by | Dec 20, 2021 | Safer Renting

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Meet Fred, a client referred to Safer Renting for help just before Xmas 2020 by the licensing and enforcement team of Newham council, one of the 11 London boroughs with whom we work in partnership.

An 83 year old man living in Forest Gate East London who had actually been born in the house he is living in way back in 1928 and having been through a long list of landlords down the years.

Brief technical note: Tenancies entered into before the 15th January 1989 are known as regulated or Rent Act tenancies. People holding these increasingly rare tenancies are subject to rent control with a level set by the VOA beyond which the landlord cannot raise it.

When a tenant dies, the next person in line can succeed to a statutory tenancy still under rent control. When that person dies, if it is after 15th January 1989 there can be a second succession but this time to an assured tenancy at a market rent, so they lose rent control….now read on…..

His dad was the original sole tenant. He died in 1969 and Fred’s mum died in 1989. “Exactly when in 1989?” I breathlessly asked Fred. “December” came the reply…bugger just 10 months after the second succession rule changed.

There was a fog over how Fred came by his letting as well, because Fred recalled the landlord in 1969, gave a fresh tenancy to Fred as his mum’s health was ailing at the time and Fred was still working but he had no evidence of this, just a memory of distant correspondence with a long dead landlord and a written contract that was lost in the mists of time.

Before the VOA was created, rent control was dealt with by the local Rent Officer and it didn’t help that a recent letter from the VOA confusingly referred to Fred as an assured tenant, even though he had a fair rent set. All very contradictory and generally unhelpful.

Enter the Boo-Hiss pantomime villain of the piece Bill Lynn, the landlord who purchased the property about 8 years ago with Fred as a sitting tenant, the burning question of course being, what type of sitting tenant, statutory or assured?

Initially believing he couldn’t raise the rent, Mr Lynn took a different tack to squeeze more money out of the property and without Fred’s approval, converted the upstairs of this terraced house into a separate flat that he could let out, thus, as I believe lt’s known in landlord world, “Increasing the rental yield”.

This effectively illegally evicted Fred from the upper floor of his accommodation and lets remind ourselves, accommodation he was born in 83 years ago. Imagine that happening to you.

Fred reported this to Newham planning department, who’s enforcement team visited and ordered Bill Lynn to convert it back to a single dwelling, something he complied with but was not happy about, so he engaged solicitors who decided on a different approach, which was to treat Fred as a second successor to an assured tenancy without rent control, based on the single letter from the VOA and jack the rent up to the market rate, way beyond what Fred could afford as an 83 year old pensioner, basically pricing him out of his home.

Being a game old fella, Fred entered a defence on his own to the rent increase which blocked it temporarily at court pending more proof of his true security of tenure before any rent increase would be approved at a second hearing but without legal representation he was on thin ice.

Due to the pandemic and court closures, a year went by while all these legal shenanigans went on, during which time he was referred to us. The danger being, if Fred were to lose the case and the rent increase were to stand, then the previous 12 month’s rent at the market rate would become due, not only immediately wiping out Fred’s meagre life savings but which would also then pave the way for the landlord to seek possession against Fred for rent arrears making him homeless at the same time. Poor Fred had this hanging over his head all year.

Whilst we know the law well enough, with so much at stake there was no way that Safer Renting could consider trying to represent him as we aren’t solicitors, so couldn’t count on rights of audience if we turned up at court with him but I fired the first shot across Bill Lynn’s bows by contacting his legal team who immediately began the aggressive tactics we are so used to, threatening costs against Fred, threatening costs against Safer Renting, even petty complaints that I had slightly mis-spelled the solicitor’s name in correspondence by one missing consonant. the usual school playground tactics so beloved of too many solicitors that do absolutely nothing to deter us.

Take note all who use these pathetic games, you’re wasting your breath.

Fred couldn’t afford to pay for legal help and we couldn’t find a legal aid lawyer to take on the case, so I went to a special agency called “Advocate” who hook up cases like Fred’s with barrister’s willing to do pro bono work. Nerve biting weeks went by, with the new hearing looming but we got a knock back. There was nobody able to take it on.

Then through a range of complex interventions and general grovelling on my part we managed to get clearance for Fred to proceed.

A barrister was instructed and the ever excellent Simon Mullings of Edwards Duthie Shamash, co-author of the seminal book “Housing Possession Duty Desk” immediately set about delving into the archives of the VOA to find evidence of the tenancy changeover in 1969, which didn’t come in the form of a tenancy agreement but through various pieces of correspondence from back in the day, referring to Fred as “The tenant”. Not argument settling standard of proof but with a fair wind………

The case went back to court, fully repped with a barrister. Everyone was on tenterhooks all day, waiting for the result.

Fred won.

The court held he was a Rent Act tenant, entitled to rent control and that Bill Lynn could shove his rent increase up his arse. The icing on top of this particular Christmas cake was the £22,000 in Fred’s legal costs that Bill Lynn was also ordered to pay.

Could we take action for the illegal eviction? Theoretically but Fred is 83 and has pretty much had enough of courts, lawyers and living on his nerves over the previous 2 years.

It’s one of those cases where Safer Renting played the least part. We didn’t go for the landlord ourselves, we just bought some time, trawled around over several months trying desperately to get someone to take his case on and then just acted as a conduit thereafter but as a career high, it’s right up there at the top for me, a rare example of true David v. Goliath justice you don’t often see.

Thanks to everyone who played a part in the overall victory and Mr Lynn?………Merry Xmas mate! Ho Ho Ho!

 By Ben Reeve Lewis

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About Cambridge House Safer Renting

The Cambridge House Safer Renting team present the ‘go-to’ blog on the world of the Shadow Private Rented Sector.

We monitor the world of rogue landlord and agent activity, publicise developments, circulate innovative ideas, keep readers abreast of changes in laws and regulations, raising awareness of criminal trends and scams, celebrate successful actions and interview people working in the field, connecting up anyone involved, from tenants and their advisers, to enforcement officers, lawyers and journalists.

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