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Tag Archive for private sector renting

How the Legal System is Failing Courteney – Safer Renting Blog

I know today is Friday 13th, but the events of the day surpass anything you could call “simply bad luck”.

For hardened members of the legal profession, this story may come as no surprise. Courtenay – not her real name – is a refugee from Rwanda who has been in this country now for some 20 years. She is a Care worker on a zero hours contract, has just completed her Masters degree in Pharmacology (so things she hopes may be looking up on the employment front) and is a single mother of 3. Her middle child suffers severely with sickle cell anaemia, made worse by the poor condition of her private rented flat. The London Borough of Hounslow are prosecuting the landlord for failure to maintain the property in a safe condition. As a result of this intervention, the landlord is now seeking to evict Courtenay and her 3 children: a form of revenge for something Courtenay had no say in.

The possession proceedings the landlord is using are of questionable legality because he has not protected Courtenay’s rent deposit and failed to maintain the safety of gas appliances. Courtenay should be entitled to legal aid to defend the possession claim: the catch is that the court has not served a key document on Courtenay’s case – the landlord’s Particulars of Claim. Without this, she can’t apply for legal aid and no solicitor can prepare a proper defence.

Courtenay tried to speak to the Court office to find a way around this, but was unable to find anybody willing to discuss her situation. With the hearing scheduled for just 3 working days time, I drove Courtenay to Staines County Court hoping to get a copy of the Particulars of Claim. However the court office was shut. We then made a further 3 phone calls to HM Courts and Tribunals Service to try and find a solution. Eventually Courtenay was told she would have to write to the court, with no guarantee she would get a response in time. The alternative, to apply for an adjournment to the hearing, involved a £225 fee and no guarantee of a decision in time.

Recognising there was no hope of resolving this in time for the hearing, we tried to find out if a Duty Solicitor service was available to represent Courtenay to stand in place of full representation by a solicitor. This was also a dead-end.

Having exhausted our options for securing full legal representation, Safer Renting will attend court with Courtenay as a McKenzie friend (someone who helps a person represent themselves in court who is not a legal representative) or represent her if the judge on the day permits it.

I was struck by Courtenay’s grit and grace in the face of this hopeless farce. She talked to me during our car journey of the transformation that Rwanda has been through and just how determined the country’s leadership has been to reform the country. Our legal system must look to her as it does to me, like a badly moth-eaten jumper. As someone who has fought through genocide, studied to improve her skills, takes care of our elderly, all while bringing up a family single-handedly, she deserves so much better than this.

How Good are Licensing Schemes at Stopping Rogue Landlords? – Safer Renting Blog

Safer Renting works to tackle criminal landlords and support their victims across London. The Project Director Roz Spencer, as seen on Channel 5’s Nightmare Tenants, Slum Landlords, has over 30 years’ experience working with private sector and social housing in London. This blog details her experiences tackling criminal landlords and working with some of the most vulnerable tenants in London.

nightmare tenants slum landlords, channel 5, roz spencer, safer renting, safer renting blog, contact, licensing, public sector, housing enforcement, It is still early days for Safer Renting, but it is hard not to notice some patterns emerging in the casework we’re taking on. Both of the boroughs where we have started working have embraced discretionary licensing for landlords as a way of driving up standards in the private rented sector. One of the two has whole borough licensing – so any and all rented property must be licensed, regardless of size or degrees of self-containment.

One of the trends we’ve noticed is so apparent it hardly needs stating at all: levels of eviction and attempted eviction by private landlords– usually through no fault of the tenant – are very high. The driver for many evictions is this: rents are rising faster than wages in these London boroughs, so it pays the landlord to trade a tenant who can only barely afford the rent for a new tenant who can afford a higher rent.

I used to be one of many sceptics about the value of licensing schemes – and I still believe that we need more powers and more resources to tackle the worst of the private rented sector abuses.  On the other hand, by working hand-in-hand with the licensing teams, we are led to the poorest quality properties; ones that should be licensed, but aren’t.

There are other benefits to the licensing scheme aside from identifying the worst perpetrators. .One of the keys to our success has been that landlords who fail to licence a property that should be licensable are not legally able to use ‘no fault’ (Section 21) evictions. These are currently the most prevalent forms of private sector eviction and have emerged as the leading cause of homelessness in the UK. Indeed, reviewing our casework statistics, I saw that we have been able to help the tenant to sustain the tenancy in 92% of cases where the landlord had tried to evict the tenant.

Despite these welcome successes, it’s only growing more obvious that there are so many things that could and should be done to protect tenants in the private rented sector; for example, many tenants don’t even enjoy this protection from eviction because the landlord has used loopholes to avoid granting any tenancy at all in return for cash-in-hand rent; but until there is a radical change in powers and resources, don’t underestimate how much licensing can do to protect people’s homes.

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