7 years of Safer Renting

by | Dec 22, 2022 | Safer Renting

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I sit 7 years in to Safer Renting’s inception, looking back like a mountain climber on how we got here and want to celebrate our past and our immanent future.

In summer 2015 Roz Spencer and myself were steering the London Borough of Lewisham’s multi agency rogue landlord taskforce, doing what it says on the tin under £125,000 of government funding. Just making sure that all enforcement teams were on the same page and targeting the same villains and addresses.

Over the 2 years of operation we were really successful. So successful that they made us redundant when the pilot funding ran out.

No hard feelings. It was Osbourne and Cameron’s austerity cuts policy that hit swathes of other councils and saw the deletion of so many Tenancy Relations Officer posts, the people who stop harassment and illegal eviction. A Job I had done since February 2nd 1990.

Roz and I knew that councils couldn’t survive without TROs. If you have nobody to sustain a tenancy then they end up in expensive temporary accommodation and the guilty go un punished.

So we went off to Cambridge House in Camberwell South London, a community settlement established in 1889, ironically and appropriately by Cambridge university law students to provide free advice and support for local people and who are still doing it in 2022.

Cambridge House helped us start Safer Renting. A Contractor TRO service, working for councils unable to employ an in house TRO but referring cases to us, paid by the hour.

Originally it was just me, Roz and Cynthia Courtenay doing everything. Getting up at 5am to raid overcrowded HMOs with environmental health under magistrates court warrants and s239 visits. Defending possession proceedings in court, breaking people back in, obtaining injunctions whilst simultaneously applying for funding, presenting our wares at conferences and talking to anyone who would listen.

Seven years in we provide a TRO service for the London boroughs of Hounslow, Enfield, Havering, Waltham Forest, Westminster, Lambeth, Richmond and Wandsworth, Haringey, Ealing and employ a team of 10 TROs servicing all the contracts.

We’ve also benefitted from a range of charitable funders who got what we were about and  backed us from the start, including Trust for London, London Housing Foundation, Tudor Trust and Comic Relief.

Forward into 2023.

Ealing is our latest signing as a TRO contract but we have also been given significant funding by the Oak Foundation, which has allowed us to employ Molly, our excellent projects manager to develop a range of services not directly related to TRO work.

This funding is also enabling us to pilot a third party litigation fund, which will enable is to pursue landlords for illegal eviction when the tenant isn’t eligible for legal aid. Our aim with this pilot is to model it out and attract more funding to help even more people get justice.

The good people at Urban Impact Health have also given us funding to create programmes to reach out to marginalized renter communities who don’t traditionally approach a local authority for help. Early signs are quite interesting. We always prided ourselves that we worked with the most desperate renters but are starting to understand that there is a sub strata of renters below the most immediate, an eye opener even for us.

The Urban Health funding is also allowing us to create an academic project with Dr Jill Stewart of Middlesex University, Dr Matt Egan from the School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and academic housing rock star Dr Julie Rugg of York university to monitor the health effects of people living in the worst PRS properties under the worst landlords.

So 2023 will see us rolling out more TRO services but also developing into a research body specializing in how criminals exploit the private rented sector. Something that I promise you…..is not a niche. It’s huge but few know about it or want to acknowledge it, including the massive impact the criminal market is having on the monetization of homelessness.

Safer Renting lives in that space.

And finally thanks to our fantastic, committed TRO/casework crew who astonish me every day. with their bravery. often doorstepping illegal evictions in progress and fronting down thugs on their own with no backup. Juke, Hannah, Kaush, Maria, David, Travers, Alice, Joey, Alastair, Patrick.

Oak Foundation funding is allowing us to put Kaush through the SQE programme to turn her law degree into a solicitor’s qualification. We’ve got 2 graduating barristers on the team and a bunch of generally fearless advocates.

I read a management maxim about employing good people and let them do their job.

In Safer Renting terms, we employ good people, point them at the enemy and duck.

Our crew need no motivation whatsoever. Its not just a job to them.

In 2020 we started to record results on negotiating out of court settlements, which now, alongside RROs goes over £400,000 in money obtained for our clients. Just last week Hannah got £29,000 for a tenant.

Its been 7 years now and at the end of each year we never imagined that we would end up where we did.

2023 is upon us. I wonder, as I sit In my pajamas with a Jack Daniels  and a smug smile on my face, where we will be 12 months from now? Its an adventure and a half

Where indeed.

 By Ben Reeve Lewis

About Cambridge House Safer Renting

The Cambridge House Safer Renting team present the ‘go-to’ blog on the world of the Shadow Private Rented Sector.

We monitor the world of rogue landlord and agent activity, publicise developments, circulate innovative ideas, keep readers abreast of changes in laws and regulations, raising awareness of criminal trends and scams, celebrate successful actions and interview people working in the field, connecting up anyone involved, from tenants and their advisers, to enforcement officers, lawyers and journalists.

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