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Ben Reeve-Lewis’s Friday Newsround #6

Ben Reeve Lewis(Our investigative reporter Ben Reeve Lewis tries to find some housing news to delight you this Friday morning – Ed)

Just as over the last few weeks it was difficult to find housing news not buried under a pile of union jacks, this week it has been difficult to find anything beneath the pile of stars and stripes fluttering in the breeze and the contradictory mixture of jubilation at the death of Bin Laden and trepidation at the prospect of revenge attacks we have all been set up for, by US Navy Seals (How do they train them to hold guns in their flippers? We live in strange times).

Bin LadenIs he dead or isn’t he? The fact is, both my co TRO Sean and my Mate Jermaine’s dad, look exactly like Osama Bin Laden. Maybe it is genuinely a case of mistaken identity and the erstwhile head of Al Qaeda is actually now giving housing advice in South London, sitting not 6 feet away from me.

HMO Landlords take not

I did manage to find a cautionary warning of 2 landlords in Leeds who have been fined for breaching HMO Licensing regulations.

Khalid Mohammed and Brian Davidson were fined £5,000 each plus nearly £2,000 costs each. This came not longer after a Portsmouth HMO landlord was fined £11,500 for licensing breaches and £4,500 for not having any gas safe certificates.

You see? Rogue landlords do get dealt with occasionally.

Thinking outside the boxThinking outside the box

The weirdest story that came my way, via a reader on this site was the marvelous tale in Kent local newspaper, of a landlord Chanjit Lehd, who chucked all of his tenant’s belongings out on the street. Not unusual in itself, I deal with several cases like this every month but what is unusual is Medway’s method of tackling the problem.

They didn’t use the Protection from Eviction Act for harassment and illegal eviction, nor any civil housing remedy, the Police just did him for fly-tipping and fined him £350. Now that is thinking outside the box.

The wheel turns.

Finance and investments

I have an accountant who is also a tax consultant. I meet with him twice a year and nod politely for the hour I am with him, trying to convey the image that like him, I am shrewd and business-like but in truth most of the time I have no idea what he is talking about. To be honest I can’t even understand my bank statements.

CountrysideOne thing I do recall him telling me a year or so ago was that smart people were pulling out of pensions and investing in agricultural and industrial land because there was massive tax relief on both sale and purchase. Wise farmers too were apparently downsizing to break the supermarket’s grip and selling off a few acres here and there to take advantage of the tax breaks, whilst covering their losses by growing stupidly expensive organic parsnips for the farmer’s market on what land they had left. [Fresh parsnips are pretty nice though – Ed]

However I just heard on the BBC that independent housing ‘Expert’, Henry Pryor (who he?) claims that increasing numbers of retirees, divorcees and returning ex-pats are paying cash and buying into properties to rent, the idea apparently being that bricks and mortar is still seen as a safe investment in a volatile market. So the old maxim, ‘Safe as Houses’ still seems to hold true.

Grant ShappsShapps again

Meanwhile, in the world of ill thought out – ‘Bung the new legislation in there’ philosophy:

Back in January Grant Shapps announced plans to search for a new ‘Fast Track’ eviction route where tenants have been guilty of anti-social behaviour. The government is currently working with the Ministry of Justice to see how the eviction process can be speeded up.

With this in mind, I read of a difficult situation for Irwell Housing Association yesterday for a drug addicted tenant they had who had repeatedly lit dangerous fires in the back garden on a number of occasions and littered the property with discarded needles.

Possession was granted to Irwell on the 28th February but the tenant failed to move when the standard 28 day period expired so the landlords went back for a warrant. When they finally got in, several weeks later, they found that the floorboards, copper piping, radiators and the boiler had been ripped out. Presumably to be sold or just as likely pawned in Cash Converters, presumably where the rads and floorboards now sit in the front window next to the electric guitars and karaoke machines.

Irwell’s neighbourhood manager Michael Sinnott said: “The process is so slow that we knew once we started that we were going to get additional problems, in terms of the deterioration of the person, deterioration of the property.

“I would like the whole process just to be speeded up when you’ve got clear anti-social behaviour, you’ve got a clear blight on the community.

For my part, although I sympathise with Irwell on this one, and any landlord with problem tenants, I don’t see overall how eviction times can be shortened, particularly given the closure of many county courts and the subsequent doubling up by other courts, not to mention the entire basis of the justice system where a person has a right to defend themselves against the claims of others. Shelter say the same thing.

Kay Boycott, its director of campaigns, said that removing courts’ discretionary powers was a “blunt tool to deal with a complicated problem”. [We had a post about that a while back here – Ed]

Rebalancing the lawAnd in relation to the above, Landlord Action also have a campaign to shorten eviction times called, Rebalancing the Law, backed by Mike Weatherley, MP for Hove and Portslade, (Incidentally I have been told by a friend in Hove that locals call it ‘Hove Actually’ to correct people who accuse them of living in Brighton) to shorten eviction times for landlords, so maybe the populist revolt is gathering moss.

I hadn’t heard of Mr Weatherley until this connection so I checked out his website. The home page isn’t, as you would expect, awash with views on the AV vote or the possible death of Bin Laden/housing adviser/My Mate’s dad, or even the Landlord Action campaign, but is dominated by pronouncements about his love for Prog Rock, particularly Jethro Tull, Rush and Deep Purple.  [I think Mike Weatherley is the MP supporting Susie Butler, the ‘landlord in a tent‘ – Ed]

There is even a large photo of him outside the houses of parliament with some gatefold sleeve album covers, straight out of the 1970s. It reminded me of Virginia Bottomley’s painfully awkward pronouncements to be a Chelsea fanatic in order to make herself look like a woman of the people. Even though I know she would have never joined in with the singing of the notoriously disgusting chant “Celery”…….(Ask a Chelsea mate to explain it to you)

Much preferred by me was David Mellor’s Chelsea strip sex romp…….That’s the kind of guy I would vote for, AV or not.

Photo credits: Bin laden paper by Rommy Ghully , thinking outside the box by Shaelish, rebalancing the law petition from the Landlord Action blog

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6 Responses to Ben Reeve-Lewis’s Friday Newsround #6

  1. Great article

    I really hope that Mike Weatherley knows the difference between squatters and tenants. I can’t cope with the Suzy Butler/ITV ‘I’m living in a tent because my squatter won’t leave’ saga again

  2. I cant believe that woman is still protesting her innocence. Or has she finally accepted that she was wrong in law but is still in favour of shortening eviction times?

    Definately gonna follow Mike Weatherley in future though. He seems more interested in prog than politics. I wonder if he has an original copy of Rick Wakeman’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth.

  3. I have just had a look on the Landlord Action website. I’m confused as to which campaign the ‘Rebalancing the Law’ is, because there seems to be one to criminalise squatting and one to ‘speed up’ the tenant eviction process

    Mike Weatherley appears to be involved in both

    I hadn’t heard of Rick Wakeman but I hear from a colleague he’s a prog rocker from the 70s so it sounds up Mike’s street!

  4. Rebalancing the law is definitely their shortening eviction time campaign. The want to bring it in line with eviction times for squatters.

    Landlord action are obviously going to run stuff that keeps their paying clientele ( landlords) happy, the same way that Shelter will always champion tenants, come what may, as that is their remit. As ever the truth is in the middle.

    There are rogue landlords and rogue tenants and great landlords/ great tenants.

    In my job I will work overtime to help the decent parties understand each other and have no time for the rogues of either camp.

    The squatting issue also says it all for both Mike and landlord action. It feeds off the myth that you can’t go on holiday without some dreadlocked, skunk smoking crusty moving in when in reality squatters generally occupy derelict, defunct properties, often for many years.

    I am told that in the Mega City squat in London, which has been around for as long as I can remember and they have codes of conduct where you can’t sign on and live there, you have to be self supporting.

  5. The campaign brief seems to be:

    We are campaigning to…

    1. Seek changes to the law to speed up the eviction process
    2. Improve landlords’ rights of access
    3. Ensure that any closures of UK County Courts does not negatively affect landlords.

    Does anyone have any idea what number 2 means? Landlords already have a right of access to inspect for repairs/carry out repairs. Does it mean to make it easier if the tenant refuses access for essential repairs?



About the post author:

Ben Reeve-Lewis

Ben is an enforcement officer for a London Local Authority, a housing law trainer, an author on housing law who writes for the Guardian & occasionally pops up wittering away on TV. He also runs Easy Law Training with Tessa & Graeme. Occasionally he sleeps. Find him on Google, and Journalisted. Any opinions expressed are Ben's personal views & don't reflect those of any organisations he may refer to.

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Tessa is an English lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law.

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