A day in the life of TRO Ben Reeve Lewis.
The case of the missing landlords.
Explanation: Tenancy Relations Officers (TROs) work for local council’s providing advice on landlord tenant law and investigating allegations of harassment and Illegal Eviction and prosecuting landlords. All names are false but the stories are true.
Mr and Mrs Perkins fetch up in my office showing me a letter from a well-known firm of solicitors advising them that the property they are renting has been taken into receivership by the mortgage company Mortgage Express and that henceforth they are to pay the rent to the receivers not the previous owners.
I call the solicitors and we fax bits and pieces back and forwards and find that this is indeed the case.
The trouble is, the original landlords, Mr Raphael and Miss Temiloye keep turning up at the property in the evening and telling them it is rubbish and insisting on them paying their rent to them. Mr Raphael is particularly aggressive and threatening.
A bit of research on my part throws up that both Raphael and Temiloye are directors of separate lettings agencies, Dover Street Properties and Lets-All-Go. A bit more research shows that both companies are now defunct.
I warn the Perkins’s that the solicitors are right and not to pay the old landlords but I have no addresses or contact numbers for Raphael and Temiloye. I mention the case in passing to my colleague who says he has the same complaint he is investigating too but at a different address.
I call the solicitors back and ask them to bend the rules a bit for me and tell me about any other addresses he has where Raphael and Temiloye are involved, thinking that there may be more than just our 2 properties involved and he helpfully comes up with a total of 6 around our borough.
I go out and contact the other tenants and find the same story, with the old landlords threatening and intimidating them for rent.
I call the lads in Environmental Health to see if they have any contact details for them. They don’t either but advised me that in the past Raphael thumped one of them on site.
A week later one of the families comes in to complain that Raphael had gone to the property the night before and in an argument over rent he turned off their electricity by removing the fuses. All three flats in the house are affected and all 3 families have kids so I ask them who their supplier is and they say they don’t know because rent is inclusive if electricity and has been since they moved in back in 2007.
This sets off my internal alarm because although this is a common enough arrangements where there are big houses with loads of bed sits in it is quite unusual in self-contained accommodation so I visit the premises and find no meter at all. In fact the electricity is hot-wired straight into the street.
I call EDF and they confirm the supply was disconnected in 2007. I get a sinking feeling and ask the woman at EDF to check the other 6 addresses we have for Raphael and Temiloye and sure enough, exactly the same arrangement. Subsequent visits reveal hot-wired properties, which is unbelievably dangerous, so we have to take all of them out and place them into temporary accommodation for their own safety while we try to sort out the mess.
So not only have these villains been harassing the poor tenants they have also been putting their lives at risk and in the process making thousands down the years off the electricity supply and now the council has to spend thousands investigating and sheltering the families.
The receivers are now the new managing agents and are currently figuring out how to approach this.
Raphael and Temiloye meanwhile are still out there, un-contactable so far and doing their thing. We found 6 of their properties in our borough but how many do they have elsewhere? Maybe using different names.
The recommendations of the Rugg report were built around having a national register of landlords who would be struck off and prohibited from letting again in cases like this. Sadly the recommendations were dropped by the coalition government.
When landlords complain to me about being caught by what they deem to be an unfair burden of legislation I can only think of cases like these that were brought in to counteract the actions of Peter Rachman and his ilk. Rachman himself may be long dead but his spirit is alive and well and living in a street near you.
About Ben Reeve-Lewis: Ben has worked in housing in one form or another since 1987. He has variously been a Homelessness caseworker, Head of Homelessness for a local authority, a Tenancy Relations Officer and Housing law trainer. He now divides his time between doing contract Tenancy Relations work and as a Freelance housing law training consultant for the CIH, Shelter, Sitra and many more.