Ross Cooper v Simon Marriott, 30.03.16 – Application of Tenancy Deposit Scheme where Property Alleged not to be tenant’s Main Home & Tenant Accused of Dishonesty

This is a Sheriff Court case concerning a short assured tenancy of a flat in Edinburgh in relation to which a deposit of £550 was paid to the landlord but not paid into an approved tenancy deposit scheme as required under the Tenancy Deposit Schemes (Scotland) Regulations 2011. The tenant applied to the sheriff for an award of an amount of money as a sanction for the landlord’s failure to comply with his obligation under the regulations.

Arguments

The landlord argued that:

  1. the tenancy was not protected by the 2011 regulations because the property was not ‘the principal home’ of the tenant during the duration of the lease (as the tenant had worked 3 and half days a week in Skye for a period of 6 months); and
  2. even if the tenancy was protected by the regulations, a new tenancy was created in June 2014 in respect of which no deposit was made (meaning any action under the original lease would have been time barred at the time of the court action); and
  3. if the application was not time barred, the sanction provision was unenforceable, by the tenant, due to his dishonesty and illegality.

Decision

The sheriff rejected all of these arguments.

In the first place, the question of the tenant’s principal home did not have any bearing on the case. (The landlord had referred to the definition of an assured tenancy contained in s12 of the Housing Scotland Act 1988 which requires that the property is the tenant’s only or principal home. However, this was a short assured tenancy not an assured tenancy)

In the second place, although the tenancy agreement commenced on 15 June 2013 for a period of 12 months until 14 June 2014, it continued, with the consent of parties, until it terminated on 17 July 2015. Whilst the landlord had argued that a new lease was created in June 2014, the sheriff held that the tenancy was continued after 14 June 2014 on the principle of tacit relocation[1]. In coming to this conclusion, the sheriff noted that, after 14 June, the parties to the contract were the same, the property was the same and the only change was that the landlord had abated the rent by £50 because of a problem with the water supply. As such, the sheriff had no reason to think there was anything other than an extension to the original lease. (Meaning the action had been raised in sufficient time (i.e. within 3 months of 17 July 2015) in terms of reg. 9(1) of the 2011 Regulations).

Finally, the principle of illegality referred to by the landlord had no application to this case. (Although the sheriff also found that the landlord’s allegations in this regard were unsubstantiated). The sheriff stated that, although in some cases of partial breach of the regulations where the deposit was ultimately paid into to the scheme, the conduct of the tenant could be relevant to the sanction, where the deposit is never lodged, he failed to see how the tenant’s character could ever mitigate the breach. 

As such, a sanction of twice the value of the deposit[2] was awarded[3].

It is also of note that, with regard to arguments by the Landlord to the effect that he had not understood the regulations and was only an ‘amateur landlord’, the sheriff said the following:

“the regulations do not recognise the status of ‘amateur landlord’. Landlords who rent to the public are covered by the regulations whether they are large commercial concerns or single property, buy to let landlords.”

The full judgement is available from Scottish Courts here:

https://www.scotcourts.gov.uk/search-judgments/judgment?id=d60610a7-8980-69d2-b500-ff0000d74aa7

[1] Where the term of a lease comes to an end and the tenancy then renews itself on the same terms and conditions.

[2] The maximum award is three times the value of the deposit.

[3] Less £50 for minor damage which had occurred to the property.