* Names have been changed
Mohammed and Amira had only been living in their new property for a month when they were the victims of a violent illegal eviction in the height of the coronavirus pandemic. The property in question was a House in Multiple Occupation, containing around 6 or 7 other occupiers, and was managed by a family who owned a café across the street, however their legal relation to the property was unclear and never explained to the tenants. They refused to provide them with a written agreement, insisted on rent in cash, and failed to protect their deposit in a deposit protection scheme, which landlords are required to do by law within 30 days of receiving it.
Soon after moving in Mohammed and Amira lost their incomes due to the lockdown and immediately found themselves in serious financial difficulty. The couple applied for Universal Credit but when this was delayed because of a suspected error on the system, the tenants were not able to pay their rent. In response, the family refused to negotiate a later payment date and subjected them to harassment and threats of illegal eviction.
When the verbal harassment, which had been going on for around a week, failed to make the tenants abandon their home, members of the family came to the property and assaulted Amira who was there alone. At the time Mohammed had been out searching for work, having assured the family he would meet his rental obligations as soon as he’d managed to secure a new job. Amira had called the police but the officers deployed to the incident couldn’t find the entrance to the property and didn’t arrive. Due to social distancing regulations, Amira filled out a witness statement online.
Later that evening Mohammed and Amira were brutally assaulted and forced out of their home by the family and several others unknown to the tenants. Mohammed had been thrown down the stairs and beaten unconscious by the time police and paramedics arrived, sustaining injuries which required treatment in hospital. The perpetrators of the attack were arrested and taken into custody.
In the aftermath of the eviction the couple slept rough in a park for around 10 days, as none of the homeless shelters they had contacted had the capacity to take them. Mohammed had been discharged in the early hours of the next morning, and with homeless services out of hours, the couple had nowhere to go. Social distancing restrictions and fears of transmitting the virus meant that the couple’s friends in London were unable to offer them a bed but charged their phones and bought food for them while they were street homeless. Mohammed and Amira’s belongings were still in the property so a few days later they went back accompanied by police, and were let in by a man from the café. The man apparently only had keys for the front door and so the couple were not able to access their locked bedroom.
It was at this stage that the case was referred to Safer Renting. Section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 is a remedy we often use in cases of illegal eviction as it allows displaced occupants who retain their right to occupy to regain entry by breaking back in, though it is subject to certain conditions and may not be possible if, for instance, there are other tenants in there at the time. The violent nature of this eviction, however, meant that attempting to reinstate Mohammed and Amira’s tenancy was not a suitable option, so our priority turned to assisting the couple to get rehoused. Mohammed and Amira had been trying to get housing help from multiple organisations, and although a homeless agency had tried to locate them, it was difficult as they were constantly having to move. After over a week, the local authority placed the couple in temporary accommodation and now, 3 months on, the couple remain safely housed and investigations into this case are still ongoing.
By Sacha Magee