A Kent landlord has come under attack for pursuing unpaid rent from three students “too traumatised” to return to their house after finding their friend dead inside.
Werner Toogood runs the Student Lettings Agency in Canterbury which has about 200 properties housing 500 student tenants. He let a house in Sussex Road, Canterbury to four students for the 2013/14 academic year.
But on 11 January 2014 one of the students, Robert Chavda, 21, was found dead in his bed at the property having suffered a brain haemorrhage after taking the drug MDMA.
The other housemates who found his body needed counselling for post-traumatic stress and claimed they had been too upset to continue living in the house.
Traumatised, the students asked Toogood to find them alternative accommodation, but he was unable to. They were instead rehomed together by Canterbury Christ Church University and given counselling.
But Toogood is demanding they pay the remaining five months of their contract, taking a claim for £6,529 to Medway Civil Court.
Three of the students offered to pay Toogood three of the remaining five months of their tenancy to terminate the contract, but he refused. One student paid in full to avoid court action.
Toogood also offered the students and their families the chance to sublet the rooms in the house in order to fulfil the contract, but they declined.
Toogood told the court: “The fact is that the building is still there. The circumstances have not changed. It was not our circumstances which changed, but the tenants’. Had the building fallen down, it would have been a different argument.
“We did what we could, but unfortunately we did not have any spare accommodation.
“It was the tenants’ responsibility to pay the contract, but after various conversations we received a letter saying they were no longer going to continue with paying the rent.
“The offer was made for three months, but it was rejected because it would have left it fallow for three months.”
The court heard how Toogood had written to Chavda’s parents offering them a two-year repayment plan on their son’s outstanding rent, but later waived the debt.
In September 2014, he sent the surviving students a solicitor’s letter which sparked the civil action against them.
The court heard how the students and their parents claimed Toogood had started renovating the property after the students left – implying he accepted surrender of the property had taken place – but still pursued the unpaid rent.
District Judge Simon Gill adjourned the case and will present his judgement later this month.