Luxury penthouse developer and tenant in dispute over heating bills

Ben Smith/Becca Booty

Ben James Smith on the roof of Mercy nightclub in Norwich which he is developing into apartments. Around the corner lives one of his tenants, Becca Booty, who has complained about problems in the house she rents from his company. - Credit: Archant

A dispute between a landlord and tenant over utility bills has led to students living without heating for several days over winter. 

Norwich University of the Arts student Becca Booty complained to her landlord and property agent, Estateducation, in March that she and four other tenants, who live on St Faiths Lane, had had no heating for up to a week at a time when their meter ran out, meaning temperatures in the home sometimes dropped to 10C. 

According to Ms Booty’s contract, her rent of £450 a month for a room in the five-bedroom terrace house is “inclusive of water, gas, electricity, broadband and TV licence”. 

But the contract does not state how or when the gas and electricity, which is on a pay-as-you-go meter, will be paid for by the landlord, only that it will.  

The agreement is signed by landlord Ben James Smith who owns the property through a company called St Faiths Ln Ltd.  

Ben Smith

Owner and developer, Ben James Smith, on the roof of the old Mercy nightclub which is to be turned into apartments. - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2021

Mr Smith is currently developing the old Mercy nightclub around the corner from the home into apartments, offices and a gym, through his company Estateducation. 

The developer told this newspaper in March that he hoped four of the penthouses could fetch a seven-figure sum when sold. But Ms Booty said: “It infuriates me seeing him standing on the roof next to our home and talk about luxury apartments, when we’re living in one of his homes where the heating is sometimes disrupted.” 

In response, Mr Smith said he had paid the tenants back for utilities when they had sent him receipts proving they had topped it up themselves. He said they were reimbursed every month up to £200 for heating and electricity once they showed him evidence. “We are only able to top up the meters when communicated from the tenants,” he said. 

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In October last year, Mr Smith’s company, Estateducation, also emailed the tenants stating the utility bills were capped at £200 a month and they would “release the money each month”, but the problems continued.

In March Ms Booty complained that the house was again without heating, this time for eight days, after the meter ran out.

She said that on multiple occasions when the meters had run out of credit, she would contact Estateducation.  


Becca Booty outside her house on St Faiths Lane, Norwich - Credit: Archant

The 23-year old said she would be asked to top up the meter herself and claim the money back from the company. But she said that it could take a month to be reimbursed, which she felt was unacceptable, when she had already paid the rent which included the bills.  

The student said she believed the landlord should pay for credit on the meters before they ran out each time, rather than afterwards.