Ben Reeve Lewis gives a personal contribution to the section 21 debate
I’ve been reading Tessa’s series on s21 with interest.
There really are a number of angles to consider and I thought I would put a very personal one but as a private tenant myself, rather than as a TRO for once.
Lets set the scene
Renting is not of my choice. I was a homeowner who went through a relationship breakdown and found myself sharing a flat in Hackney with a friend, in the style of Men Behaving Badly, complete with empty beer cans and take-away cartons littering the floor.
Then I got together with my partner. She owns a 2 up 2 down with her mum but who wants to live with their parents at our age? Plus the house is too small for us all, so renting it had to be.
We procured a furnished flat through friends in a letting agency, who guaranteed us that whilst we were being given a 12 month AST with a 6-month break clause the landlord, who was a charity worker in New Zealand, would not be returning to the UK for at least 2 years.
So we happily set up our first home, shopped in IKEA, bought flowers, all the usual and then 4 months later the landlord returned.
No happy ending…..
He sent an email saying what great tenants we were but that he was back now and served us with s21 so he could move in himself.
Not only were we gutted, having just started to put down roots, but we also had to find new accommodation, which cost us around £3,000 taking into account everything from Van hire, new furniture for the now unfurnished property, not to mention the stress of the whole thing.
We were further gutted to see that he didn’t actually move in at all but put the property up for sale, to take advantage of a ‘Buoyant market’.
The only satisfaction we received was watching him consistently lowering the asking price over the subsequent months and when compared to what Land Registry recorded as the price he bought it for he ended up making only £4,000, slightly more than it cost us to relocate.
We allowed ourselves a smug, wry smile, as would anyone.
Onwards and upwards into a new home
The new home, where we currently live, was rented through a reputable high street chain.
One year after moving in we received a cheery letter from the agents informing us that it was time to renew the tenancy, at a cost of £140 and that if we did not want to renew that would be absolutely no problem for them and they would arrange to serve us with a section 21.
History repeating itself?…..
Now bear in mind, I’m a TRO. I deal with rogue landlords and agents for a living and I would be a poor TRO if I hadn’t done my research into our landlord. Whilst we have never met, I know their home address, their work address and all their contact details.
So knowing how this game works I didn’t respond to the agent but instead emailed the landlord asking why they wanted us to leave.
It was just the agent’s way of eyeing up the possibility of a new finders fee.
A week later, we got another letter from the agents saying “The landlord wants to raise the rent by £100 per month”, to which I responded that I was not prepared to pay that but would go to an extra £40.
They said they would run this by the landlord and get back to me. I knew they had no intention of haggling with the landlord on my behalf and a couple of days later we got a new letter saying the landlord would not go below £80.
I emailed the landlord asking him why they wanted an £80 increase.
We once went a month without a washing machine because the agents kept coming up with a range of excuses until I went into angry TRO “Do you know who I am?” mode, at which point they fessed up that they could not get a machine bought and installed by their contractor for under £500 and the landlord would only go to £400.
So we went online, found a machine and fitting for £300 and again emailed the landlord directly, who was more than happy for us to buy and deduct from the rent.
On the three or four occasions we have reported a repair the agents have written the same letters, setting a date and time for the job to be done and paragraph saying if we can’t be there its not a problem as they have a set of management keys and will just let themselves in.
Of course, they can’t. I changed the locks on day one but it’s the cheerful presumption that as tenants we don’t count and that permission to enter our home is not required.
Do you see a pattern here?
Even someone who has been prosecuting rogue landlords for 29 years can’t protect themselves from insecurity and endless onslaughts from agents trying to increase their income by any means necessary.
Luckily I earn enough not to have to resort to the kinds of dodgy agents I deal with all day and my extra knowledge of housing law and the rental market means I am not a good person to pick a fight with. But the vicissitudes of law means that everything we have been subjected to has been entirely legal.
The system screws us because we are tenants.
The loss of the previous home and the attacks by the agent at our current home leave us worn out.
Living with the reality
We no longer even look on our place as our home.
Every day we expect a letter or email serving a section 21, because that’s how it works. We’ve been there.
We got rid of all the pot plants in the back garden because we don’t feel we can invest in it and we haven’t redecorated since we moved in for the same reason.
I can’t even remember the last time we went to IKEA to buy some tea lights.
There are no pictures on the wall, lest we lose our deposit, no investment in the flat as a home, it is merely a “Dwelling House’, a legal concept described perfectly by Lord Millett in the case of Uratemp Ventures Ltd v. Collins (2001) as:-
“The place where an occupier lives and to which he returns”
We detest living in the PRS, despite the fact that we have never met our landlords and have no issues with them personally.
It’s the whole miserable, sorry existence of being a tenant living under the sword of Damocles of s21 and letting agents treating you like an inconvenience.
And we are the lucky ones. Middle-income earners who don’t get pushed around, unlike my clients at Safer Renting.
God only knows what life is like for them. Its no wonder so many of them report feeling suicidal and trapped.