This is a long review but if you are considering renting from Chiltern Hills, please take your time and read it - 10 minutes of your time now might save you days (or weeks) of frustration later on. I also hope that it will serve as a guide to those who have already entered a contract with Chiltern Hills, how to deal with them once the contract has come to an end.
It all started when I needed a cheap flat for six months and found one advertised on Rightmove that had everything I needed. I called the number and arranged with Ali at Chiltern Hills to view it. It was advertised as all inclusive (council tax, electricity, gas etc), but when I got there Ali explained that the landlord no longer could offer the flat at the advertised rent as the inclusive council tax was for students only. The flat itself was not particularly clean; walls and doors were a bit scruffy but I deemed it habitable after a thorough clean. After some negotiation we settled for a compromise between the advertised rent and the increased rent as it was still a fair deal to me.
The contract was a mess, based on a generic template, and I had to ask for it to be corrected three times before it corresponded with the actual flat and the sum of my deposit. There were also some minor additional fees that I found questionable.
Ali was always friendly though and usually got back to me on the phone or email within a couple of hours when I had questions regarding the flat or the contract.
I had no issues during my stay there and never had any reason to contact the agency.
When the contract came to the end, I called the agency to arrange for an inspection and subsequently get my deposit back. I was advised that the landlord had 14 days to inspect the flat, which I thought was a long time but did not think much of it at the time.
I cleaned the flat from top to bottom and it was clearly in a far better state than when I moved in, and then got down to the agency to return the keys. The receipt I got was handwritten on a normal A4 paper and did not look very professional, but it was legally binding nonetheless.
After 14 days I still had not heard anything from Chiltern so I called them to check if the inspection had been carried out. I was then advised that it had and that the landlord had found some ¢â‚¬Å“minor damages but nothing serious¢â‚¬Â. I asked for a copy of the inspection documents to be sent to me so that I could review it. Ten days passed and nothing happened. I called them several times and was advised by their elderly ¢â‚¬Å“gatekeeper¢â‚¬Â that they were out of office but would return my call in a couple of hours. They never did. I then sent a recorded letter to Chiltern explaining that I demanded my deposit back as I had received no report stating that there were any damages or other problem, and that I expected to receive my deposit in one week.
After one week there was still no reply so I had a look at the contract and spent a couple of evenings studying the Housing Act of 2004 as I wanted to know my rights. According to this act, it is possible to claim the deposit back from the Tenancy Deposit Scheme directly, so I called them and had an interesting conversation with a very helpful member of staff. It turned out that there was no deposit made in my name, the landlord's name, or at that post code altogether. I asked them to check again but there was nothing on their files. I then called up the other two major tenancy schemes on the off chance that the contract stated the wrong scheme, but with no result.
According to the previously mentioned Housing Act, the tenant can claim back up to three times the amount of the deposit if the agency fails to pay the deposit into a Tenancy Deposit Scheme, and I found some interesting court cases supporting this information.
I was now ready to pay Chiltern Hills an (unannounced) personal visit.
When I got there it took them some time to find the right documents and they advised that there were some minor damages that the landlord had found. I did not say anything and let them talk. They then handed over a four-page report stating all the ¢â‚¬Å“damages¢â‚¬Â that had been done by me over the last six months, supported by photographic evidence (pictures taken when the flat was new). The damages were estimated at 1.5 times the sum of the deposit.
I had a quick look, tossed the report on the table and told them that this was utter nonsense. They agreed and said that they thought it was a bit high; according to their own estimation ¢â‚¬Å“it was not more than £150-200¢â‚¬Â. I replied that that figure too was nonsense. There was no damage done by me and if the landlord persisted I would take legal action. At this point they became very mealy-mouthed and explained that they were merely mediators between me and ¢â‚¬Å“the landlord¢â‚¬Â.
I also casually asked them which Tenancy Deposit Scheme and they confirmed it was the one mentioned in the contract (and that confirmed that no such deposit had been made). I said nothing but I saved this joker for later, if needed.
They then made a call, or ¢â‚¬Å“made a call¢â‚¬Â and told me that they were willing to ¢â‚¬Å“take the risk¢â‚¬Â to pay back the deposit in full to me despite the remarks made by ¢â‚¬Å“the landlord¢â‚¬Â.
I got a cheque, which was genuine, and they were all smiley faces and happy for me that I ¢â‚¬Å“won¢â‚¬Â against the evil ¢â‚¬Å“landlord¢â‚¬Â.
I got out of this mess unscathed, probably because they could see that I was serious about taking legal action, something I would have done for as little as £50 if I felt it was not justified. I also spent some time reading up on the Housing Act of 2004.
As you may have gathered by now, there is no way I can recommend this awful agency. They are the worst crooks I have come across in a long time (and I have seen a few things over the years), and they will try every trick in the book to scam you. They lie and try to make you believe their own rules but they have little knowledge about the genuine acts. They try to trick you into accepting false check-out reports ¢â‚¬â€œ anything to get your money.
If you are not yet one of their tenants but have found a flat that looks like a good deal ¢â‚¬â€œ avoid this agency like the plague! It is better to rent from a respected agency, even if the advertised rent is a bit higher; in the end you will thank yourself!
If you are unfortunate to be a tenant already, make sure you are present at the check-out inspection, ideally with someone who is willing to testify should you need to take legal action. Do not fall for their bluffs and do not get bullied into signing anything you do not agree with. Read up on the Housing Act of 2004, and seek advice at the Citizens Advice Bureau if necessary. You may also want to speak to a legal advisor if in doubt. Do not hesitate to take legal action against them if they fails to return the deposit that it rightly yours. Remember, the deposit is your money!
Ps. Don't you love the positive reviews on this site for Chiltern Hills? For some reason they are all stylistically identical¢â‚¬Â¦