Let me introduce you to Andy and Bill (not real names) Two Safer Renting clients that were referred to us by our partner borough Newham council back in January 2021, when they returned home to their shared house and found the locks changed and the house boarded up.
Just another day in the office for our casework team, who got on the phone to the landlords saying essentially “WTF do you think you are doing?”
Andy and Bill had tenancy agreements and were paying the letting agents regularly. The owners said they didn’t know who that letting agent was, adding they had let the house to a different agent but provided no proof of this and the agent’s said they were commissioned by the owners but similarly produced no contracts as evidence.
Our case worker’s powers of persuasion, being what they are, the owners relented, took down the boards and gave Andy and Bill access again and for the next few months entered into negotiations through their solicitor to avert a serious damages claim.
They griped and grumbled over the ensuing months but were still firmly in negotiations to get an out of court settlement that would head off a serious civil damages claim which our case worker Kaush was plodding through as the months wore on.
Then, in early November, Bill contacts Kaush and says he has just been made aware that the owners had obtained a possession order against Andy and Bill on the basis of them being trespassers and following up the legal proceedings against them as “Persons Unknown”, even though they had met them in person several times, knew of the legal complexities and had 9 months worth of correspondence between themselves and their appointed solicitors, during which time all identities were clear.
Andy and Bill hadnt opened earlier post because it wasn’t addressed to them but to “Persons Unknown”.
So the ever dogged Kaush calls the owner’s solicitor, who she had been in negotiations with for most of this year and he was similarly surprised about the possession application and said he would talk to his clients but as possession had already been granted, emergency action was essential to get the possession order set aside because the owners had misled the courts in saying the occupiers were trespassers, unknown to them, which denied Andy and Bill the chance to defend themselves.
As is usual Safer Renting phoned up every legal aid solicitor we knew but equally , as is usual, none of them had capacity to take the case on, so we had no alternative but to jump in and assist Andy and Bill with applying to get the possession order set aside and duly entered an N244 application to that effect but before the hearing could go ahead, the owners had kicked the warrant up to the High Court and HCEOs evicted Andy and Bill under the High Court writ.
So, again absent any legal aid assistance, Safer Renting had to apply once more, this time to both get the possession order set aside and now the warrant as well, on the basis of the little known but useful doctrine of “Oppression” that the owners lied to the court to get a possession order and that this abuse of process happened whilst their instructed solicitors were still negotiating an out of court settlement, effectively blindsiding the occupiers.
The landlord’s eviction solicitors, not the ones they had instructed to negotiate to settle on a possible damages claim for the illegal eviction in January, embarked on their usual, tiresome intimidation tactics:-
· Are you lawyers?
· Do you have costs protection?
· You do know that we will come after Safer Renting personally for any costs?
And my favourite..
When you received notification that they had been illegally evicted, why didnt you refer it to the local authority?
Because the local authority referred the case to us as their contracted housing rights advocacy service numb-nuts!!!!!
Yadda, Yadda, Yadda, the usual looking down their nose bollocks we have to endure every time, in every case where we cant find legal aid lawyers to rep and have to do it ourselves.
The hearing was set with less than 24 hours notice which even the owner’s new solicitors were totally unprepared for, as even they didn’t know there was a hearing set for the next day. Another example of the current parlous state of the court system, where not for the first time they fail to notify all parties of impending proceedings.
So to the hearing at Clerkenwell and Shoreditch County Court. The judge singularly unimpressed with the evidence presented by the owners, set’s aside the possession order but said she couldn’t set aside the warrant, as it was a High Court writ not a county court warrant, so what does this bureaucratic nonsense actually mean to the life of 2 human beings?
They still cant get back into their home and are homeless, having done nothing wrong.
Plus….the owners say they have re-let the accommodation to new tenants, so even if we appeal to the High Court to get the warrant set aside its still unlikely they will be able to get back into their home…………….. and it get’s worse.
Andy and Bill had lived there for a couple of years and had accumulated the kinds of possessions you would expect during that time, alongside their existing possessions, such as legal documents, passports etc but the owners have said that when the locks were changed, what possessions were in situ were “Inconsequential” and were summarily disposed of.
So Andy and Bill are now street homeless. All their possessions have been destroyed. The possession order no longer exists but the fact that the judge couldn’t set the warrant aside and the owners have re-let, means Andy and Bill are screwed, for doing no more than renting a property that seems to have been part of a rent to rent scam that may or may not have been set up with the owner’s knowledge, said owners even misleading their own solicitor negotiating for a settlement on damages for illegal eviction, whilst simultaneously instructing other solicitors to seek possession against the rent paying occupiers as trespassers when they werent.
Justice? Well lets look at that.
Could Andy and Bill get the police to investigate the theft of their possessions? Theoretically but given their normal record on theft it isn’t likely to get them a result and that is presuming they don’t downgrade the complaint because it is a landlord and tenant issue., which is pretty much a dead cert.
· PFEA prosecution by Newham council? A possibility but unlikely to get into court in the next year and anyway would result at best in a fine. Nothing for Andy and Bill there.
· A Rent Repayment Order? Not possible because they had a contract with and paid their rent to, the disputed agent, not the owners and it was the owners who carried out the illegal eviction, so thanks to Rakusen v. Jepson the owners cant be named as respondents in an RRO.
· Pursuing civil damages? Probably a better solution that might penalise the owners and net some compensation for Andy and Bill, except going down that route is full on litigation, requiring a solicitor and as with earlier proceedings, we cant find because all of them are so over-worked, nobody has capacity.
Back to square one.
Life in the real rogue landlord world folks
By Ben Reeve Lewis