(Note – this was written while Ben was still working as a Local Authority Enforcement Officer).
Much of the round of working in housing law on a day to day basis is fairly dry and academic and of interest only to people like me but every now and again you get something come up that gets everyone interested and scratching their heads.
This week I was asked for advice by a colleague on a bizarre situation she finds herself in.
She manages properties for the council that have been procured from private landlords to rent out as temporary accommodation to homeless applicants who occupy until a permanent offer comes up somewhere else.
The deal being that any void periods are paid for by the council but given that we get on average 500 people a week through our doors you can imagine the void periods are around seven and a half minutes with the last black bin liner going on the van as the first of the incoming ones start arriving through the front door.
One of our tenants was an animal lover who owned two rather attractive Corn Snakes. Look them up. Four feet long with striking coloured markings. They aren’t poisonous but by God you wouldn’t know that upon seeing one.
Breaking the no pets rule? Possibly but generally they wouldn’t present a problem, living as they do in a vivarium, except that’s the nub of the problem…..only one of them lives in a vivarium, the other having escaped some weeks ago, taking up its own temporary accommodation god knows where and showing himself occasionally.
The tenant got permanent accommodation and moved out but the snake is still in there somewhere.
My colleague has been inside with someone from the RSPCA. Bath panels and skirting boards have been removed, dead mice have been used as bait but they can find neither hide nor scale of the thing. The RSPCA are confident it will be in the structure somewhere.
We had another homeless applicant ready to go but when we told her about the snake she refused to move in. we predict a similar response from anyone else we tell and meanwhile we are covering the void period from a very tight budget.
And yes…..we’ve considered the obvious, just don’t tell them, but aren’t we morally obliged to, let alone legally?
Not everyone is frightened of snakes, I’m not, having handled several over the years but I wouldn’t want to sit watching TV on tenterhooks. Although not poisonous they can bite what if they bite a child? Traumatise an unwitting adult?
The county court case that jumps to my mind is Minter v. Mole Valley (2011) where Mole Valley council placed a troublesome tenant with private landlord Mr Minter without telling him of her history. She acted true to character and wrecked the home.
Mr Minter sued the council arguing they should have warned him. The council defended by hiding behind the Data Protection Act but the judge decided that the council owed a duty of care to the landlord and awarded compensation.
Would the logic of a council owing a duty of care transfer over to the Corn Snake case? I would suggest it does and this is what I advised my colleague.
So as the days roll on and the void bill rises we still haven’t found anyone brave enough to take it on and can hardly give it back to the landlord, its with us on a five year contract.
It would probably cost thousands to pull the place apart and re-structure and the RSPCA have admitted it could be moving through adjoining flats as well.
There’s nothing for it….we’ll have to bite the bullet and send in the council Mongoose. Thank god he survived the recent round of redundancies.