Claiming money owed from building owner

Hi there, bit of a long post - please bear with me as (I think) its all relevant to the queries I have, listed at the end of the post.

We rent a flat in a building in London, our landlord lives abroad. There is a separate building owner - our landlord is a leaseholder.

About 6 weeks ago we were informed that works needed to be undertaken to the property that adjoins ours (the works were being undertaken by the freeholder). The works required the removal of a (approx.) 150mm thick concrete floor to allow for the replacement of rotting timber joists below. As soon as the works began, dust began to pour into our property, in particular the half of our flat closest to the works (our entire property is open planned, so there was dust everywhere).

We reached out to the contractor on site doing the works informing them of what was happening, and some protective sheeting and an air purifier were provided. We also taped up all vents in the property to try and stop the dust that was travelling into the property). I work from home, and by day 3 it became clear that continuing to live and work there whilst the works were ongoing was not going to be possible. Both my partner and I had itchy eyes and black/grey soot in our nostrils from the dust we were breathing in.

Discussions were had with the building management company (working on behalf of the freehold company), and it was agreed that we needed to get out of the property. Whilst no firm agreement was in place in writing, it was our understanding that the cost of our stay outside of our home was being covered. No assistance was provided by the management company or freeholder in finding a suitable hotel, and no reasonably priced Airbnb was found. Our requirements were not extensive, but (in our eyes) reasonable: relatively close to our home and my wife’s work (which is itself close to our home); roomy enough to allow me to work (otherwise I would also need to seek additional funds to cover some sort of paid work space for the duration; dog friendly. Owing to the nature of things, we also had to try and find a hotel that met the above for a weeks stay, starting the same day as we were searching. We found one (relatively close), and went to stay there - there were limited options, most were too far away, or required us to stay at the airport.

Towards the end of our stay, we found out that we could not return home for a further week, and would need to continue to stay out of our home. The hotel we had been staying in no longer had any rooms (again, we were only told to find accommodation with very short notice - this time about 24hrs). Given the above criteria which remained the same, there were approximately 4 options we were able to find, we chose the cheapest one available, although it was not particularly cheap. Again, no assistance was provided by either company. It is probably worth noting at this point that agreement had been made to cover the first weeks stay, which we have in writing - although because they say our building is not dog friendly, they would not cover this cost (the listing we responded to for the flat stated it was dog friendly, the flat had dogs living it with the previous tenants, our contract confirms our flat is dog friendly, and the building has approximately 10 other dogs living within - we didn’t fight them on this, although we were out of pocket £25 per night for the dog, and felt confident that we were right to feel that the building is dog friendly, and this cost should therefore be covered.

When it came to staying at the 2nd hotel, we were not given assistance in finding options, and towards the end of our stay (which ended up being 2 weeks in total), we were told that they believed the dust in our flat to not be their fault, but they would ‘as a gesture of good will’ pay us a lesser figure per night than the hotel we were staying in, leaving us out of pocket. We had also requested a daily food payment, which they also disagreed with (we were unable to find a hotel with a kitchenette available, and did our best to keep food costs down, but hotel fridges are small and we had to eat).

Prior to our return to the flat, they had the property fully cleaned for us at their cost. Just before this, we gathered a sample of the dust to be analysed by an independent company to confirm whether it was in fact construction dust (or at least its constituent parts were what you would find in construction dust). We had challenged the freeholding company’s denial of fault, and they opted to undertake a smoke test to find out if there was any air connection between the properties that could be determined as the route. The results of this came back showing a clear link between the 2 properties - meaning that not only was the dust confirmed to be travelling from one property to another, we also had no fire compartmentalisation between the 2 flats which is a serious issue in and of itself.

Given the above, we are meeting with the directors of the freeholding company soon to discuss everything, but have been told that they still do not agree with our request for reimbursement, which is as follows:

  • Full repayment of the cost of the hotel stays (excluding any room service costs)
  • Payment of a food budget of £20 per person per day (£5 breakfast, £5 lunch, £10 dinner)

What I want to know, and I am hoping someone can help, is as follows:

  • If we can not come to an agreement on what we feel we are owed, do we have recourse to take this to small claims court, if so, are the above items we have requested reimbursement for, fair? (We also have a number of other costs that we have opted to not claim at this stage, in an attempt to get this agreed, including laundry costs. We would seek these at court).
  • During all of this, we have still been paying rent to our landlord. Can we also try to claim this from the freeholder. It doesn’t seem right that we have been paying rent on the property during this episode (I am not really interested in taking the landlord to court, if that is the only way of trying to claim that back).

Any help or advice anyone can provide would be greatly appreciated.

sounds like your best option is to sue them

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You need to speak to a solicitor about the realistic options. I doubt you would get the food money as this would have been incurred anyway.

The biggest problem I can see is that you dont seem to have involved your landlord. You have no legal relationship with anyone else.

Thank you for your comment. I should add that the landlord is involved in this process, and is on all communication.

Agreed we have no legal relationship with the freeholder - I think this is why I am unclear as to the steps we can/should take. They provably are the cause of the issues, I would assume that this cannot be the first time that works a freeholder has done have impacted a tenant of a leaseholder of the building, there must surely be some sort of framework in place to resolve/rectify this legally… or perhaps not, and court is our only way forward!

I agree re the food, but given we had no access to a kitchen because of the works, our costs are greater because of that. I should also add that this cost includes food wastage that was part of the works (dust got into all cupboards, and a good deal of already opened dry foods. If we went to court, we would rightly divide these costs up.

Your claim is from your landlord. His is from the freeholder.

It might worth checking with Landlord if his/her insurance covers this. If it is possible to prove your home was inhabitable they might step in. Only issue is they have not been informed on time so they might dismiss the claim even if there is a cover.

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