A day in the life of TRO Ben Reeve Lewis.
The case of MC Hammer
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.
I love Wednesday mornings. Most people hate them because they are halfway through the working week, it isn’t the beginning but it isn’t the weekend either. But Wednesday is the day that we are closed to the public for the morning and I can get a breather and catch up with things.
Researching the law
I use my time to research new developments in housing law, which changes by the day.
First port of call for me is always Landlord Law because it discusses all the latest developments but in a language that non-lawyers like me can understand.
Then I go to Nearly legal. Very good for in depth legalistic stuff but to be honest I do struggle with some of it and I then follow the links to other websites where I can read the non lawyer version that I can get my head around.
Sad as it seems I am a bit of a housing law geek and I actually really enjoy sitting with a large latte from the local coffee emporium and trawling through new developments and I don’t like to be disturbed. My team relies on me doing this and telling them what is going on. That way they don’t have to bother doing it themselves.
Another illegal eviction case
But in the middle of my reverie the phone goes and all I can hear is shouting and wailing in the background……here we go again.
Mr and Mrs Patel are an elderly couple renting a flat from their landlord Mark Mason who has just bought the property from their old landlord. They have been there for 3 years but he has decided he wants to improve the property and rent to a younger, more trendy market and the Patels don’t fit his vision.
He is there with a colleague who has already started the conversion (I can hear the hammering in the background over the wailing).
Mrs Patel cant talk clearly because she is upset and Mason wont come on the phone to talk to me. I manage to get the address out of Mrs Patel and set off to sort things out.
Bleach in the eyes
When I arrive Mr Patel is red and hyper-ventilating. His eyes are watering profusely and he is having great trouble breathing.
Through her tears and emotional state Mrs Patel tells me that Mark Mason’s colleague sprayed bleach into her husband’s eyes and that he is having an asthma attack as a result. She has called an ambulance.
The colleague is using a bleach spray to clean the kitchen surfaces and is studiously avoiding eye contact. I call 999 again to see what has happened to the ambulance, it turns out they could not get a coherent address out of Mrs Patel so I correct them.
Nobody has spoken to me yet and I have been there 10 minutes by this time sorting things out for Mr P.
Looking for a better class of tenant …
With the ambulance on its way I turn my attention to the landlord. I ask him what the hell he thinks he is doing. He just seems faintly amused by the fuss and wants to know my credentials.
While I am explaining my role as a TRO and the law on harassment in general his colleague moves behind me with his hammer. I turn on him and tell him to stop walking behind me. He adopts the same faintly amused stance as his boss and walks away but he does this 3 times in succession and 3 times I have to call him on it until Mason says “Alright Dave just leave it”.
Mason’s explanation is that he has bought the property, it belongs to him and wants to renovate it and increase his rental potential. He says that it is disgusting in this day and age that the council aren’t re-housing an elderly couple like the Patels.
I point out to him that not only have the tenants not made a homelessness application they aren’t actually homeless because they hold a tenancy that he is violating with his actions.
At this point some young lad that I hadn’t seen before starts taking bin liners out through the door that hold Mr and Mrs Patel’s possessions to dump outside the front door.
Things are becoming very chaotic and Mrs Patel is still wailing over husband’s wheezing.
Before I can continue with the landlord the ambulance arrives and I am roped into being an interpreter for the Patels.
While the crew are attending to Mr P I start angrily grabbing bags from the youngster and throwing them back in through the door.
The fop, the hammer and the wheezer
M C Hammer is still hammering, Mason is still smiling ironically like an 18th century fop and Mr Patel is still wheezing for England.
In the middle of all this chaos I suddenly stop and wonder why the hell I got up this morning. I am suddenly very weary of arguing and lose all energy or enthusiasm for the task in hand.
The ambulance carts off the Patels before I can tell them what to do next. Mason and his cohorts aren’t interested in continuing the conversation and the landlord even says to me “F***k off mate, we’re busy”.
I consider calling the police but there isn’t much point with the Patels gone now and I go back to the office to finish my by now cold Latte.
Another day in the life …
A week later I drop by the property. There is nobody there but a glance through the window sees the renovations coming on nicely.
All the way back I am considering ways to get back at Mason but as I walk through the door there is another one in. a woman and her 2 children just got in from the shops and their locks have been changed. Mr and Mrs Patel are old news and I start on the new one.
I don’t hear from the Patels again. Another day in the life. I need a holiday……..
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.