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Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround # 129

Ben on a chair[Ben Reeve Lewis can find out all about you now on the web]

Highlight of the week for me was attending an amazing two day training course on using the internet to find out information about people.

In case you are new to me and my writings I feel I should mention that I’m not a stalker!

My job is to prosecute landlords for harassment and illegal eviction. I deal with some pretty unsavoury criminals who don’t want to be traced or have their personal comings and goings known about.

PhoneInformation from your phone

Having learnt about the frightening amount of personal information that is floating around in the ether, by the end of the course I was scared to turn my phone on, and so should you be.

For the last session the ex-fraud squad copper who was training us gave us no more than a phone number to play with and 25 minutes to find out as much as we could starting with that seemingly inconsequential piece of information.

In the allotted time we found out the person’s name and address, the registration details of his companies, the name of his wife and the school she was a governor at, the fact that he had a disabled teenage son, his wedding photographs, photos of his recent holiday to Miami and most alarmingly of all…….his bank details. All freely available on the internet if you know where and how to look.

Who needs the CIA or even Dog the Bounty Hunter when you have Google and a few tricks up your sleeve?

Red flags

And I’m not the only person this week with some new found investigating skills. The ever excellent HMO Landlady ran a wonderful story about reading between the lines of a prospective tenant  that as usual had me laughing with recognition. I think she should have a go at stand-up with her wise, witty, sarcastic but always compassionate pieces.

This time it was on vetting a ginger Italian and the signs that he was something more than he claimed. She wrote:

“2) Mum will pay deposit and a month up front. Red Flag #2: Why does mum want you out of her house so badly that she’s willing to pay when I’m only asking for deposit and a week up front? She also sounded a bit desperate on the phone.”


“4) Work. There was a Supervisor’s name, no company and his job title was Ground Worker. Red Flag #4: I interpret this to be the equivalent of a modern day chain gang rebranded as Community Service.

Turned out she was spot on too and an object lesson for landlords everywhere that credit reference checking gives you little useful information for your £6.99 and that instincts and common sense is free and more reliable.

Rents on the rise again

LSL Property Services have been busy again with one of their regular reports on the housing market  this time providing statistics on the continual increase in rents.

The report’s details ably displayed on Planet Property show that in September the average rent in London was £1,141, whilst in the East Midlands it was only £565. I’m not sure what this is telling us as a society but I know what it is telling me as an individual…..move!

The article highlights:

“Seven out of ten regions have seen individual all-time record rents. Rents have never been higher in Wales, the West Midlands, East Midlands, North West, Yorkshire and the Humber, London and the South East. Only the North East, East of England, and the South West have ever seen higher rents”.

I have mixed feelings about reports these days. When I first started trawling internet news sites 129 weeks ago to write Newsround I would faithfully inform my readers of either sobering or inspiring news but I quickly found that for every report of a break in the clouds there was another one a week later advising that the light at the end of the tunnel is usually an oncoming train.

LSL seem to produce more than anyone else and now the statistics sort of wash over me, or maybe it’s just the job I do and the stories I hear everyday that make me think “Well tell me something I don’t know”.

Retaliatory evictions

Staying with Planet Property though I read other statistics on the problems of retaliatory eviction for private tenants. For those who don’t know, retaliatory eviction is where a tenant complains about their landlord, often that they aren’t carrying out repairs, only to have the landlord evict them for no reason.

A survey on Tenant’s Voice found that 32% of tenants have experienced this.

The report also went on to state that 71% of tenants have paid for repairs out of their own pocket rather than hassle the landlord, 55% have ongoing problems that they would like resolved but don’t want to push it.

What I found interesting however was this comment:-

“Glenn Nickols, director, The Tenants’ Voice, comments: “While 86% of tenants have never heard of retaliatory evictions according to our poll, a third of the tenants we surveyed who have been evicted or threatened with eviction have actually fallen foul of this practice.”

I know I’m crap at maths but I don’t get how 86% haven’t heard of it but 32% have experienced it. Does that add up?

I don’t doubt the general findings, just the figures. I meet these cases all day long and retaliatory eviction is real and even when it hasn’t happened it is a genuine concern of tenants with complaints.

Changes coming in Wales

Last week I found myself back in Colwyn Bay for the third time this year training a bunch of housing officers on how to evict tenants for rent arrears and anti-social behaviour and much discussion ensued about the coming changes to Welsh housing law.

Inside housing gave it a mention,  not in any great detail but everyone in housing from the Valleys to the top of Mount Snowden is waiting with bated breath for the bill to be officially presented to Welsh assembly in November.

If it goes through it will be quite an astonishing shift that will leave no area of housing and homelessness untouched.

  • 21 different types of tenancy and licence agreement reduced to just two,
  • Compulsory licensing of landlords and agents.
  • Abolition of intentional homelessness.

Trust me….in my line of work this is akin to the Church of England saying they are about to re-write the bible or Wonga announcing their new interest free loans, or Jordan announcing she is going in for a breast reduction, or Simon Cowell fessing up to the fact that he has ruined the musical aspirations of a generation of kids who now think that the only way to be successful in life is to ignore their inherent talent and slavishly copy everyone else in a vain bid to get themselves on the cover of lads mags.

The dark side of the light

This raises the metaphor I used earlier about the light at the end of the tunnel having a dark side. As a housing law trainer who works a lot in Wales it will very likely mean looooooadsa work next year, accompanied by loooooadsa money, but the oncoming train of it means I will have to completely re-write all my training manuals and create space in my head for two distinct legal systems for evermore.

Let me weigh that up for a minute….Money v. Stress????? Well what else is new? 72% of the time I have never heard of money and 86% of the time I don’t have any. I spend 55% of my time trying to get hold of it and 80% of it worrying about something I have never heard of……hang on I’m getting confused. I need a survey to put me right, let me call LSL.

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3 Responses to Ben Reeve Lewis Friday Newsround # 129

  1. Thats interesting Penny, I hadnt heard of that phenomenon but I suppose people dont have hen nights in Peckham:)

    What annoying about it though is the money has to be handed over to the landlord, so he seems to get the rewards without the hassle



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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