Periodically I get emails or twitter messages out of the blue, from people asking if any jobs are going at Safer Renting, from people with a keen interest in getting involved in the fight against rogue landlords and protecting renters from a variety of thugs, bullies, conmen and general liars.
For those people, or anyone else thinking of doing this for a living I thought, being Friday morning, I would report on our week, a typical working week for Safer Renting caseworkers.
First off the bat we picked up Lisa (not real name). She was renting property and was running into covid related arrears. She approached her landlords who advised her that she would need to leave and offered to provide alternative accommodation if she paid another deposit.
Two men arrived, Lisa packed her suitcases and went to the car park next door to the property to await relocation to her new accommodation but the two men changed the locks and drove off.
Lisa went to the local police, who referred her to the local authority, who referred her to us.
Both the council and our caseworkers tried contacting the landlords by email and phone but nobody was responding.
We checked the address for the landlord provided on her tenancy agreement and ascertained that it had not been their genuine address since 2009. They were effectively, completely off the radar, so unable to verify any other than the fact she had an extant tenancy and the locks had been changed without due process, we called the ever reliable Richard, our contract locksmith.
Our caseworker went to the property, met tenant and Richard who exercised rights under s6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 and changed the locks back, allowing her to re-occupy. All of this happening under watchful eye of presumably friends of the landlord who were filming activities with their phone.
We wrote warning letter to landlords and sent to what address we had that might actually be them. Nothing happened for a couple of days but then landlord’s turned up again, this time with a new renter to view the property, surprised to find Lisa back in.
We now have their undivided attention.
They are as usual proclaiming themselves to be the victims and making counter allegations but have so far failed to address why they drove off and left her with her suitcases and why they put a fake address on her tenancy agreement.
Lisa still in occupation, landlords circling but probably too tight to pay for legal advice. A Mexican stand-off at the moment.
Then we get Grace (not real name) renting a flat above a shop. Grace is sitting watching TV when smoke starts coming up from the shop below. She calls fire brigade who attend and discover a cannabis farm in the shop. All utilities are disconnected, particularly the gas for obvious reasons.
She originally rented from one landlord who told her two months ago that she had to move to this property which belonged to a friend of his. Despite the inconvenience she complied and this is a big inconvenience because Grace is also the carer for her grown up son who lives local, the new flat being a bit further away from his.
She began paying the new landlord, thus creating a new tenancy but she keeps getting phone calls from her old landlord telling her she has to leave.
The new landlord says his friend shafted him and he was only supposed to house Grace temporarily. He is denying having any contractual relationship with her and refuses to fix the supplies, which is genuinely a problem as he neither owns nor is responsible for the shop below where the disrepair originates.
Here’s the rub. Grace pays the utility bills for her flat, a staggering £1,300. Turns out the utility meters for her flat are in the shop, there is no separate supply for her accommodation, so to rub salt into the wound, she has unwittingly been paying the bills to run the cannabis farm.
The fire brigade says the property is not safe to reconnect to utilities, although her own flat is safe enough. Grace has been on the council housing waiting list for years and has got so close to being signed up that she has been putting in bids and even been to one viewing. She is within a whisker of escaping the clutches of the PRS and being secure for life.
The homelessness unit have offered to provide temporary accommodation until the utilities are made safe and reconnected but she has a cat and they wont accommodate and they have confirmed that if she takes up the offer of temporary accommodation, due to an inflexible part of the regulations, she wont be allowed to bid for council property, so she is quite rightly refusing but this means she is living with no utilities.
The case is ongoing.
Then we get Sonia (not real name) A joint tenant renting with a friend. The friend moves out leaving Sonia in a position where she cant afford the full rent she is obliged to pay. A serious enough problem on it’s own but coupled with this, unbeknown to her, the landlord has sold the property to a family expecting to move in this weekend.
Either the outgoing landlord or the incoming one has changed the locks. We haven’t found out who yet because as usual, nobody is answering their phones, because they know that people like us will be calling, so as with Lisa, we cant verify information. Maybe another call for Richard but you cant use s6 if there is someone in the property opposed to the force being used to re-secure it.
As we are a bit blind on this at the moment, we’re reluctant to use a locksmith because to get s6 wrong is to commit a criminal offence.
Then we have 4 men in a shared house HMO being told they have to leave because the landlord has put the property up for sale. He has served a s21 notice but its wholly invalid on just about every level it is possible to be and regardless of that, he is expecting them all to move out straight away.
Property is in really poor state of disrepair, we have the photos and the council are serving a CPN on him today but as with so many of these chancers he has not responded to any emails or letters, other than to tersely say he is selling, as if this is the magic incantation that excuses every other consideration.
Occupants have been there for years, 11 years in one case and not a single written tenancy agreement between them.
Land registry reveals 2 charges in favour of the local authority but we don’t yet know what for. Failure to licence CPN? Council tax debt? Who knows but clearly the landlord is well known to the authority. I dare say we shall find out how quite shortly as caseworker visiting with EHO this morning.
Those are our 4 brand new cases, we often get more on Friday afternoon as landlords will attempt eviction at a time when they think nobody will be around to stop it and these new ones are on top of the numerous short ones that come in each week, such as landlord threatening to evict, we call them up and threaten them back, problem solved.
Or the ongoing issues with other existing cases. I think we have a couple of Deposit Protection Penalty court cases in the pipeline, around 7 RRO applications at various stages of completion, chasing up third party debt orders on previous RRO awards where the respondents have failed to pay.
The past month has seen the departure of 2 caseworkers for pastures new and the beginning for 3 new ones, learning on the job in all of the above cases and with those they inherited from their departing colleagues, dealing with emotional tenants, abusive landlords, fiendishly complex housing law, unhelpful homelessness regulations and coming straight from university to go face to face with human misery, greed and thuggish behaviour.
One of which is a prosecution case of a resident landlord who stands outside of his lodger’s bedroom at 3am creepily calling her name. Luckily we have phone camera footage as evidence.
Really just a bog standard week on the coalface.
post script. 10:15am a fifth new case as predicted
By Ben Reeve Lewis