Megan Cole used her knowledge of housing law picked up from taking on her landlord to finish her dissertation. Image credit: Supplied
A student who won a two-year battle against her rogue landlord to force them to pay back a year’s worth of rent used the ordeal in her dissertation to help her through her degree course.
Birmingham University student Megan Cole and her seven housemates discovered their landlord was not licenced to rent out a house in multiple occupancy (HMO) after they moved into a property in the Selly Oak area of Birmingham in July 2019.
They took action against the landlord and were awarded a year’s worth of rent – around £35,000 – under a rent repayment order. While they are still fighting to receive the cash, Megan, 21, handed in her dissertation on the power dynamic between tenants and landlords as she finished her policy, politics and economics degree.
“It was a wave of anxiety and stress. We were in this situation, we’d signed a 12-month tenancy agreement to live in this house, what can we do? We can’t move out,” Megan told The Big Issue.
“While the legislation points to justice and on paper it looks like we’ve got that justice, we don’t. We’re still basically at square one.
“We’re all individually £200 to £300 down. I’m hoping that something good comes out of my dissertation in helping people, empowering tenants, informing them about HMO licences. I didn’t realise most students didn’t know their landlords need them.
“Getting our rent back into our pockets would be brilliant but we don’t know how to proceed at this point.”
Megan and her housemates moved into the house in July 2019 and were immediately greeted with a series of problems. Notes around the house from past tenants and an A4 list of issues on a kitchen cupboard door pointed out the ant nest behind the dryer, the leaking shower, the faulty boiler and more.
But “alarm bells started going off” for Megan and her housemates when she discovered that her landlord didn’t have a licence. The group contacted the Birmingham City Council.
They were advised to seek a rent repayment order and to stay in the property for their full 12-month tenancy to receive a year’s worth of rent in return, amounting to around £35,000.
As the pandemic closed the university and the group moved back home, they gathered evidence before the tribunal hearing over video call in July 2020.
The tribunal ruled in their favour but the ruling is non-enforceable and the group are currently exploring options, including small claims court and private bailiffs, to get their former landlord to repay.
But Megan managed to turn the ordeal into a positive. When it came to submitting her proposal for her dissertation in March 2020, the student had the opportunity to make the most of months spent exploring housing law and the private rented sector.
She handed in her dissertation, titled ‘The Power Dynamic in Renting: Rogue Landlords, Vulnerable Tenants and Policy Proposals for Change’, this April.
We took our landlord to court, won our rent back, and I wrote my dissertation on it !
— Meg ???????????????????????????????????? (@MeganC2301) April 23, 2021
Now Megan is eyeing a career in housing policy and told The Big Issue her dream job would be working for housing charity Shelter.
Megan said: “You just feel vulnerable that you’re in a position that you can’t change and the way things are means you are powerless to fight the injustices that you experience.
“When I looked into the private rented sector, it emerged that there is this huge power dynamic and it is almost always skewed in favour of landlords rather than tenants.
“It should be like that, tenants should be in a position where they are not in vulnerable positions they can’t get out of, they also need legislation that backs them and supports them. I think Shelter’s Renters’ Reform Bill hits the nail on the head.”
As well as backing Shelter’s bill, Megan called for the Westminster Government to follow up on promises to scrap so-called ‘no fault’ evictions – where landlords can end a tenancy without giving a reason.
Fantastic result – a whole years’ worth of rent from a Rent Repayment Order!
Renters living in unlicensed Houses of Multiple Occupancy could be entitled to rent repayment too
She also echoed Generation Rent’s call for a national landlord’s register to be introduced to let tenants find out if their landlord has a history of rogue activities or does not have a licence to rent out a HMO.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Our broken renting system is overdue serious reform. For years, renters have paid through the nose for neglected properties, left powerless and paralysed by the fear that complaining about basic repairs could see them out on the streets.
“The Renters’ Reform Bill offers us a once-in-a generation opportunity to transform private renting and create a fairer safer system for all renters – we must seize it with both hands.”
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