For the past 2 years Safer Renting have been running an intern programme, bringing in graduates to train up as TROs.
Alice started this week, joining our expanding team of Sarah, Molly, Juke and Oscar, with Kaushalya starting this coming week, previous interns Yahaya and Sacha having moved on.
Some studied law but not all of them and what everyone has to deal with is getting used to the sheer weirdness and ruthlessness that the criminal landlord fraternity indulges in and it’s a guilty pleasure of my job in training and mentoring them, to watch their innocence and incredulity erode as the months go by. Expressions of shock and disbelief being supplanted by a simple tut and rolling of the eyes.
Everyone starts off thinking that they can reason with criminal landlords and agents and that they are just human beings who respond to respect and that they will always act rationally.
After dealing with 10 or 15 cases a new awareness starts to take over. Juke was greatly amused recently when he was called “Immoral” by a letting agent for advising a tenant of their legal rights.
In the past year our TRO crew have had to deal with 2 cases of a landlord completely removing a tenant’s kitchen for no apparent reason, a landlord who insisted that the tenants were unknown to him and that he had been living in the property for the past 12 months and hadn’t apparently noticed.
Other cases have involved the bizarre incident of a landlord telling Oscar that she would get her solicitor to call him, only to phone him 10 minutes later with the same phone number showing on caller display, whilst putting on a voice and pretending to be her own lawyer or the landlord so incensed that his tenants had complained about threats, that he removed the roof.
I’ve had three decades of this. Things that people dismiss as fantasy when you tell them.
I remember a landlord telling his tenant to leave, who we advised of his rights to remain, only to find that whilst visiting family for a long weekend, the landlord had gone to the property, bricked up all the windows and stuck a large, circular communal refuse bin outside of the front door and filled it with concrete so it couldn’t be moved.
I once fielded a phone call from a family whose landlord, protesting at missing rent payments, they were withholding for disrepair, had gone to their flat upstairs in the converted house they lived in and removed all the floorboards, leaving them with only joists to walk around on.
The family were completely intransigent about paying him rent and I had to spend an hour with him, trying to get him to accept that removing someone’s floor in an argument was neither a proportionate nor rational response. A perspective he absolutely could not see.
Back in the 1990s I picked up a case of man who’s landlords, a married couple, had illegally evicted him and burnt all of his belongings in the back garden.
I called them in for an interview under caution, preceding a criminal prosecution under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977, which they evaded for some weeks before finally agreeing to present themselves.
I interviewed each separately, presuming it would get me nowhere, given how long they had to get their stories straight, only to find them tell completely different versions of events and blame each other.
I recall a French student approaching me for help when she had moved into a room in a shared house after paying 6 month’s rent up front who complained to the landlord that she had no fridge. He went ballistic and threatened to throw her out.
I called him and made the usual counter-threats and he relented and said he would send someone with a fridge, which duly arrived but to the tenant’s horror, was swimming in blood. What or who the blood belonged to nobody particularly wanted to find out
She was so terrified she threw in the towel and never got her money back.
And it is into this world that our wonderful committed young interns are willing to walk, risking sanity and youthful innocence to protect people from the activities of nutters.
When I started as a TRO most councils had at least one, since austerity cuts they are becoming as rare as Spix’s Macaw (the world’s rarest bird)
Even finding a training course to send them on is problematical. With the paucity of TROs to book onto these courses, the subjects they need are disappearing from the lists of normal training companies.
I seem to be the only person training TRO skills and knowledge these days and the problem with these things, is that as the roles disappear, the knowledge and skills goes with them.
Being a TRO isn’t just about knowing the law, its also about knowing how to play it, what strategies to use, how to negotiate with vicious, unreasonable thugs, how to track them down and trap them between different bits of legislation and that unteachable skill of sensing when they are taking you for a mug.
TROs aren’t lawyers but we have to do a lot of their work whilst standing in a mouldy, damp bedsit, having a stand up row with some knuckle dragging con man who cant read anything that doesn’t have a pound sign at the beginning.
Last year I spent an hour and half arguing with a landlord with a portfolio of 60 properties, outside of a house in Enfield, who was protesting that if the tenants didn’t pay their rent, he wouldn’t be able to pay the mortgage.
All the while standing by the side of his Bentley convertible, with not a scintilla of irony in his manner.
Until TROs become part of the regular housing enforcement landscape again, Safer Renting and it’s crew of beleaguered but stalwart apprentices will keep the embers going, a new generation of clued up practitioners.
The sooner government places a duty on local authorities to have a functioning TRO service the better.
Lets hope this recommendation makes it into the Renter’s Reform Bill
by Ben Reeve Lewis