A day in the life of TRO Ben Reeve Lewis.
The case of the legalised burglar
Tessa likes me to put a legal point in my demented TRO ramblings and I am going to break with my usual pattern and deal with it first.
True or false? If a landlord changes the locks on a tenant without first obtaining a court order the tenant can simply break back in?
All those who answered “No”, go to the back of the class…….they can.
Section 6 of the Criminal Law Act 1977 covers the use of force to enter a property, which is normally unlawful but where the force is being used to re-secure property for what is termed a “Displaced residential occupier” (unlawfully evicted tenant) it is permissible, as long as there is nobody in the property to object to the force being used.
I am not alone in the TRO world in having an entire breaking and entering kit in my cupboard. A silver, aluminum flight case with little cut-aways in the foam that hold crowbars, hammers and screwdrivers, like one of those snazzy cases you see containing sniper rifles in Hollywood films. I don’t actually have a sniper rifle………that would be excessive, even for me.
I don’t use it often but enjoy myself when I do, apart from when things go wrong, which they have on several occasions.
I don’t bother when a tenant comes in and tells me that they were illegally evicted 3 weeks ago. The likelihood is that the property has been re-let and I will consequently be burgling. But if it has just happened it can be a quick and cheap alternative to waiting for hours in court for them to type up an injunction and then taking my life in my hands by door stepping some psycho at 8.00.pm in the evening on a windswept side street off the Old Kent Road to serve it on them.
I get approached by Nora, whose landlord has changed the locks. He has immediately gone on holiday but the other tenants tell me her room hasn’t been re-let so off we go.
Inside the front door there is an internal door comprised wholly of 7 inch squares of frosted glass in wooden frames. Nora sits on the step while I slowly start to dismantle the door with a screwdriver, piece by piece. We are chatting away about life and tenancies. 20 minutes later I have a hole big enough to get to the lock.
Conversation turns to her flat and I say “So what’s your place like then?” and she replies, “Oh it’s ok but the kitchen is a bit small”. I look through the hole and there is the kitchen, about 15’ x 20’. I say “I wouldn’t call this kitchen small” and she replies, to my horror, “Oh yeah that one is OK but my kitchen is really small”.
I look around at her with a worried expression on my face and say “Whaddya mean your kitchen?” and she casually tells me that I am breaking into the landlords flat………her’s being on the next floor.
In a panic I had to rebuild the bloody thing with a screwdriver and a claw hammer. When I had finished it looked like Laurel and Hardy had opened a carpentry firm.
Needless to say I legged it back to the office and kept schtum.
Another time I was persuaded to get the kit out was when a young girl of around 17 came in saying her landlord had locked her out when she went down the shops to get some milk.
I drove to the property, knocked on the door, looked through the letterbox, checked all the windows and couldn’t raise anybody so thought it was a safe bet.
Out came the crowbar and hammer and I set too it. A second later an angry man came up behind me and asked me what the hell I thought I was doing. As I flashed my ID and explained the purpose of my visit we were joined by several other angry local residents until a crowd of around 10 had gathered.
It transpired that the tenant’s boyfriend was what Norman Stanley Fletcher would refer to as a “Right little scrote” and he had burgled pretty much every house in the street since she had moved in.
Everyone was shouting and the girl shouted back, and thankfully there was so much chaos I managed to slip unseen into my car and hoof it back to the office.
It is not without it’s dangers either. I was once attacked by a police dog whilst climbing through a bathroom window to get in and remove a railway sleeper that had been screwed to the inside of the door-jam to keep the tenant out. I had notified the police before I went that I would be doing this but the message got lost and so I ended up with an Alsatian hanging off my foot.
I also once tried to kick a door open where it seemed the lock was very weak. I missed the wood and put my foot through a 4 foot window pane and fell on my back covered in broken glass. I stood up, brushed myself off and confidently advised them to call a locksmith before getting the bus home.
I haven’t used the breaking and entering kit for ages. Mainly because my co-TRO and I have borrowed most of the tools over the years and never returned them. Now when the lid is opened there is just a single, solitary, rather sad looking crowbar…….but with a tale to tell if you’ve got 5 minutes.
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 TRO 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.