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Ben Reeve Lewis Friday newsround #92

[Ben ReeveBen on a chair Lewis is ahead of the game this week…]

Having completely forgotten to write last week’s newsround until I woke up on Friday morning I am diligently getting ahead of the game this week.

Beef curry on in the background, waiting for Frazzles to come home and typing away with a sherry or 2.

Getting excited about oppression

I rather excitedly picked up an oppression case this week. A reasonably rare legal animal.

There isn’t the space here to go into what oppression is but what it resulted in for my client, whose mortgage lender had taken possession and even changed the locks, was that the judge went with our submission and set the warrant aside.

She was let back in. Hooooorahhhh!!!!!

You get really bored dealing with depressingly common rounds of threats and harassment. To have something a bit out of the legal norm is quite fun. Also nice to get a result in front of a judge and his spindly, accusing finger who made it quite clear last time that he hated my guts.

The biggest eviction

Another very unusual case came to my attention this week courtesy of Legal Action magazine, January edition. The biggest illegal eviction in the world. Where is the Guinness book of records when you need them?

It turns out that the residents of Schubert Park in Pretoria rioted when gas and electricity supplies broke down which should have been maintained by their landlords, the local council who moved them out to do the works then refused to let them back in. All 700 families, about 3,000 people.

You have to admire the chutzpah there. The mother of all illegal evictions. Imagine the paperwork for the poor TRO?

Digging deeper

The Legal action article was amusing to read but digging a bit deeper I found some interesting aspects not in the LAG piece.

Reading on Bissets website I read of the South African constitution which was at the heart of this case. A different legal system to the UK. The Bissets article pointed out:-

“The Constitutional Court held that many provisions in the constitution require the substantive involvement and engagement of people in decisions that affect their lives. Their inherent dignity entitles them to be treated as equals in the engagement process.”

I know nothing of South Africa, other than buying a packet of Biltong in Sainsbury’s last week but would like to know more about the notion of substantive involvement in issues that affect people’s lives.

Just blame the poor for it all …

Something which seems to be lacking in UK society at the moments as Cameron and Osborne seem more and more intent on a daily basis on kicking the crap out of the citizens of GB and blaming the poorest for the situation we find ourselves in.

I don’t think the words ‘Inherent dignity’ is something that occurs to them much. Maybe we need to complain more, instead of blithely accepting it all.

As Frank Zappa sang on his treatise on religion, ‘He’s got 20 million dollars in his heavenly bank account’ – “Remember there’s a big difference between kneeling down and bending over”.

hmo LandladyHMO Landlady

My week was buoyed by reading HMO Landlady’s latest instalment of life from HMO land. I always look forward to her postings, they make me smile in a dull week.

This week was a classic, hilarious tale of confusing Helga with Petra  but also some practical advice for landlords of getting chummy with your local PCSO’s

Last year I had to go and check out an illegal eviction down in sunny Deptford and bumped into 2 local officers who knew every protagonist, including neighbours and the landlord. Between us we banged on doors and I had it sorted in an hour. The power of local knowledge. HMO Landlady has it harnessed.

PCSOs are the modern equivalent of the mythical 1930s ‘clip around the ear’ coppers us Brits so love and value…..and I mean that without irony. They are a valuable and much under-appreciated resource in modern community life.

Croydon bashing

Nearly Legal reported this week on government’s continuing ire at Croydon Council, who are fast becoming the whipping boys of homelessness issues

24 Dash also ran a Croydon bashing article as well  For those of you out of the loop, Croydon’s homelessness unit got into trouble for having too many people in bed and breakfast accommodation and have also been lashed for having the temerity to try and relocate homeless families to different areas, well away from Croydon in an attempt to keep those B&B figures down.

A quick lesson in homelessness for Landlord Law Blog readers

Councils have a legal duty to shelter and rehouse people who apply as homeless. If they try to block this it is called ‘Gatekeeping’, which is illegal. More homeless people means the statistics look bad on government.

But there is a law that says councils can’t put people in B&B accommodation for more than 6 weeks, and even then only in an emergency.

Councils have nowhere to put those homeless applicants, up 38% in the last 2 years, so they have to break the law and put people in B&B for longer periods. Where else are they going to go? Your house?

So they then try to keep on top of the catastrophe by finding accommodation for them that is affordable (another legal requirement) but London’s out of control rents means they have to send them out of area where rents balance up with the housing benefit caps but government complain that this is illegal too.

A daft game

Every single council in the UK plays this daft, duplicitous game that is imposed on them by Parliament. Croydon for some reason is being scapegoated at the moment. (6 months ago it was Newham). Made to carry the can for government policy.

Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. The quandary of every council in the UK. I would really appreciate it if newspapers and news blogs would stop bashing people trying to do the job, using tools that they didn’t ask for, and instead call it for what it is and point the finger of blame where it should be pointed.

Being balanced

But while I’m getting on my soap box in defence of my fellow council workers let’s do a BBC style balance piece and flag up the shameful case of Adnan Nazir and Jamille Pertisatti, both late of Barnet council in North London.

They were jailed for a deposit scam, using council funds to create fake landlords and tenants to cream off the council’s deposit scheme and fill their own bank accounts. Even selling their scam on as a business model.

Written up in Housing Excellence, Councillor Richard Cornelius said:-

“This was a calculated and highly organised attack on a scheme set up to help people in real financial need, involving a former staff member who abused his position for personal gain.”

I’ll defend my colleagues to the death but even I admit we aint all saints……… if only I could find where to buy details of their scam online……………..

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12 Responses to Ben Reeve Lewis Friday newsround #92

  1. With regard to homeless, Scotland rules again: no need to establish priority need. Easier when there is no shortage of housing, albeit in PRS, but enlightened nonetheless.

  2. Hello Ben,

    The Croydon figures and articles relate to pre Homelessness suitability etc.*

    Do you think this will change things?

    Are councils still advising tenants to wait for a possession order? It seems counter productive to pss off the people they need to work with to solve the problem.

    Not claiming Homelessness suitability etc is the Holy Grail, more about making the best of a bad job.

    There are properties available to let in Croydon within LHA rates- £1040 pcm for a 2 bed and around 250 properties advertised on Rightmove alone below this level.

    Whether landlords will take on HB tenants is another matter. It doesn’t make sense to me that the Croydon council is paying millions to B&B’s when that money could be used to set up longer term tenancies and make tenants on benefits an attractive prospect to private landlords.

    I’m obviously missing something and don’t understand the scale of the problem or Croydon and others would be doing it already- wouldn’t they?

  3. I don’t know if Croydon have adopted the new measures provided by the suitability order, or if they have, what angle they have taken. Although expected for some time it kind of came out of the blue. Councils were only told about 2 weeks before it’s introduction. Councils don’t move that fast when it comes to radical ideas.

    Landlord nervousness against benefit tenants is certainly the main bugbear for all homelessness units looking to discharge duty into the PRS. Affordability is the other issue, mainly for London.

    Over the past 2 weeks I have been training homelessness staff in the West Country who told me that supply is a more pressing problem for them than affordability. Each area will be different.

    Its true that all councils need PRS landlords more than they need us, so councils need to be nice but this brings us straight back to the case law of Croydon v. Jarvis, whose eponymous heroes/villains wouldn’t accommodate Jarvis on expiry of the S21, contrary to Para 8.32 of the Homelessness Code of Guidance. The courts found for Croydon because in part they had addressed the fact that they had nowhere to place them.

    You cant get blood out of a stone.

    Yes councils could use funds better to help increase supply but in a climate where high demand is driving runaway rents, ruling the day against government imposed HB caps why would any self respecting landlord cut a deal with the council?

    Even more creative use of money and resources is on an uphill struggle against that one.

  4. Ben,

    Yo answer your question:-

    “why would any self respecting landlord cut a deal with the council?”

    Until recently I did. The council would find me a tenant saving me the cost of a letting agent, the tenants tended to stay long term (no voids) often until the age/no. of children entitled them to a bigger property.

    One bad tenant put an end to it for me though, as the council insisted she stayed until the day before the bailiff was due despite them knowing she was making herself intentionally homless.

    Do you know who is responsible for housing a mother with children who the council consider intentionaly homeless?

  5. Dave I totally understand and offer no excuse. Councils do this all the time. They get a friendly landlord on board and when they hit a problem, stand back and say “We’re the council. Its nothing to do with us”

    This has to stop if councils are to survive. They have to get out of this ‘Computer says no’ mentality.

    I have been pushing for years now for my council to go down this road. I feel like flushing my head down the toilet most days.

    Read Gabriel Chevallier’s novel ‘Clochmerle’ for an indication of the council mindset. About the politics of installing a public toilet in a village. Written in 1934, it could be said to sum up council life in 2013. You have my deepest sympathy

  6. why would any self respecting landlord cut a deal with the council?

    The short answer is they wouldn’t.
    ‘Beware of Greeks bearing gifts’ springs to mind.
    Far better to find, reference and cherry pick benefit tenants the same as with any other tenants. You’d have to be a mug or very experienced to take on a council sourcing.

    However, if you ask why would any landlord take on benefit tenants, then many long term landlords would/should. IMO it makes up part of a balanced portfolio, helping to spread risk.

    Mine are excellent very, very long term tenants. Appreciate and take pride in the property and neighbourhood. Never pester with frivolous complaints. Know how the property works. Are very unlikely to lose their source of income and aren’t dependent on commissions or bonuses to pay the rent. They aren’t going to move to change job and unless they win the lottery, they will never leave to buy their own house.

    Of course, not all benefit tenants are the same. I cherry pick the best ones that suit me. The council can sort out the problem cases.

    The short term practice of councils targeting mug, accidental/first time landlords will backfire. Invariably it ends in tears, after a year the council are in the same position and the bad reputation of all benefit tenants is spread far and wide.

    I think it is inevitable that councils will be forced into a more proactive role. As Dave mentioned, councils acting as letting agents. But also being involved throughout the tenancy, deposit, monitoring rent, inspections, repairs, advice and who knows maybe even assisting with justifiable evictions.

    When I say councils acting as letting agents, I mean knowledgable and competent ones, not the cowboys currently running rife.

    How about it Ben? “Lewis’ Lewisham Landlord-friendly Lettings”

    The obvious question is how will this Utopia be financed in this time of cuts and austerity?
    -I dunno.

    But I do know the British public won’t accept wide scale homelessness on the streets. The odd wino or druggie, maybe, but kids in cardboard boxes- no.
    Who knows, by proactively managing tenancies, it might even work out cheaper than picking up the pieces when they fail.

  7. Daveg asked “Do you know who is responsible for housing a mother with children who the council consider intentionaly homeless?

    Unless its recently changed, the council has a temporary duty to house, social services will be called in. If the mother doesn’t sort things out and the children are in danger, the children will be taken into care.

  8. “How about it Ben? “Lewis’ Lewisham Landlord-friendly Lettings” haha

    Funny you should say that. The powers that be have finally listened to my badgering and I am about to be seconded out of my TRO role to set up exactly that. A service for the council’s landlords and tenants that works for everyone and drags us into the 21st century.

    A service where we are there right the way through, sorting out HB problems, negotiating, mediating, advising and training. Bringing everything the council can and for once making it available to the PRS community.

    Families found intentionally homeless? Yeah you got it. You provide some time for the applicant to get themselves together and then they are on their own, social services pick up the kids. Cruel world huh?

  9. Thanks for the replies about deliberately homeless people.

    In my case the tenant refused to provide information to HB and council TROs so HB was stopped. If she now says “cross my heart, wont do it again” will the council have to provide her with a new home?

    A few “pub experts” I have spoken to rekon by making yourself hard to place in the PRS makes an offer of a council or HA property more likely.

  10. ha As usual Dave the Royal Oak Advice Centre is wrong.

    Under Part VII of the Housing Act 1996 A person becomes homeless intentionally if they deliberately do or fail do, something that in consequence of which they lose their home, which was available to them and reasonable to occupy at that time (Not exact wording but close enough for a Sunday morning)

    Rent arrears is obviously high on the list but it isnt an automatic exclusion. The reason for the arrears may have been outside of the person’s control, for instance, housing benefit problems or the person might have split with their partner, causing a 50% drop in income.

    Where the pub advocates are wrong is in thinking that if a person is ‘I.H’ as we call it, and cant get a PRS property we will waive it aside.

    An IH decision means they are on their own. If they are already in temporary accommodation the council will continue to provide it for a few weeks so they can make other arrangements and then that’s it.

    Councils make many IH decisions every week and the canon of Case Law on challenges to decisions, both successful and unsuccessful, is huge.

    And yet people hold the mindset that no matter how bad things get the council will always bail people out of necessary. Our local cops should have their own parking bay outside our office, given the amount of times they attend each week when people are deemed IH, refuse to accept it and do a sit in. It is indeed a rude wake up call for them.

  11. Good luck with that Ben.

    I reckon getting your own side to work with you will be even harder than convincing landlords, but it is obviously the way ahead.

    How will your scheme be different from the private sector leasing schemes already offered by councils?

    How will success/failure be measured?

    Just looked at Croydon’s here;

    I think they are going to need to do a lot more to tempt private landlords. It’s going to take a lot to rebuild all those bridges.



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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