I put finger to keyboard today in a mood of frustration. Let me explain.
Safer Renting deal with more illegal evictions in a single month than most TROs do in a year . Not because of any diligence or skills on our part but simply because we provide TRO services for 13 London boroughs. At any one time our crew are dealing with around 250-300 live cases.
The police are called in by tenants facing severe harassment and illegal eviction on a regular basis and it is the common complaint of housing advice types the length and breadth of the UK that when called to an incident to protect the tenant the police either:-
· Refuse to attend, saying landlord and tenant disputes are civil matters.
· Attend but do nothing at all to protect the tenant, based on the above presumption.
· Tell the tenant that they have no rights and have to leave.
· Actually assist the landlord with the illegal eviction.
Cases where the police help the tenant are rare enough to cause an audible gasp in the Safer Renting office.
I started as a TRO during the Albigensian Crusade….ok 32 years ago but it often seems longer.
The problem was the same back in those white glove rave years of the 90s as it is now. It’s not gotten worse and its not got better.
Down the years I have variously:-
· Carried out regular training for probationary police.
· Produced info cards on illegal eviction they can carry in their pocket books.
· Trained groups of inspectors so the information trickled down through their teams.
· Trained large groups of new officers in bulk.
· Trained new officers in Lewisham borough every 6 weeks
· Devised an online training course that so far ahs been completed by around 8,000 Met Police officers.
· Produced Met Police badged letters for tenants to hand to attending police officers.
You always get an early encouraging spike in behavioral changes but ultimately nothing really dents them.
Despite years and years of banging my head against a brick wall nothing shifts their core belief that disputes between landlord and tenant are civil matters and therefore nothing to do with them.
A 65 year old man returns from holiday and finds his locks changed. He goes to the offices of the agent where he is punched twice in the face and had a finger pointed at him in a gun shape. He complains at the local police station and is told it’s a civil matter.
A woman is assaulted during an illegal eviction. She is taken to hospital in an ambulance while the police are in attendance. When I ask for their report, they didn’t even mention the incident.
Interviewing a landlord in my office who threatened to burn the house down if we forced her to have her tenant back. Police called because of death threat and the attending sergeant says to tenant “Look love, your landlord told you to leave. Why don’t you just leave?”
And how about this. I was presenting to a landlord’s forum in Folkestone and a landlord told me afterwards that her door had been attacked by a drunken ex tenant with a chainsaw while she was watching TV with her terrified kids. She called police who said “Landlord tenant? Civil matter”.
Since when has someone dismantling your door with a chainsaw or being punched in the face by a letting agent been relegated to a civil matter just because of the legal relationship between the protagonists?
Having tried and failed, for 32 years to make a difference, I decided this year that the only way forward is to prosecute the police and hooked up with a solicitor who specializes in such cases. The logic being, if we can publicly embarrass them 3 or 4 times they might clean up their act.
The breaches have to fit the intended ECHR legislation, the tenant/complainant has to be eligible for legal aid And (this is where it is breaking down) The aggrieved tenant has to be prepared to go beyond their initial anger and take on the police in a court of law.
That is a big ask.
Illegally evicted tenants are understandably angry and even more so when their landlord has been backed by the very police force they turn to for protection but writing witness statements, being cross examined in court maybe even being featured in the press and on TV is usually a million miles from where they want to take it. They aren’t housing activists, they are just families or single people in HMOs just trying to live their life and see a bit of justice.
Prosecuting the police is asking a lot of people, even when they are covered by legal aid.
So where does this leave us?
Talking on the police is no small matter. Its a massive undertaking that will probably take years and the police will employ their expensive legal team to drag matters out, hoping that a war of attrition will destroy the case against them.
OK the tenant’s legal team do all of the heavy lifting but its all done in the tenant’s name, who just want to get on with their lives.
Are the police then impervious to such prosecutions? At the moment, in my jaded state I fear so. I might feel more encouraged tomorrow but if you cant train them into doing the right thing and you cant prosecute them when they do the wrong thing what the hell do you do.
How do you solve a problem like this? Theoretically they are subject to the same laws as anyone but in practice they are beyond the law.
How about CPNs for the police? just thinking out loud
By Ben Reeve Lewis