Covid-related mess

At the beginning of the pandemic our tenants left the country to be with their families overseas for what they thought would be a couple of weeks.

When it became apparent that they would be staying there for months they let us know that they would struggle to pay the rent but they wanted to keep the property because they would come back and all their things were there. We agreed that they could sublet short term and we helped them by cleaning and tidying the flat, storing their belonging safely in the attic, washing their linens and showing the property to the sublet tenants. We also stipulated that as long as they could pay the rent, we wouldn’t have a say in how much they sublet for.

After the first sublet tenants left sooner than expected, we were asked to show the flat to a new tenant and when we did and exchanged keys the original tenants were angry because they hadn’t fully made their minds up about the sublet tenant. When we pointed out that their attitude was not very nice and perhaps they could be a bit more grateful the original tenants decided to close the lease and move out their things (in their own time).

One of these things - and this is the problem now - was the sofa. Upon moving in they asked if they could replace the sofa, which they didn’t like. The sofa was a velvet designer sofa from Habitat that the previous tenant had introduced, replacing the one that was there before, which was a large sofa bed. As it has always worked out fine with previous tenants for them to swap the sofa to their likings, we agreed to let them sell it as long as they would replace it with a comparable option.

They replaced it with a nice enough sofa but when they moved out they claimed it was too nice and they would take it with them replacing it with another. They then ordered in the very cheapest sofa from IKEA, which costs £80.

I believe they are being completely unreasonable and want them to return the sofa to IKEA, which they can do and get a refund, and to hold back some money to get a reasonable sofa - I mentioned this and that I would hold back £150 from the deposit (which is in no way the actual value of the sofa they got rid of) and they are threatening legal action via OpenRent and the DPS.

Their subletters suddenly saw the sofa they had in the flat they agreed to rent being replaced with the cheapest of cheap IKEA one. Incidentally, they report it as being: “the most uncomfortable sofa they’ve ever used, we just go and sit in the bedroom”.

What do you make of the situation? Are we within our rights to withhold money for a sofa or are they within their rights to leave the cheap sofa in the flat?

I’m no expert but would have thought if you said it had to be comparable then that’s what should have happened. Assume you have got photos of all these different sofas?
Do you have the receipt for the original sofa bed?
Think £150 sounds very reasonable personally.