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Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #49

[Ben ReeveBen on a chair Lewis is (mostly) pleasantly surprised this week ..]

Its been a week of surprises:

Arsenal winning 5:2 after a disastrous few weeks and even managing to beat Milan on the night, which compared to the embarrassing performance in Milan itself was nothing short of a miracle.

I was pleasantly surprised in the form of a tax rebate that I was expecting to be £50 which turned out to be £882.

Further surprised by a power cut on Sunday when the roast was halfway through cooking. The bin ate well that day and just this morning surprised and momentarily terrified for the umpteenth time by encountering one of Frazzy’s numerous hairpieces tucked away in my sock drawer. Like discovering a head in a Hitchcock movie.

Black women will do this. She has so many different ones I often don’t recognise her for a minute. She drops me off at work with a long straight ponytail and when I come home its some weird afro concoction, as if her ponytail has exploded.

Quite a few surprises in housing land this week too.

Human rights threat to section 21 evictions

First out of the gate was an announcement on Nearly Legal, a short piece about a county court decision of Khela v Dainter  which has been given leave to apply to the court of appeal for a fuller hearing of the facts.

Without getting too technical it basically relates to a human rights defence against a Section 21 claim for possession. Regular readers will know that Section 21 is the standard route for gaining possession against assured shorthold tenants whose fixed term has run out. There is no defence to proceedings brought following a section 21.

Article 8.2 of the ECHR prohibits a public body from interfering with a persons home or family life but you may say neither Khela not Dainter are public bodies surely? That’s right, but the courts are, and following a decision in a case called Manchester v Pinnock that was big news in legal circles last year courts have to consider whether evicting someone without them being able to mount a defence is a proportionate solution.

Again without getting too technical, proportionality looks at whether it is reasonable and just to evict without the resident being able to mount a defence.

Not only the decision surprised me but also how few people seemed to catch onto the story or it’s ramifications. I don’t want to scare monger and we are all a long way from final decisions but hovering in the background is the concept that if private tenants can argue that Section 21 claims are a breach of their human rights what will happen to the cases when they go into court? How would a landlord then get rid of AST tenants?

Even in a worst case scenario it doesn’t mean that all Section 21 claims will be voided but it is worth following this case closely.

Green partyThe Green Party get real on housing myths

My favourite article of the week was on the Guardian Housing Network, authored by Green Party member of the London Assembly, Jenny Jones  who exploded 10 common renting myths currently doing the rounds.

It certainly chimed with me, both as a tenant myself and someone who hears the complaints and views of countless tenants throughout my working week.
I cant go into all of them but the 2 that caught my eye were # 1, ‘people choose to rent privately’. Well done Jenny for exposing this piece of nonsense when she says;

“research suggests that many more people might prefer to rent if the sector guaranteed a decent home, security and stability, and freedom to change and improve their home, the guarantees that social tenants and home owners enjoy”.

Nobody in their right mind would freely choose to rent privately. If a person cant afford to buy and doesn’t qualify for social housing then renting privately is inevitable so where is the choice in that? Mind you, if the Khela case sets a precedent, maybe the human rights article on Section 21s might just provide the security of tenure that so many tenants want. How would a landlord evict a tenant if they cant use a mandatory ground and there are no arrears or tenancy breach?

And secondly #6 ‘Landlords don’t want tenancy reform’. I am in contact with many landlords, both in person and online and this is far from true, particularly when it comes to regulating letting agents.

HB tenants more lucrative than working tenants?

Nice surprise (although not as nice as my tax rebate) this week came from John Paul of Castledene Property Management who is about to begin writing a series of articles for Property 118 on how he finds renting to tenants on housing benefit more lucrative than renting to working tenants.

This weeks article is just a taster but I look forward to the ones to come and I’m encouraged when he says:

“I have personally built a successful portfolio by letting to LHA Tenants and the profits and cash flow exceed those I could have achieved with working tenants. In some areas rents are as much as 30% higher than market rents in the private rented sector”.

There has been enough demonisation of benefit tenants and we need voices like John’s to encourage others to work with LHA claimants.

Legal aidWorrying legal aid amendments

Finally this week, despite some nice surprises I end on a worrying note. As some of you may know there are many cuts to the legal aid budgets being discussed. The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishing of Offenders (LASPO) Bill, has been slowly working its way through parliament and some very serious housing amendments are being discussed this week. At the time of writing I don’t know the result but have my finger’s crossed.

You can read about it in more detail on the LAG website but in a nutshell, if the bill goes through without alteration then neither a tenant nor a mortgage borrower in difficulty will be able to get legal aid to help defend their case if there are benefits issue involved.

Rent and mortgage arrears often accrue because the person is on benefits of one kind or another. Most times they can successfully be defended by either lawyers or lay people like myself. However lawyers need funding as do many of the people who operate the numerous county court desks and organisations who do great work like the Community Law Advice service.

There are many other scandalous cuts to legal aid going through but this is a housing website so I can only report on that aspect of it.

A landlord can accuse a tenant of being in arrears but the tenant has the right to defend themselves against the accusation. Courts can be intimidating places to speak if you aren’t used to it and the millions of tiny court rules and points of law are beyond most people.

If they cant get representation what will happen? As with so many government cuts they just push the problem around. Look at it logically. A person loses their home because they couldn’t get help to defend it. Where do they then go? To the homelessness unit, so their bill goes up to compensate.

Also, if people lose their homes through rent or mortgage arrears it raises the spectre of intentional homelessness. If a person is found intentional by the homelessness unit they don’t have to provide assistance so, in the case of families, social services take the kids into care and the adults have to fend for themselves, usually by sofa surfing.

Welcome to modern Britain.

Lets hope next week, when votes on the amendments have been taken that I get pleasantly surprised again.

Ben Reeve Lewis

Follow Ben on twitterBen’s runs  Home Saving Expert, where he shares his secrets on defending people’s homes from mortgage repossession Visit his blog and get some help and advice on mortgage difficulties,  catch up with him on Twitter and check out his free report “An Encouraging note on Dealing with your Mortgage Lender” and have it sent right to your inbox.

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7 Responses to Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround #49

  1. I am still amazed at The Rug report, which insists still somehow that most private tenants are happy. How do you frame the question: ‘Considering that you have no rights, that your landlord can give notice just they feel like it and will often do so because you have asked for something dangerous to be repaired, are you happy in the PRS?’ The answer would, I think be a loud ‘NO!!!’

  2. Yeah that claim always struck me as peculiar.I dont even bother to count the amount of tenants I have to interview or take phone calls from who are desperate for social housing because, as they all say “I’m just so fed up being a private tenant I cant take it anymore”.

    On better news, the voting on the LASPO bill ended with a defeat for government on the benefits issue. I couldnt find any more specific info on it though

  3. I havent Chris but she sounds like a right charmer and pretty much like the average client I have to deal with.

    Scammers abound, whether they be landlords or tenants. Croydon council, which is right next door to mine had to deal with Chyna Grey last year, a landlord who kidnapped her rent owing tenant, tied him to a chair and stabbed him repeatedly in the back with a scalpel.

    There are nightmare tenants like Ms Chimuka and nightmare landlords like Ms Grey. In my book they deserve each other

  4. Ben, this is only tangentially related to Chimuka but according to this week’s Private Eye, the criminalisation of subletting your social house won’t extend to Housing Associations and the Housing Associations don’t want it to as technically Housing Association properties are private for accountancy purposes and the HAs don’t want their murkiness opened up that much.

    You’ve been in housing longer than I. Is this real or malarky? I can well believe it as in my locality there are some serious iffinesses going on with Housing Associations which I have run into.

  5. Interesting you should point this out JS. Just this morning Tessa sent me the Private Eye clipping that was sent in by another reader.

    I vaguely remember reading something similar to this a while back now. My tho0ughts, then as now turn to the decision in Susan Weaver v. London & Quadrant Housing Association, where the CAs decision was that housing associations are to be considered hybrid public bodies for the purposes of their housing management function.

    This was a case in realtion to human rights defences in possession proceedings but if my understanding of Weaver is correct then I would have thought they wouldnt be excluded when dealing sub lets, as this is a housing management issue.

    I’d like to hear from anyone else on it though

  6. Ben, I think you may be right in that a housing association’s management function was held, in Weaver, to be a public function and susceptible to Judicial Review. What Weaver was about was a tenant of L&Q was seeking to JR them on the grounds that they used Ground 8 unreasonably.

    I therefore would think that, depending how the statute was drafted, a tenant accused of subletting and charged with it in criminal court would still find themselves validly charged as the prosecution would point to Weaver as being evidence that housing management is a public function and that therefore the intention of Parliament would have included subletting HA premises as within the ambit of the statute.



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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