One perennial problem facing tenants in the throes of being harassed or illegally evicted, is calling the police only to be advised that disputes between landlords and tenants are civil matters and not a problem that police can resolve.
This is partly true. Harassment and illegal eviction are criminal offences under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 but it’s the local authority that prosecutes these breaches, not the police.
Also, a lawful eviction, following due process, is genuinely a civil matter, as are many contractual arguments between landlord, tenant and agent.
Problems are however, seriously compounded when police called to such disputes in progress, ignore more general criminal breaches, such as common assault and breaches of the peace and in some cases side with the landlord, regardless of the dispute, even going so far as to assist the landlord to carry out a criminal offence.
This is not just a London problem. Every TRO or housing rights working across the UK will have their own stories about these kinds of incidents.
It’s terrible that scared renters, often fearful for their safety and the prospect of finding themselves and their possessions on the pavement, would call the police expecting support and protection, only to find at best they refuse to attend, or at worse, they actually turn up and refuse to act.
The final straw for Safer Renting came some 18 months ago when we obtained an injunction to restrain a landlord from harassing a family. The injunction came with powers to commit to prison for contempt of court should he ignore it. He arrived at the property with a friend late on a Saturday evening and assaulted the family with a crowbar and battery powered electric drill.
Neighbours came to the family’s assistance and disarmed the assailants but when officers arrived they refused to read the injunction and instead arrested the neighbours. Holding them for 12 hours without charge.
We assisted the family to work with a solicitor and the landlord was ordered to pay damages of £28,000, so things worked out for them in the end but we were so incensed at the actions of the police that we approached the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, saying this had to stop and calling on their assistance.
This helped us open a door with the Met Police, which resulted in the creation of a focused training programme for all Met officers in dealing with doorstep disputes between landlords and tenants.
Whilst the programme itself concerns issues with housing law, the emphasis is firmly on dealing with illegal evictions and harassment in progress.
Officers are taught that due process for most renters involves a landlord having a bailiff’s warrant with them and the company of either a county court bailiff or a High Court Enforcement Officer. Absence of which is the first sign that something is amiss.
Some are of course excluded from this process but only a very small number of the 30 different types of tenancy and licence available.
Where Safer Renting designed this online training programme itself, the GLA also helped hold the project together and very importantly, created a portal on the Mayor’s rogue landlord and agent checker web service, that allows officers attending a dispute, to report it using the portal, which then sends the complain directly to the relevant team in the relevant authority for further investigation and action.
One of the complaints made by police was not knowing where to refer such incidents to but this new service has put that problem to bed, by not having to rely on emails and phone numbers of council teams whose personnel and contact details changes regularly.
So, going forward, renters facing harassment and illegal eviction in the London area, should feel more confident in calling police to a dispute, that they will be sufficiently protected and the landlord or agent correctly advised.
A great solution for Londoners but one I would love to see adopted by all constabularies in the UK and if anyone in other areas reading this would like more info on how it works I’m more than happy to chat, along with colleagues in the Met that we have been working on the project with, similarly keen that this should be national initiative.
This new initiative is mentioned in the London Mayor’s press release of 28th May
By Ben Reeve-Lewis