Whilst everyone rightly condemns illegal eviction I thought I would take the opportunity to give you a forensic look at how these things work in practice, the problems faced in the real world, beyond braying voices from all sides, about the various laws and provisions available to protect tenants.
What I am about to tell you also explains the mindset of criminal operators and the loopholes they exploit to do what they do..
Jenny and her husband Paul were renting a 1 bed flat that for two years they have enjoyed exclusive possession of.
Trouble starts, when the landlord gives them a “Lodger agreement”, which is a sham arrangement because the landlord doesn’t live there. Jenny and Paul don’t know housing law so they have no problem with the contract. At least they have something in writing, even though it is not worth the paper its written on.
Two months ago the landlord tells them they have to leave on the 18th Sept because he is selling the property and needs them gone.
When they protest he arrives with a gang of men and forces his way into the property and occupies the living room, where they drink, socialise and intimidate Jenny and Paul who call the police.
The attending officers side with the landlord and tell Jenny and Paul that they have no rights because they are lodgers, according to the contract.
Jenny has recently had major abdominal surgery, leaving her mobility seriously restricted. She has trouble walking and cannot climb stairs.
The council have visited and brought to the landlord’s attention that the landlord doesn’t have a property licence. Attending enforcement officers remind him of his obligations to Jenny and Paul but he doesn’t care and insists they need to be gone by the 18th Sept to facilitate the sale.
Safer Renting’s case worker Molly calls the landlord to have a similar conversation and warn him off of an illegal eviction. He makes his opinions known in blunt terms and refuses to negotiate any further.
Jenny and Paul are friends with a retired lawyer who puts in an application for an injunction to prevent the illegal eviction planned for the 18th Sept but the courts, in their current chaos, ignore the ex-parte application and list a hearing for the 25th Sept, a week after the illegal eviction is due to take place.
Deprived of an injunction that might prevent the illegal eviction, Jenny makes the best of a bad job and goes to the property to give the notice of hearing to the landlord. We have mobile phone footage of him taking it from her, throwing it on the floor and wiping his feet on it.
We warn the council that an impending illegal eviction is coming their way, so they can put emergency measures in place.
Molly calls the police on the morning of the eviction and explains the legal problems to a helpful officer who says she will make sure that any attending officers called will know what to do.
The illegal eviction goes ahead, police officers attend and again side with the landlord.
Things get too much and Jenny breaks down and says she is going to kill herself and is admitted to hospital as a result.
This is now 6pm on Friday evening. We try to find the emergency out of hours number for the council’s homelessness unit so they can provide temporary accommodation until Monday when we can get back on the case but its buried so deep in their website nobody can find it.
The hospital are asking what we can do, we call Paul whose only choice is to book a hotel for the weekend, money he doesn’t really have but the alternative is sleeping on a park bench, with Jenny recovering from major abdominal surgery.
So despite engaging in conversation with the police the information doesn’t filter down to attending officers who just support the landlord because he is the property owner and ownership of land trumps everyone else’s right yeah?
The council’s emergency service contact numbers on their website are hidden to all but experienced hackers.
The landlord is now occupying property he doesn’t have a legal right to be in and Jenny and Paul are using their last available cash to stay in a hotel.
Rent Repayment Orders?, PFEA prosecutions? Civil damages? Oh yeah. we aren’t letting this one go but results on this are months away and Jenny and Paul’s immediate concerns are simply where they are going to be sleeping on Monday.
We will be witnesses on the injunction hearing next Friday but the application is based on the landlord not entering property and not evicting the tenants but this has already happened, so the injunction should really be about re-instatement, which it isnt.
Will the judge on the day merely dismiss the application because it doesn’t fit current events on the day, or will they adjust the proceedings to suit?
We don’t know because we aren’t there yet and district judges are an unpredictable factor.
As the landlord wiped his feet on the notice of hearing will he even turn up? And if he doesn’t, will the DJ adjourn and give him a second chance?
Who knows until Friday?
The retired solicitor friend who kick started the injunction has done great work but he isn’t covered for litigation anymore. Wouldn’t it be great to have a legal aid lawyer on the case? Absolutely but can you find one with capacity to act in such emergencies>? Absolutely not and believe me, we know loads.
So you have the Protection from Eviction Act, breach of covenant for quiet enjoyment, s175 (2) d: Housing At 1996, duty on a local authority to accept a homeless application where a person has accommodation but cant secure entry to it but none of it counts for jack shit in real life land because of everything I’ve said above doesn’t work and at the bottom of all this bollocks is Jenny and Paul, two human beings who don’t know where to turn.
At some point tonight (Its 7pm as I write) Jenny is going to be discharged with tranquilizers and Paul is going to have to find a Travelodge for 2 days, not knowing who will help them out on Monday or where they will be staying.
Meanwhile the landlord gets everything his way, supported by the police and we cant procure temporary accommodation for Jenny and Paul because finding the out of hours number on the council’s website requires IT skills we don’t have.
If I sound angry and frustrated, its because I am. As is Molly, the caseworker doing most of the donkey work in the past week.
Forget the landlord community carping on about local authority enforcement “Having the tools” this is what dealing with illegal evictions is really like folks. We have around 60 live cases at the moment where we are constantly facing the same challenges
by Ben Reeve Lewis