A day in the life of TRO Ben Reeve Lewis.
The case of the Happy New Year.
Explanation: Tenancy Relations Officers (TRO) 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.
Florence came in to see me back in July 2010 complaining that in an argument over recent missing housing benefit payments, her live in landlord Harriet took the keys off of her. She managed to get them back but was also complaining about faulty electrics and rats.
There were two other tenants renting rooms as well, all of them students.
I referred the electrics and critter problems over to environmental health, and started a half hearted investigation into what seemed like fairly low key harassment. But then things spiraled a bit from there.
The tenancy agreement originally had Harriet and her sister Gloria’s names on but Harriet’s had scratched her name out leaving only Gloria’s in it’s place and a different address for her.
Gloria had written a letter to Florence purporting to be a notice to quit.
Legal Point: Florence understood Harriet to be her landlord along with the sister Gloria. If Harriet is resident then that would make Florence an excluded occupier, with little security of tenure, but if Harriet had scratched her name out and the landlords address was given as different from the property in question did that mean she wasn’t the landlord? Resident or otherwise? Therefore Florence would be an assured shorthold tenant. An open question to be resolved.
In an attempt to clarify the situation I ran a land registry search and found the owner to be a Mr Randolph Scott of an address 10 miles away which threw even more coal on the fires of confusion.
Meanwhile Ed from Environmental Health went out and met Gloria who said that the owner was their Mother who was abroad and both Gloria and Harriet were managing the place, taking the rent and giving it to the mum. Ed didn’t know what I knew abut the true ownership at this point but told me they had mentioned something about property fraud that the mum was fighting.
Florence then told me that she paid her rent into the bank account of a Miss Barclay…..so now I am triple confused. I advised Florence not to pay her rent until we were clear who should receive it.
Legal point number 2; a landlord has to provide a tenant with an address where they can serve documents if necessary. This is know as a “Section 48 address”. If the landlord doesn’t do so then under the aforementioned Section 48 (Landlord and Tenant Act 1985) then they are not entitled to receive any rent.
In this case it is impossible to tell which is the correct address, despite the (very loud and aggressive) protestations of the persons claiming to be the landlords. Florence thought her landlord lived in the premises, then it transpired, from looking at the contract that the address is somewhere else. Land registry showed a completely different address for the owner and to cap it all the rent goes to another party entirely.
I spoke to the Mum’s solicitor who was trying to persuade me of the validity of their case (fair enough) and tried to urge me to advise the tenant to start paying again. We talked about section 48 and I could tell she could see the legal point at issue.
So the situation drags on and Gloria goes to the property and shouts at Florence about this and ended up calling me to ask why I had advised the tenant not to pay. She asked me what right I had to give that advice. I pointed out that a person is entitled to hear legal advice, even if that advice is not what the landlord wants me to tell them…..don’t think the point got through the yelling though.
Gloria told me that Randolph Scot had been a family friend and was a mortgage broker. She said he was arranging a re-mortgage for her mum, who she claims is the true owner, and in the process faked the paperwork and stole ownership of the property. They were looking into sorting this out.
I said that even if this were true the problem was between them and should not affect the tenants. I also stated that this added even more weight to the idea that they shouldn’t be taking rent. If Randolph Scott was the owner and hadn’t instructed them to manage the property for him then my advice to not pay rent still stood, unless Randolph approached tenants and told them to pay her.
I asked why the tenants had been paying into the account of Ms Barclay and she said that this was a family friend who received the money, paid it to Gloria who then paid her mum………….the words ‘Born’ and ‘Yesterday’ sprang to mind and I added that in my opinion if everything was above board as she claimed, I didn’t see why matters should be so complicated and used the words ‘On’, ‘Your’ and ‘Bike’.
What I didn’t get is that if Randolph Scott swindled the mum out of the house why has he not complained about not receiving any rent? If he is paying the mortgage without knowing there are tenants in there then he must think that the house is just sitting empty. Why would you do that? I wrote a letter to Randolph but never received a reply.
I didn’t hear anything from Florence until New Year’s Eve when she turned up at the office again.
It turns out that despite various threats and temper tantrums from the alleged landlords she had stuck to her guns and refused to pay any rent to Gloria…..Harriet……Mum…..Ms Barclay……The Pope…..or whoever else was involved.
As a consequence she arrived home close to midnight and found the front door locks changed. She managed to get in through the back door and found her room door missing and all her belongings gone. All of the other tenants have moved out by now because they couldn’t stand the constant hassling from Gloria etc. Florence has lost her essays that she needs for her course and the usual electrical goods.
She called the cops but there were no notes left and no witnesses. I suspect the Gloria/Harriet syndicate but to get an injunction for return of goods you have to know who took them. Plus we don’t know if they have been simply stolen (taken without permission with an intention to permanently deprive) or if it is a ‘Trespass to Goods’ situation (Taken with intention to deprive but return if the tenant pays monies owed).
She also had a letter from the solicitors acting for the mortgagees stating that a possession hearing against Randolph Scott for non payment has been set. AHA!!!!!! So Mr Scott hasn’t been paying after all, in which case, why bother swindling the family out of the home in the first place? Questions questions.
So there poor Florence sits, on New Years Eve, sleeping on a settee in the living room of this empty house. Overdraft exhausted because housing benefit wouldn’t pay any more money because of the confusion about the landlord’s identity. No money for a deposit for somewhere else (we looked on Spare room.com and the cheapest room we could find was £120 a week).
She told me that she had made enquiries with a few local agents but they worried her because apart from the expense nothing smelled right and she just didn’t trust them.
2011 isn’t looking any more optimistic for Florence either. She is only 20 and unless she can find a job and give up her university course she will be doomed to live in bedsits for the next 15 years of her life, meeting more and more Glorias. But there you go Mr Shapps…..at least money is being saved eh?
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.