*All names have been changed.
Sam moved into his new property to find it had severe issues of disrepair and was non-compliant with basic safety requirements, with issues ranging from a lack of functioning fire alarm system to rodent and insect infestations to low water pressure and no working lights. On one occasion, the bathroom ceiling partially collapsed while Sam had been in there, but luckily he hadn’t been hurt.
The house Sam was living in had been converted into two flats: one upstairs and one downstairs. Sam lived downstairs in a House in Multiple Occupation with 2 or 3 other residents who he didn’t know. The lettings agency would regularly let themselves into the property without notice, sometimes to collect the rent which Sam had been instructed to leave in cash in the kitchen for collection every 2 weeks.
When procuring the property Sam had only had communication with the lettings agency – there was no word of who the landlord was – and so he voiced his concerns about the condition of the property to Jonathan, his point of contact at the agency.
The relevant legislation covering conditions in rented properties has recently been updated with the introduction of the Homes (Fitness for Human Habitation) Act 2018, which came into force for all tenancies in March of this year. Under this act, landlords now have an increased responsibility to ensure that properties meet safety standards for living during tenancies beyond the statutory repair obligations established by the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985.
In Sam’s case, the agency dismissed his safety concerns about the poor conditions and state of disrepair, which led him to withhold his rent in an effort to induce the person responsible to take action.
While there are protections in the law for ‘Retaliatory Eviction’ under the Deregulation Act 2015, tenants can only use this defence if their landlords go down the Section 21 route, and the local authority needs to have served an Improvement Notice or an Emergency Remedial Action Notice on the landlord, meaning an Environmental Health officer must have visited the residence and deemed the disrepair issues to be severe enough to warrant one of these notices.
Where criminal landlords are concerned, stronger enforcement against offending landlords is what’s needed to protect their tenants from the risk of illegal eviction: Sam wasn’t given a Section 21 notice when he complained, but was instead issued with threats of illegal eviction, physical violence and threats to his personal property by the agent.
Following the threats that he had made Jonathan unsuccessfully attempted to break into Sam’s bedroom, failing only because the door had been locked from the inside. A few days later the illegal eviction was carried out by men from the agency who returned armed with a crowbar to break down Sam’s door. They physically removed him from the property along with his personal belongings and bundled him into the back of a van where he was taken around the corner and released onto the street.
When Safer Renting was informed of this incident, we advised Sam to call the police and ensure to get an incident reference number. On the call the police told him there was nothing they could do for him.
Following the eviction Sam was able to stay with a friend and we explained that he could present at the homeless unit for emergency housing assistance. Knowing that he’d paid a deposit which was likely still being held by the agency, we made efforts to track down the agency – whose name Sam didn’t know or have a record of – in an attempt to at least recover this money back for him, but Sam had decided to leave the UK before any claim could be progressed.
Sam’s experience illustrates the reality that illegal eviction has devastating and long-lasting effects on victims, impacting their personal safety, sense of security and mental health. If we are to see change in the private rented sector there needs to be stronger intervention and enforcement to protect vulnerable tenants at risk of this crime.
By Safer Renting caseworker Sacha Magee