I was looking for a convenient and affordable place to live after I got back from my Year Abroad in Montpellier, France, for the academic year 2006/7 when an old Second Year housemate of mine offered me a room in his shared house on Kensington Terrace, in the Hyde Park area of Leeds.
I was happy enough with the rent price, the proximity to uni, the area, the room size, and the other housemates, so I paid my deposit to secure the room after signing the contract at the letting agency.
Now, I'm sure you've heard it said many times before: "read the small print" - this should have been echoing through my mind, but as I was a little rushed I just went ahead with dropping my signature on the harmless-looking paper put in front of me.
Unfortunately, I had signed a contract which fell under the Joint Tenancy Agreement, assuming that AS A HOUSE we would be jointly liable for any damages to the house or otherwise.
Only a few weeks after I had moved in, I learned that the previous occupant of my room, a certain "Ali", who had been acting very antisocially throughout his tenancy, had quit his university course, damaged his room, and terminated his contract early.
When I then demanded our letting agency to take care of certain repairs to the house that needed to be done, they replied that they would not fix the house until the outstanding damages were paid. As I had not even been living with Ali during that time, I saw no reason for me to suffer for his wrongdoings; as I put increased pressure on our agency they finally made the necessary repairs.
About a month into my contract I noticed that there were substantial damages to the room, Ali's doing, for whom I did not want to be held responsible. I also made this clear to our agency, even though I never got a written confirmation thereof.
As it turns out, Ali was unable to pay the outstanding sum he owed the landlord, and when his parents were unwilling to bail him out, they both came up with a story that went along the lines of: "Ali suffered ill health, including respiratory diseases, as a result of the state of disrepair of the house, such as the dust levels on the staircase rug being dangerously high and the untidiness of the house causing bacterial disease".
As an objective observer, I wouldn't say the house was particularly clean, but I could certainly not have gone along with the claim that there was an imminent health risk to the tenants, either.
And so, as the letting agency asked us, as a house, to confirm this in writing in order to increase the legal pressure on Ali's parents to pay up, all the housemates agreed to do so. This was roughly 3 months into my nine-months tenancy agreement.
Six months later, when I was getting ready to leave the house, the letting agency still hadn't received any payment from Ali's family (they had used this against us whenever possible), but I didn't think much of it as I was leaving the house. I had never signed a Joint Tenancy Agreement with Ali, so wouldn't have to pay for his failure to do so... theoretically!
In keeping with their management methods, neither of us has received their deposit back from the letting agents, even though we got a cleaner to make sure the house was in an excellent condition when we left.
The reason? Apparently we hadn't paid up our last utility bill, even though the bill was dated after the end of our contract... So we got together (by phone), about 15 MONTHS after our contract in Leeds had ended, and managed to pay our share of the electricity bill (unjustly addressed to us) in individual installments. This was made particularly difficult by the fact that we had to wait 24 hours for the next person to be able to pay because of some glitch in the electronic payment system.
PHHEEEUUUUWWWWW!!!!!! We thought this was the moment of truth that we had been waiting for, were we would be paid back our deposits. How foolish of us!
Today, 29th August 2008, none of us has received a single penny of our deposit back - and all because of one person who wasn't even in the house... Can you guess who that might be?
Yes, it is... ALI! 22 MONTHS after our contract expired they are still using Ali as a lever to deny us of our rightful deposit.
SO BEWARE, STUDENTS... DON'T EVER SIGN A JOINT TENANCY AGREEMENT WITH SOMEONE THAT YOU DON'T FULLY KNOW AND/OR TRUST... AND, CHECK FOR ANY CONTRACT GHOSTS THAT MIGHT COME TO HAUNT YOU, EVEN IF YOU'VE NEVER SEEN THEM BEFORE IN YOUR HOUSE DURING THEIR LIFETIME.