have had enjoyable experiences renting with SHL. They currently have a 3.2/5 rating with five reviews on Google Reviews, including both five-star and one-star reviews.2Note, however, that a second listing for the business at a former address has 57 reviews and an average rating of 2.6. SHL dispute one reviewer's suggestion that the creation of a new business listing is a deliberate act on their part to hide criticism. ( Screenshot ) However, we note that Google provide a simple service for transferring business reviews in the event of a change of address that SHL have not used. 2019-10-31: Scratch that, it looks like they've shifted back onto the original Google listing, with new reviews going there and it no longer reading
Permanently Closed. 2019-12-16: Never mind, looks like they're dual-wielding accounts now. At least one five-star review is authored (or, at least, is claimed to be authored) by somebody known to one of the authors of this report, which suggests that at least some of the positive reviews are genuine. However, as mentioned previously, SHL act on behalf of the landlord and so we have held them responsible. If they propose that it is in fact the landlord who was at fault in this instance, their decision to continue doing business with that landlord nonetheless reflects poorly on them.
In the interests of constructive criticism, we conclude this summary with a couple suggestions for SHL as to how they can improve going forwards:
- invest in training for your staff in how to correctly use email;
- if, as your MD suggests , part of the issue is the sheer number of properties that SHL manage, consider reducing the size of your portfolio to such a level that you are able to provide a pleasant service across the board; and
- maintain minimum standards of care which the landlords you do business with must meet, refusing to take the money of those that fail or refuse to do so.
Actual adoption of these suggestions, of course, lies with SHL.
Effort has been made to redact all names, faces and email addresses throughout this report.3The exceptions are Ben's details, redacting which seemed like a waste of time considering the domain name of the Web site hosting this report, and SHL's email addresses, which are publicly listed on their Web site. Also, identifying details of the SHL MD are available for free via Companies House, and details of the landlord are available for a £3 fee to HM Land Registry. There is not much we can do about that, but we have nonetheless left these details out of this report.
The 2017–18 tenants featured below were:
M, the Lead Tenant;4
anal in the cloistin Facebook Chat screenshots.
Kin some screenshots. and
Cloist Nostrilsin Facebook Chat screenshots.
The 2018–19 tenants featured below, some of whom contributed to this report, were:
- Ben, the Lead Tenant;
Student Housing Lancaster
Student Housing Lancaster (SHL) are a property letting agency based in Lancaster. Companies House shows that the company was incorporated in mid-2012 and that the current MD was appointed in early 2015, although the Wayback Machine shows that they have had a Web presence since the start of 2004.
They are not currently listed as a member of the Lancaster University Homes scheme of university-accredited landlords.72019-10-23: Responding to this report, an LU Homes representative confirmed that SHL were not, and would not be becoming, a member of the scheme. They also forwarded the report on to the Housing Standards department of the City Council,
as they have the regulatory powers to ensure that rented properties are healthy and safe.
The SHL staff are/were:
- the Managing Director;
- the Lettings Manager until 2019-06-03;
- the Lettings Manager from 2019-06-03;
- the Maintenance Coördinator until mid-2019;
- the Maintenance Coördinator from mid-2019; and
- 2–3 others, not featured below.
In addition, a title deed obtained through HM Land Registry shows that the property was purchased by the current landlord in 2003 for £123,000.
Summer 2017: The previous tenants leave a spare key with a group of friends when their tenancy ends. The friends proceed to squat in the property over the summer. ( Email )
September 2017: The 2017–18 tenants begin their tenancy.
The house was in a terrible state when we moved in, with vomit in the toilets, piss soaking through a mattress, and the kitchen was unclean and dirty, especially the floor, which
M had to clean herself as the cleaners didn’t come round until a few days after moving in.
The oven is full of mould, there are cigarette butts on the beds, holes in various floors, the furniture in the living room is torn apart and the lower levels of the house mould-damaged and foul-smelling. SHL are notified and send cleaners round almost a week later, by which time the tenants have cleaned the place themselves. ( Email ; Facebook Chat        ; Photo of back garden )
M also reports a number of other issues to SHL, such as the damaged furniture. SHL advise the tenants to put blankets over the shredded sofa cushions, promising to replace it soon—two years on, and the sofa remains. They sort out a few of the lower-hanging fruits (e.g., cleaning out the garden) and ignore all of the ones that seem hard to fix (e.g., the
damp and sewage smells). ( Photo of list of things to report to SHL ; Email )
Through a mutual friend, the new tenants find out that the house was in even worse condition for the previous year's tenants, who had to invest large amounts of their own time and money into improving the place. ( Facebook Chat   )
T's room lacks blinds, but comes with
rags up at the window which were covered in vomit instead so it's not all bad. The curtain poles are also broken.
T replaces both out of her own pocket,
with permission from the [SHL] MD. ( Email    )
M reports a crack in the kitchen ceiling wall, under the first floor shower. SHL assure that they will come over. ( Email        )
They came, looked at it, were like ( WhatsApp Chat )
that's fucked and did nothing.
Some point during Michaelmas term: The tenants report that a plant is growing through the drain of the basement bathroom shower. A man comes over and snips the extruding plant off with a pair of scissors.
Some time shortly after: A woman visits the property, announcing that she is the landlady.8Though at the time nobody thought to question this, in the process of writing this report we obtained a title deed for the property and discovered that the landlord is male. Unless they underwent gender reassignment surgery during the term of our tenancies, this raises the obvious question of who this woman was. She is surprised to find that most of the kitchen chairs missing or damaged and the window of the back door punched through; a pre-move-in inspection would have revealed this, suggesting that one did not take place. She declares that the kitchen table, the top of which is not attached to the legs and which wobbles when pushed, is the
sturdiest in Lancaster.
A little later, a few of the most damaged chairs are replaced.
At some point during this period: SHL send workmen over to the property. The housemates are not informed about this in advance, despite their contract mandating 24 hours' notice. ( Email   )
2018-03-01: Four of the six tenants have signed a contract for another year, because they are masochists. SHL continue to organise viewings and to list the house for rent, despite the protestations of the tenants. SHL reply to
C telling her to
rest assured your tenancy is safe and it won't happen again. ( Email )
2018-03-14: Oh, never mind then: SHL tell the housemates about a viewing booked for the next day, ostensibly on the order of the landlord.
C replies, there is some back-and-forth and SHL lay the blame on the tenants for not having been communicating enough (despite having contacted SHL about the viewings
AT LEAST 5 TIMES, according to
C). SHL choose to limit their communication to just
M—the charitable view is that this is because she is the lead tenant, the more cynical view is that this is because she prefers to deal with SHL over the phone and in person, leaving no paper trail. ( Email     ) SHL cancel the viewing. ( Email )
2018-05-25: SHL send out an email to tenants about the EU GDPR, which became enforcable on this date. ( Email )
2018-06-05: A mere fortnight later, SHL forget to use BCC when emailing all of their tenants, revealing the names and email addresses of all 240 of them. ( Email   )
Summer 2018: The 2017–18 tenancy ends and
B move out.
T are staying for another year, joined by Ben and
L. Ben, for his sins, gets the basement bedroom. SHL have had the gall to increase the rent. Ben is told in person by the Lettings Manager that the property will be renovated over the Summer. ( Email ) No inspection is carried out, and there is no sign of any renovation.
2018-09-10: SHL send out a welcome email that advises tenants to
report any issues onto our fix flo system [and to] refrain from emailing us regarding an issue and instead report it on this system as it sends the issue straight to our maintenance team who can deal with it accordingly. ( Email )
Later that day, Ben reports the most pressing issue with his room: water is running in under the door. ( Report ) SHL send someone over to apply some sealant. This does not solve the issue.
2018-09-26: SHL send another email that advises tenants who
have an extended list of problems for your property [to] please send us an email. Put your property name as the subject line and then please use subheadings of each room and state the problems below each subheading. ( Email )
2018-10-20: Ben sends an itemised list of all of the issues with the house, most of which were reported at the start of the previous tenancy, to SHL. ( Email    [Attached photos] ) Of these, only Basement Bedroom #1, Ground Floor Kitchen #5 and Gardens #1 & #2 are properly resolved; Basement Bathroom #2 is resolved so lazily that the issue reoccurs within a day. ( Email )
C again reports that the crack in the kitchen ceiling has grown bigger, pointing out that
We have reported the hole in the bathroom floor and the linked damp crack in the kitchen ceiling below multiple times, both via the form and in person. In the
Tenant Notes field, she writes
Please help us. Nothing is done. ( Report )
C reports that her bed is broken and springs are sticking out of her mattress. Nothing is done. ( Report )
2018-11-29: SHL forget to use BCC again when emailing all of their tenants about upcoming meter reads. Over 150 names, email addresses and (in some cases) property addresses are revealed for all to see; this is particularly concerning when the email is telling everyone to expect strangers to be asking for access to their houses over the next couple days. ( Email )
2018-12-05: The house originally only had a single wheelie bin for six people. Ben pays for a second from the local council. Meanwhile,
C goes into SHL to discuss another issue and mentions the bin. The Lettings Manager tells the tenants they will be reimbursed for the bin. Ben forwards him the receipt. ( Email ) SHL do not reply.
C again reports the kitchen ceiling crack, which has gotten worse since it was reported a year earlier and follows up on her replacement mattress request. SHL send someone over who applies some sealant to the first floor shower, paints over the crack a bit and leaves. SHL pat themselves on the back for a job well-done. ( Email )
C reports that a little bit of sealant is not going to be enough to fix the issue. She also follows up on her replacement mattress request again. SHL do not reply. ( Email )
2018-12-22: Ben finally realises why his room is so cold; the window on the external door does not sit flush against the frame. Again, something that should have been picked up in a house inspection, had there been any. ( Report )
2019-01-03: Ben follows up regarding the bin reimbursement. The Lettings Manager replies asking for Ben's account details and forwards the email on to Accounts. ( Email    )
2019-01-18: The tenants report the fact that their two thermostats do not work. An electrician comes over to have a look, declaring that someone has made a
pig's ear of the wiring that he
couldn't just leave [thermostat next to to the kitchen sink] dead. He says he will be back soon. ( Report )
2019-01-25: SHL email the tenants to warn them that they are on track to exceed their utilities limit. ( Email ) This is the first time a specific utilities limit has been mentioned, with the tenants having previously been told by SHL that it is
basically impossible to go over.
Ben replies explaining that he needs to run the electric heater in his bedroom to counteract the aforementioned damp in the basement. He asks if a more energy-efficient dehumidifer can be provided by SHL. SHL do not reply. ( Email )
2019-01-30: Ben has still not received reimbursement for the bins and has now changed bank accounts. He emails SHL to tell them the new details. ( Email )
Some point after: Ben has still not received reimbursement. He goes into SHL to chase it up. SHL claim to have misplaced the invoice and say they will get on it as soon as possible.
2019-02-07: Ben finally gets fed up of knocking the top off of the
sturdiest table in Lancaster and reports the fact that the top is not properly connected to the legs. Someone comes over and screws it back together. ( Email )
2019-02-11: Two weeks on, the tenants report the thermostat issue again. Someone comes and installs a new thermostat, leaving the other two (including the one by the kitchen sink, which sounds like it might be dangerous). ( Report )
2019-02-22: Ben is finally reimbursed for the wheelie bin, almost three months later. ( Bank Statement )
2019-03-11: Ben records a video of his horrid basement bedroom (£495/mo, bills included; click here to view it if the embed doesn't work):
2019-04-10: SHL send cleaners around for an apparently
termly clean—this is the first the tenants have heard of such a service, having now been through five Lancaster University academic terms in the property. ( Email ) They do not do a particularly thorough job. ( WhatsApp Chat )
2019-04-24: SHL announce that the property will be inspected the next day. ( Email   )
C replies to tell them to give 24 hours notice, as stated in the tenancy contract. SHL reschedule the inspection to later in the day. ( Email   )
2019-04-25: Either SHL inspect the property as claimed and somehow find no issues with it, or they never actually bother to come round.
C believes the latter. ( Email )
w/c 2019-05-13: SHL send someone
to measure the small bedrooms and assess some of the room sizes due to a recent change in legislation. ( Email ) A member of SHL staff comes with, complains about the landlord and expresses their hope that some of the rooms will be found in contravention of the new legislation and that it will be expensive for him. The tenants do not hear anything back, so it seems that all the rooms have, unfortunately, passed.
T leaves the house for good, taking her toaster with her. The tenants report that the toaster that came with the property gives off smoke when used that smells of burnt plastic and ask for a replacement. SHL do not respond, and a new toaster never appears. ( Report )
2019-06-03: The Lettings Manager leaves SHL. SHL email all of their tenants, but forget how to BCC again. ( Email )
2019-06-04: SHL follow up on their previous email, remembering to use BCC this time, and blaming the mistake on
a technical issue [on] our end. ( Email )
2019-07-04: SHL email everyone instructions on what to do now that the tenancy ends are nearing. ( Email )
2019-07-09: SHL send over a painter to measure the walls in order to generate a quote for repainting them. He tells the tenants that he does this every year, but the landlord never pays for anything to be done.
2019-07-21: Packing up his stuff to leave, Ben finds that a number of shoes that have spent the year in his wardrobe are rendered unsuable by mould; mould that he has been breathing for the past year. ( Photo ) Incensed, he replies to SHL detailing the godawful experience that living at 64 Blades Street has been over the past year.
Besides the damp and mould issues, the cracks in the kitchen ceiling that were ignored during the previous tenancy have grown and he is
worried that the negative health impact of having a shower fall through the ceiling onto one outweigh even those of living in a damp room for a year. He concludes by quoting a number of clauses from the tenancy contract and posing questions for SHL to answer, as well as telling them he will be exploring his options with the Citizen's Advice Bureau and Shelter. ( Email   [Attached photos] )
2019-07-22: SHL reply. They blame the former Lettings Manager for everything they think they can get away with (i.e. where a paper trail is missing) and claim to have addressed all of the issues reported at the start of the tenancy. They claim the fault lies with Ben as they
received no further comment from you regarding [the issues], and that
the email [he] sent reporting maintenance issues was not in line with company policy regarding reporting issues, these are to be done solely through FIXFLO.
Further, they claim that
refurbishments take place each year, raging from minor to major improvements where the property requires and pledge to
look into this before the new tenants move in. They conclude that, whilst Ben would be
within [his] rights to contact Citizen’s advice, they
would be extremely surprised if they could help you considering you are moving out in 3 days. [ Email ]
2019-07-23: Ben replies to SHL with evidence refuting each of their points. He comments that
we apparently have Mr Krabs for a landlord9Ben also refers to the late John Sanderson, a fraudulent Lancaster landlord exposed by Lancaster University student newspaper SCAN: Student Comment & News and the BBC's Rogue Traders in 2015. Fun fact: the sting at the end of the video takes place on Blades Street. and states that he
would consider it unethical not to ensure a documented record of these issues having being brought to yours and, by extension, the landlord's attentions now (as they were in Jan, and in Oct, and presumably previous to that, but for which there is no paper trail), pledging
to ensure that next year's batch of tenants are made aware of the full range of options availabe to them as early in the tenancy as possible, should the house remain in its current condition and should they wish to pursue them. [ Email ]
SHL reply, again pointing out that
since you are moving out in 2 days all I can do is extend our apologies, again blaming staff changes and pledging to
strive to do better in the future. ( Email )
2019-07-28: The recycling bins are collected fortnightly, and the last tenants are leaving the property during the off-week.
E, the last tenant to leave, emails SHL to let them know that she has left a bag of recycling in her bedroom as the recycling bins are full. SHL acknowledge this. ( Email )
2019-08-12: The tenancy ends. SHL email their former tenants stating they will complete inspections and send out deposit deductions within
28 days from the end of your tenancy, i.e- from today. ( Email )
2019-09-09: It has now been 28 days since the end of the tenancy. No deposit deductions have been received.
2019-09-18: It has now been 28 working days since the end of the tenancy. Ditto.
2019-09-24: Ben and
C go into SHL to ask about their deposits. The Maintenance Coördinator has left for the day, but they talk to the MD for some time. He blames the busy period before the start of the next academic year, and again tries to blame the former Lettings Manager wherever possible. When SHL's inability to use BCC is brought up, he denies that this has ever happened (let alone happened thrice).
C expresses her concern that SHL will try to scam the tenants out of their deposit, to which the MD promises pre-existing damage will not be charged for. He then goes into a lengthy digression about how much he wishes the DPS weren't involved in the process and SHL could just handle deposits themselves—Ben and
C are relieved this is not the case.
When Ben and
C point out their markedly better experiences in their new tenancies, he slates his competition for, as far as Ben and
C can make out, having the gall to be small enough and considerate enough to actually provide a pleasant experience for their tenants. When they bring up a popular thread complaining about SHL on the Overheard at Lancaster Facebook group, which has by this point attracted over 190 comments and 50 reactions, the MD claims that many of the people complaining aren't from the UK and have never been tenants of SHL—quite why he thinks that foreigners are taking time out of their days to lie about a Lancastrian letting agency is not explained.
The MD says he will prompt the Maintenance Coördinator about the deductions in the morning and tells Ben and
C to come in the afternoon to talk to her about them and go through the end-of-tenancy house walkthrough videos SHL have apparently recorded. ( Email )
2019-09-25: The tenants finally recieve their deposit deductions. SHL propose £675 deductions out of a total deposit of £594. Deductions are added for, amongst other things, the damaged sofas (£200) and basement bedroom paint damage (£45). ( Email ) Needless to say, the tenants are not having a bit of this and politely tell SHL to do one. ( Email   ) They are told not to come that afternoon because of a
staff meeting and that the end-of-tenancy videos will be emailed to them. ( Email )
2019-10-02: Ben visits 64 Blades to pick up some misaddressed mail. When he says he lived in the house the year before, the new tenants show him around. Practically nothing has been done to improve the house over the summer, and it is somehow now even worse. Inexplicably, SHL have taken away the dryer. Ben lets SHL know that he has seen all of this and that, as he promised, he has forwarded on all the evidence of issues being raised with SHL to the new tenants and pointed them in the direction of the relevant City Council authorities. Annoyed at this brazen piss-taking from SHL, he also announces that he will be putting the cost of his destroyed shoes against the deposit deductions. ( Email  [Attached photos] )
2019-10-03: SHL reply stating that is illegal for them to discuss the state of the property with Ben. Declaring
there is obviously going to be no resolution through email, especially if you are attempting to get us to pay for your new shoes, SHL forward the deductions to the DPS. ( Email )
2019-10-04: Ben requests clarification about how to access the end-of-tenancy videos. SHL do not reply. ( Email )
2019-10-09: Ben calls SHL and asks to speak to the Maintenance Coördinator about the end-of-tenancy videos. He is told she is in a meeting, and he leaves his details for her to call back. SHL do not call back.
C again emails SHL asking for an update, lamenting that
we seem to be lacking in communication regarding 64 Blades. ( Email )
The Maintenance Coördinator replies (only to
C, not CCing in the rest of the tenants) that
our conversation was reaching an unhelpful point as Ben was insisting on reporting issues on behalf of the current tenants of 64 Blades and attempting to claim compensation for personal items that had nothing to do with the deposit and that they have forwarded on the deductions to the DPS. She says that she has
removed a couple of the proposed deductions after reading through some of the emails you guys have sent, says that as she is
just the Maintenance Coordinator she has
no idea why someone told you to speak to me as [I] have very limited power over what is proposed as deductions and that she
wasn't here when you guys first moved in and wasn't aware of your specific case.
C again asks about the end-of-tenancy videos. SHL do not reply. ( Email )
Shortly thereafter, the DPS email Ben with the updated list of deductions. SHL have knocked off £135 worth (the damage to the basement bedroom wall, the locksmith for the first floor front bedroom and £50 for the replacement sofa) but are still asking for £540 (including £150 for the sofa, which suggests that SHL know they overstepped the mark with the £200 but are still going to try their luck). ( Image    )
2019-10-11: In order to dispute these claims, the tenants collate as much evidence as they can and produce this report. Following the DPS' advice, Ben sends it to SHL to see if they might be able to come to a final, mutually satisfactory solution without having to go through the lengthy DPS adjudication process, as well as to allow SHL the right of reply to any of the claims made above. ( Email )
2019-10-14: SHL agree to a total deduction of £200.00, down £475 from their initial proposal.102019-10-31: According to one commenter, even this may have been £200.00 more than they deserved. ( Email ) What is missing from SHL's reply is any attempt to dispute a single claim made in this report. This is, to our minds, a tacit acceptance of them all.
2019-10-17: After some back-and-forth wrangling with SHL,11This wrangling was not without incident, with SHL alternating between not CCing all of the tenants to CCing in the wrong tenants, at one point inexplicably sending an email to Ben,
C from the 2018–19 tenancy,
M from the 2017–18 tenancy, another girl who was not in either group of tenants and mis-spelt versions of
T's email addresses. the tenants receive their deposit money and SHL receive their deductions.
We are grateful to SHL for owning up to their mistakes and eventually agreeing to a slightly, then drastically, reduced deduction amount. We also appreciate the charateristation of this report as
really creative and
definitely the most interesting way we've seen someone dispute a deposit claim. In one of the final emails of this exchange, the Maintenance Coördinator expresses a wish
to prevent cases like yours happening in the future. If this is genuine, we wish them the best of luck and, as stated in the legal note below, we are happy to remove this report from search engine results if it can be shown that SHL have stepped their game up and made significant improvements that make it obsolete.
However, we struggle to square SHL's claim that their capitulation is a gesture of good will in the interests of a
quick resolution with Ben &
C's experiences visiting the office in late September, where they were told by the MD that SHL were still fighting claims through the DPS' adjudication procedure from two years previous; this is seemingly backed up by comments on the previously-mentioned post in the Overheard at Lancaster Facebook group. ( Screenshots   )
In addition, despite most of the actions in the section below specifically reiterating the tenants' request to view the alleged end-of-tenancy videos, such videos have again not been provided. Between this, the SHL MD's inability to show them to Ben &
C when they were in the office and the cancellation of the planned get-together to go through them the day afterwards (for an alleged
staff meeting, at 16:00, and unbeknownst to the company's MD only a day earlier), we are forced to draw the conclusion that the videos do not exist and that the threat of them is used to gaslight tenants into believing that they must have left the mess claimed by SHL and agreeing to their proposed deposit deductions.
We have managed to reduce SHL's claims by hundreds of pounds due to our willingness to fight them and our creation of a thorough paper trail over the past two years. Others on that same Facebook post have reported threatening legal action as an effective means of persuasion. ( Screenshots    ) This suggests that this aspect of SHL's business model relies, either unintentionally or intentionally, on the fact that enough students will not be willing or able to dispute these excessive deposit deduction claims and that this number will be greater than the number of those who are.
For many students, the difference between £675 and £200 is not the fun battle of the wits that SHL have made it out to be, but something rather more stressful. If this behaviour is intentional, it is abusive and we do not believe it right to sit by and say nothing simply because we managed to come out on top. If it is unintentional, then it is a sign of profound incompetence and we believe pressure must be applied in order to motivate SHL to up their game. Either way, the correct course of action is the publication of this report.
Because you just fucking know that the sofa's not getting replaced until they can get some poor sucker to pay for it.
SHL were proposing the following deposit deductions, for a total of £540.00 ( Screenshots    ):
- Rubbish removal in hall, stairs and landing. £5.00 Accepted
- Extra cleaning required in basement living room. £25.00 Disputed
- Wall repainting in basement living room. £45.00 Disputed
- Furniture damage in basement living room. £150.00 Rejected
- Rubbish removal in kitchen. £70.00 Accepted
- Oven cleaning. £50.00 Accepted
- Rubbish removal in ground floor front bedroom. £10.00 Accepted
- Carpet cleaning in first floor back bedroom. £50.00 Disputed
- Wall repainting in first floor back bedroom. £45.00 Disputed
- Wall repainting in top floor front bedroom. £90.00 Accepted
- #1, #5, #6 and #7 were accepted, for a total of £135.00.
- A decision on whether or not to accept #2, #3, #8 and #10 (total of £235.00) would be made when/if access to the end-of-tenancy videos was granted. If this was not granted, or such videos did not exist, these deductions would be rejected as nothing in the tenants' prior experience with SHL had suggested that they should ever be taken at their word.
- #9 was disputed: a £20 deduction was proposed instead.
- #4 was absolutely rejected.
The deductions counter-proposed by the tenants were as follows:
- Rubbish removal in hall, stairs and landing. £5.00
- Rubbish removal in kitchen. £70.00
- Oven cleaning. £50.00
- Rubbish removal in ground floor front bedroom. £10.00
- Wall repainting in first floor back bedroom. £20.00
- Wall repainting in top floor front bedroom. £90.00
These totalled £245.00. However, in light of the cost of the pair of shoes that were destroyed by mould  and the misery that the last two years had been [ this entire report ], the tenants believed that a total deduction of £200.00 was a more than reasonable sum to settle the matter. SHL concurred.
We shall now go through each proposed deduction in detail:
#1 Rubbish removal in hall, stairs and landing.
Status: Accepted by tenants.
#2 Extra cleaning required in basement living room.
C cleaned the basement 48 hours before the last tenant left the property. ( Email ) It seems unlikely that in this space of time the living room could have redirtied itself enough to necessitate £25's worth of cleaning. If the end-of-tenancy videos show otherwise, then we will stand corrected, but based on SHL's current evasions we are beginning to doubt these videos exist.
Additionally, the deposit deduction description cites
stains on furniture. As the terrible state of the basement furniture was reported back at the start of the 2017–18 tenancy , and again at the start of the 2018–19 tenancy , the tenants dispute this portion of the deduction.
Action: SHL to present evidence to support their claim that the living room needed extra cleaning. If this is accepted by the tenants, SHL to present a reduced deduction that excludes the portion of the charge for
stains on furniture.
Status: Disputed by tenants.
#3 Wall repainting in basement living room.
C said, the basement living room walls are either exposed brick (in which case would not need repainting) or have been damaged by mould ( Email ), which was reported at the start of the 2017–18 tenancy , the start of the 2018–19 tenancy  and part-way through the 2018–19 tenancy . As the walls were mouldy, no Blu-Tack was used on them (why would the tenants want to hang something up and get it destroyed by mould?). Again, if SHL would like to present some evidence for their claim then we would take that into consideration, but in its absence we reject this deduction entirely.
Action: SHL to present evidence to support their claim that the living room walls were marked with anything other than mould damage, and that any such marks go beyond what the National Landlords Association describe as
wear and tear.
Status: Disputed by tenants.
#4 Furniture damage in basement living room.
Ah ha ha ha ha, no. Reported at the start of the 2017–18 tenancy  and the start of the 2018–19 tenancy , as well as visible on every visit that took place          (or was alleged to have taken place   ) during those two years. If Mr Krabs thinks she can get us to buy her a new sofa, she can go swivel.
Action: SHL to sit on the naughty step and think about what they have done.
Status: Rejected by tenants.
#5 Rubbish removal in kitchen.
The deposit deduction description says there was
no attempt to put out the bins. This is because the tenants moved out during the off-week in the fortnightly bin collection schedule, and did not want to leave the bins outside for a week and a half. However, based on deduction #1 we assume one bag of rubbish costs £5, in which case £70 is fair for fourteen bags.
Status: Accepted by tenants.
#6 Oven cleaning.
Status: Accepted by tenants.
#7. Rubbish removal in ground floor front bedroom.
Status: Accepted by tenants.
#8. Carpet cleaning in first floor back bedroom.
C says she
did not spill anything other than a glass of water on the carpet and left [her] room in an impeccable state when [she] moved out. ( Email ) Evidence is required from SHL.
Unless SHL are referring to a big stain in the front floor front bedroom, which was still present upon Ben's revisit . However, the tenants believe it is more likely that this is a separate stain that SHL have decided is fine to leave for the next tenants.
Action: SHL to present evidence to support their claim that the first floor back bedroom carpet was stained.
Status: Disputed by tenants.
#9. Wall repainting in first floor back bedroom.
C says that
the walls were stained with blue tack[sic] before [she] moved in, [she] was assured that that would not affect my deposit [but] will happily pay £20 towards repainting as [she] did add to that bluetack, but [she] will not take responsibility for it all. ( Email )
Action: SHL to present a reduced deduction of £20.00
Status: Disputed by tenants.
#10. Wall repainting in top floor front bedroom.
Status: Accepted by tenants.
Appendix #1: Release and Aftermath
After we were successful in disputing our deposit deductions, we debated for some time over whether or not to release this report publicly. We sought a range of other people's opinions: some were enthusiastically supportive (particularly those who had had their own run-ins with SHL); some were more cautious; some outright advised against it, concerned that SHL would attempt to harass us in response. During the couple weeks between SHL blinking and us actually receiving the money into our accounts, we continued to debate this, sought legal advice and edited and re-edited the report to ensure it was as airtight as could possibly be. Finally, we decided the public interest in publishing the report outweighed the risks to ourselves. This section will detail our actions and the responses to them.
2019-10-23: We email the report to the Lancaster University Homes landlord accreditation scheme, the Lancaster University Students' Union Vice President (Welfare & Community) and Advice service. LU Homes respond, confirming that SHL are not, and will not be becoming, a member of the scheme. They also forward the report on to the Housing Standards department of the City Council,
as they have the regulatory powers to ensure that rented properties are healthy and safe.
The report is shared in the Overheard at Lancaster Facebook group and receives a few responses before being deleted. We ask the admins, they say it was accidental and ask us to repost it. We do, and it draws many more replies. It is also posted in the Lancaster Past & Present Facebook group, where many locals express sympathy.
Ben receives an email from somebody who claims to have previously worked with SHL. They ask whether our landlord was someone they are familiar with, and suggests that, if so, the mysterious woman who showed up back in 2018 would be his sister. Our landlord is actually someone else, but as this person says,
SHL...are clearly working with a whole bunch of horrendous landlords.
2019-10-31: We submit the report to SCAN: Student Comment & News in response to a request at the end of an article about other housing issues.
For good measure, we also submit the report (along with coverage of other Lancaster housing issues) to the BBC's Watchdog.
2019-11-01: Ben posts a review of SHL on Google, complete with a link to this report and a selection of photos.
2019-11-05: Google send Ben an email to tell him that
people love [his] photos, which is nice. ( Email )
That evening, whilst walking home past the SHL office, Ben notices an SHL-branded pick-up truck. It begins to drive off, but stops when he gets near. Though he cannot be certain of this as he was wearing earphones at the time, he is fairly certain he hears somebody shout
loved the photos from behind him after he passes the truck.
C is contacted by a Lancaster University student working on a project in conjunction with SCAN, who asks if we would like to be interviewed for a documentary on dodgy landlords.
C and Ben agree.
2019-11-07: BBC Victoria Derbyshire publish an article about dodgy landlords ripping off students and the National Union of Students (NUS)' campaign to tighten legislation. We submit the report to the show and to the NUS' Vice President (Welfare).
2019-12-16: Out of the blue, around 18:00 and about a month and a half after it was posted, SHL respond to Ben's Google review. Their reply is...less than fully coherent. [ Screenshot ]
At this point, we notice that SHL seem to have reactivated their other Google business listing (though, not being familiar with the system, we are unable to say whether this was intentional on their part). Whereas one listing has an average rating of 2.7/5, with Ben's review being the most recent,12This is still the case as of 2020-01-10. the other has a rating of 4.3/5 and a slew of recent five-star reviews from users with no profile pictures and no other Google reviews. Many of these reviews highlight the same specific SHL employee for particular praise. The only two reviews from users with profile pictures give one star each.
2020-01-10: Ben takes the bus to work, only to find it clad in SHL adverts. The adverts proudly proclaim that SHL are members of the Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce and the National Landlords Association (NLA), including logos for both. In order to assist these organisations in their due diligence, Ben forwards this report to the Chamber, the Association and the company that manages advertising for Stagecoach (Global).
The NLA reply, stating that it
takes complaints about its members very seriously and that they shall review the report. They provide a link for raising a formal complaint to the NLA against SHL, but Ben declines on the basis that they are already aware of the report and his work is now done. Out of curiosity, however, he does take a look at the NLA Code of Practice members pledge to abide by and identifies no fewer than six clauses that SHL have definitely (and in most cases repeatedly) breached.133.1.1, 2, 3, 6, 8 and 9. Maybe 4 as well, depending on whatever was going on with the mysterious gender-switching landlord. The NLA say they will begin an internal investigation.
2020-01-13: The Lancaster District Chamber of Commerce thank Ben for his email and tell him it has been passed on to the CEO.
2020-01-21: Google send Ben an email saying that
[his] review is making a difference and has been read by 104 people.
Appendix #2: Legal Note
There are three purposes to publishing this report:
- to detail our experience renting with SHL, with the goal of warning potential future tenants about the company they may be considering renting from;
- to demonstrate the power of maintaining a paper trail in the event of disputes, with the goal of encouraging current tenants of any letting agency to ensure they do so;
- to apply pressure on SHL to improve their practices through increased scrutiny and some measure of embarassment.
There is a chance that, as a result of this publication, SHL and/or the landlord of the property may experience financial damage in the form of lower income from spurious deposit deductions and lost tenants, as well as reputational damage in the form of negative press. As a result, they may wish to attempt to issue a SLAPP to the authors of this report in order to silence it, potentially by claiming it to be defamatory. To do so is their prerogative, but we believe any such action will be unsuccessful. Here we shall go through the Defamation Act 2013 to see why.
Firstly, s. 1 of the Act states that a claimant must prove that the defendents action
has caused or is likely to cause the body serious financial loss. Unfortunately, we do not believe publishing this report is likely to cause a sufficient degree of loss. Relevant case law includes: Cooke v MGN  EWHC 2831; Lachaux v Independent Print Ltd and another  UKSC 27; Jameel v Dow Jones & Co Inc  EWCA Civ 75; and Schellenberg v BBC  EMLR 296.
Secondly, s. 2 states that
It is a defence to an action for defamation for the defendant to show that the imputation conveyed by the statement complained of is substantially true, which we consider this report to be and which we have sufficiently evidenced.
Thirdly, s. 3 provides a defence of opinion, provided such statements are clearly labelled as such and
that an honest person could have held the opinion on the basis of any fact which existed at the time the statement complained of was published, which we believe to be the case.
Fourthly and finally, s. 4 provides the defence of public interest, provided
the statement complained of was, or formed part of, a statement on a matter of public interest; and the defendant reasonably believed that publishing the statement complained of was in the public interest. We believe this to be the case.
In addition, in a good faith effort to comply with the spirit of s. 17 of the Data Protection Act 2018 we are willing to add a
<meta name="robots" content="noindex"> tag to the page (which will cause it to cease being indexed by Web search engines) if and only if SHL are able to provide convincing evidence that they have made significant changes to their business practices and that the issues highlighted in this report are no longer applicable.
Finally, whilst SHL did start appending a confidentiality disclaimer reading
PLEASE NOTE THIS E-MAIL IS FOR THE RECIPIENT ONLY. to their emails, beginning with the 2019-09-25 email containing the initial list of proposed deposit deductions, we do not believe that this alone is sufficient to create a legally-enforcable contract of confidentiality between the us and SHL, hence have also included images of these emails as evidence in this report.
If, despite the above, legal action is to be taken, please direct all baseless threats to Ben at
email@example.com—his new, far more pleasant-to-live-in flat is only a short walk from the courthouse.
Footnotes [ + ]
|1.||↑||When asked, SHL refused to tell us whether they had been passing on our concerns to the landlord of the property ( Email ). As such, we are unable to determine who is truly at fault for the experience described in this report, whether it is one, the other or both parties—we seem to have conflicting evidence, where one minute the landlord (or a woman who claimed to be the landlord, at least) seems to have no idea about the condition of the property  whereas the next they are issuing instructions to SHL  or being complained about  . However, as SHL state in that same email, |
we act on behalf of them[the landlord], and as such we shall assign responsibility to SHL.
|2.||↑||Note, however, that a second listing for the business at a former address has 57 reviews and an average rating of 2.6. SHL dispute one reviewer's suggestion that the creation of a new business listing is a deliberate act on their part to hide criticism. ( Screenshot ) However, we note that Google provide a simple service for transferring business reviews in the event of a change of address that SHL have not used. 2019-10-31: Scratch that, it looks like they've shifted back onto the original Google listing, with new reviews going there and it no longer reading |
Permanently Closed. 2019-12-16: Never mind, looks like they're dual-wielding accounts now.
|3.||↑||The exceptions are Ben's details, redacting which seemed like a waste of time considering the domain name of the Web site hosting this report, and SHL's email addresses, which are publicly listed on their Web site. Also, identifying details of the SHL MD are available for free via Companies House, and details of the landlord are available for a £3 fee to HM Land Registry. There is not much we can do about that, but we have nonetheless left these details out of this report.|
anal in the cloistin Facebook Chat screenshots.
Kin some screenshots.
Cloist Nostrilsin Facebook Chat screenshots.
|7.||↑||2019-10-23: Responding to this report, an LU Homes representative confirmed that SHL were not, and would not be becoming, a member of the scheme. They also forwarded the report on to the Housing Standards department of the City Council, |
as they have the regulatory powers to ensure that rented properties are healthy and safe.
|8.||↑||Though at the time nobody thought to question this, in the process of writing this report we obtained a title deed for the property and discovered that the landlord is male. Unless they underwent gender reassignment surgery during the term of our tenancies, this raises the obvious question of who this woman was.|
|9.||↑||Ben also refers to the late John Sanderson, a fraudulent Lancaster landlord exposed by Lancaster University student newspaper SCAN: Student Comment & News and the BBC's Rogue Traders in 2015. Fun fact: the sting at the end of the video takes place on Blades Street.|
|10.||↑||2019-10-31: According to one commenter, even this may have been £200.00 more than they deserved.|
|11.||↑||This wrangling was not without incident, with SHL alternating between not CCing all of the tenants to CCing in the wrong tenants, at one point inexplicably sending an email to Ben, |
Cfrom the 2018–19 tenancy,
Mfrom the 2017–18 tenancy, another girl who was not in either group of tenants and mis-spelt versions of
T's email addresses.
|12.||↑||This is still the case as of 2020-01-10.|
|13.||↑||3.1.1, 2, 3, 6, 8 and 9. Maybe 4 as well, depending on whatever was going on with the mysterious gender-switching landlord.|