I’m reading more and more comments on social media these days about councils employing Tenancy Relations Officers to prosecute landlords for harassment and illegal eviction.
As probably Britain’s longest serving TRO at 30 years and one who was made redundant in the last big round of austerity cuts in 2015 which caused myself and Roz Spencer to found Safer Renting, I have, as you might imagine, quite firm views on this subject.
A little useful history.
Back in 1990 when I started, when TRO land was dominated by the likes of Tuffy Turner, Arnold Moran and Ray Bolger, TROs generally only did PFEA prosecutions. They mostly didn’t advise tenants and they didn’t negotiate much.
To be honest, they didn’t have to. Councils had housing advice teams for that sort of thing and if they couldn’t talk a landlord out of illegally evicting their tenant, it got referred to the TRO who did all the legal stuff, the interviews under caution, wrote up the witness statements and served the summonses.
Around this same time it was the political strategy of far left groups like SWP and Militant to get their members into such frontline services, along with homelessness work. This gave rise to the odd experience of my first ATRO meeting at Camden Town Hall, where half the attendees sat around the boardroom table wearing three piece suits while the other half sat opposite, sporting pink Mohicans and “Troops Out” T shirts, with the intention of blowing the dust off of what gave the impression of being and old-boy’s cabal and turn TROs into housing activists.
Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, I’ve never lost that outlook on the job (although the Mohican has fallen out) and I’ve seen the role of the TRO change in many ways as a result of that mini, frontline services revolution of the rave years.
In actual fact, TROs were never very large in number. Something in the back of mind tells me that in 1990, ATRO only had 105 members. TRO is always best understood as a function rather than a specific job title.
Working as TRO for the London Borough of Lewisham, in 2009 they gave us the mortgage rescue scheme to deal with on top of PFEA work and re-designated us as “Specialist Housing Rights Advisers” and what I learnt from that episode of housing history, is that if you think rogue landlords are bad, try stopping Barclays or Santander from repossessing people’s homes. The skullduggery was unbelievable.
In areas like Herefordshire or Devon I doubt it makes much sense to have a dedicated officer for the odd case now and again but in the cities and bigger towns, who see much more PFEA style traffic, they have always been pretty essential.
With what I have seen of the changes in the way rogue and criminal landlords go about their business over the past 10 years and the additional powers that local authorities have been given to tackle the problem during the past 5 years or so, I would like to re-write the job description of the TRO of 2020 for any local authorities thinking of going down the road of re-employing the people made redundant.
Aims of the post:
· To disrupt the activities of criminal landlords and agents.
· To work in a multi agency setting to drive criminal landlords and agents out of business.
· To work actively with tenants to seek redress.
· Investigating allegations of harassment and illegal eviction.
· Carry out prosecutions under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977.
· Undertake investigations to uncover fraud, aliases and connections between chain’s of companies involved in the letting of property.
· Assist illegally evicted renters with injunctions for re-entry to their homes.
· Work in partnership with solicitors and law centres to seek civil damages for disrepair, breach of covenant for quiet enjoyment.
· Assist renters with defences and counterclaims to possession proceedings.
· Help renters obtain awards for Rent Repayment Orders.
· Assist tenants with applications for deposit protection penalties.
· Work alongside the homelessness unit, using housing advocacy to prevent homelessness.
· Participate in multi-agency enforcement actions to protect renters from illegal eviction.
· Serve injunctions and summonses.
· Work alongside trading standards officers in the pursuit of criminal letting agents.
That’s what the modern TRO job description should look like.
The old guard of TROs I met in 1990, pretty much saw their job as being akin to a solicitor. To address the problems of private renting in this day and age, a TRO needs to be part lawyer, part policeman, part private detective, part fraud investigator and part housing activist.
If local authorities use my suggestions as a template for a future job description, your TRO will be well placed to really tackle the criminal use of the PRS but you have to first accept that the aims of your service should be on disruption and driving out of business of criminal landlords and agents, without having to apologise to the conventional landlord community for your robust approach with the politically limp excuse so often trotted out by councilors in press releases, that you prefer to work with your landlords.
Then zealously adopt a multi-agency approach
A job description like that would really deliver.
Hell……I might even put in for it myself! If Safer Renting werent doing the business in exactly this way right now.
By Ben Reeve Lewis