A day in the life of TRO Ben Reeve Lewis.
The case of the unwanted Christmas Present
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.
This is a tale to warm the cockles of your heart, from last year.
My 10 o’clock appointment is Barry Grant. He comes in to see what can be done about his 84 year old mum Edna who has been renting a room off of Mr Khan for 4 years above his convenience store.
For a while now he has been telling her that he wants to move her to a ‘Luxury flat’ a mile away. Edna doesn’t want to move though. She is elderly and happy where she is. Mr Khan has a business associate called Earl Morrison, he is less approachable the Mr Khan and goes to talk to Edna on a couple of occasions to tell her that she has to move. She finds him quite intimidating in his manner.
Edna complains to Barry and he has a word with Mr Khan who goes all oily and hand wringing and assures him that nothing underhand is going on and that his mum is perfectly safe.
Then, on Christmas Eve no less, at 12 pm, Mr Khan fetches up with a van and tells Edna she has to move. She doesn’t have a mobile so she can’t call Barry. Mr Khan helpfully packs Edna’s things and moves her to the luxury flat against her wishes.
My office is obviously shut for the holidays but when I get back in, a furious Barry is at the door updating me on the festive activities. He couldn’t get hold of his mum because of the lack of a mobile, and when he arrived to pick her up for Christmas dinner she wasn’t there. Mr Khan is mysteriously absent too but his store is open
Barry, not unreasonably, kicks up such a stink trying to find his mum that eventually police are called and Mr Khan is raised from whatever stone he was hiding under and explains to Barry where his mum is. Barry duly goes there and takes his mum out for the holidays.
I can’t raise Mr Khan on his phone. I do a Land Registry search on the new address and find that it is owned by his unpleasant partner, Earl Morrison. I go to the property and it’s a house that has been converted into two flats. When I visit there are bare wires sticking out of the walls of this “luxury flat”, stairs that are so steep they wouldn’t look out of place in Hades, an unfinished bathroom and undecorated kitchen.
Edna tells me that Earl lives in the flat downstairs but is he answering the door when I knock??????? Is he *$£&^%!$&!!!!!
So legally speaking what have we got here? Illegal eviction and Harassment? You betcha. Criminal breaches of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 and civil damages in there too. Nice open and shut case for me because the weaselly Mr Khan has admitted to Barry and the police that he moved her against her will.
I explain all this to Edna but bless her, she doesn’t want to cause a fuss and is too intimidated by Earl to cooperate with any action against him and Mr Khan. Barry pleads with her to go along with action, but she just won’t do it.
Warning…..personal ranting zone ahead. I can’t tell you how annoyed I get when I hear landlords complain about the law being biased towards tenants. The law was created to protect tenants from people like Khan and Morrison. Any landlords reading this will probably say to themselves “But I’m not like that” and you know what? I’m sure you are right, the vast majority of landlords certainly aren’t like that, but there are still literally thousands of landlords out there who are. I get to talk to them every day.
Good landlords aren’t suffering because of draconian laws. Good landlords are suffering because of the actions of these bullies, and unfortunately the laws make it so difficult to prosecute them that they are less than useless. You may complain that it takes you an age to evict a tenant, but you should try getting evidence together to prosecute the Earl Morrisons of the world! 99% of the time they commit these acts and just walk.
Believe it or not Khan and Morrison both avoided prosecution…..they got away with it because Edna didn’t want to take things further. There is a happy ending though.
I managed to persuade the homelessness unit that it was unreasonable for Edna to stay in the property because of Morrison’s intimidating manner and little things like live, bare wires sticking out of the wall.
We managed to rehouse her in a council flat just around the corner from Barry.
I did a bit more digging and, joy of joys! It turned out that Morrison hadn’t applied for planning permission to convert the property into 2 flats.
I called planning and explained what had happened. Decent fellas that they are, and clearly angered by his bullying tactics during the season of good cheer, they ordered him to re-convert the place to a single dwelling immediately or face a huge fine. The planning boys estimated that the reconversion probably cost him £25,000.
Merry Christmas Earl!
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. Read more about Ben here.
Photo by Kevin Dooley