Some of you who read this blog may remember that last week I was asked to comment on BBC (local) News, about the situation of landlord, Suzy Butler, who came back from working for the homeless in Peru, only to find that her tenant was refusing to move out, rendering her homeless herself.
There is an online newspaper report of the case here, which has now accumulated some interesting comments! I wrote about it briefly here, but as that post was mainly about the experience of doing a BBC interview, perhaps I should write a bit more about the case itself.
I am also prompted to do this by a TRO who has written to me expressing her outrage at the fact that this tenant, who appears to have a perfectly valid assured shorthold tenancy, was being called a squatter and doorstepped by GMTV asking her when she was going to move out. “Is this not” she asked me “harassment under the Protection from Eviction Act?”
An interesting question. Here is an extract from the act:
1(2): If any person unlawfully deprives the residential occupier of any premises of his occupation of the premises or any part thereof, or attempts to do so, he shall be guilty of an offence unless he proves that he believed, and had reasonable cause to believe, that the residential occupier had ceased to reside in the premises
It doesn’t specify here that it must be the landlord doing the harassment. Does going round with a TV crew equate to attempting to deprive the tenant of occupation of the premises?
If it does, what is the position of the various TV companies? They were after all the ones who broadcast the item and made millions of people think that this tenant was an illegal squatter.
Further down, the Act is more specific, although here it is aimed more specifically at the landlord:
(3A) … the landlord of a residential occupier or an agent of the landlord shall be guilty of an offence if—
(a) he does acts likely to interfere with the peace or comfort of the residential occupier or members of his household, or
(b) he persistently withdraws or withholds services reasonably required for the occupation of the premises in question as a residence,
and (in either case) he knows, or has reasonable cause to believe, that that conduct is likely to cause the residential occupier to give up the occupation of the whole or part of the premises or to refrain from exercising any right or pursuing any remedy in respect of the whole or part of the premises.
Well, Ms Butler may not have cut off the electricity supply, but she certainly seems to have interfered with the peace and comfort of her tenants occupation of the property. Unless the tenant enjoyed having a TV crew invade her living room, while her landlord berated her on camera.
Lawyers familiar with this area of the law know that you can be guilty of the offence even if you don’t believe that your actions will make the tenant want to leave. However Ms Butler did want her tenant to leave – that was after all presumably the whole point of the exercise! And it appears to have worked, as it is being reported on the internet that the tenant has indeed now moved out.
And just how fair is that, bearing in mind that other landlords who do not have TV crews helping them, often have to wait months before they can recover their property, after following the proper procedure through the courts? We all know the courts take far too long to resolve these cases, but the courts are severely underfunded, and in the current economic climate this isn’t going to change any time soon.
The situation of a tenant failing to move out at the end of a fixed term is not unusual and does not turn the tenant into a squatter. Section 5 of the Housing Act 1988 prolongs an assured shorthold tenancy indefinitely after the end of the fixed term on a ‘periodic’ basis. You end this by serving a section 21 notice on your tenant and then going to court for a possession order.
Many tenants who fall on hard times financially will stay on in a property, even if they are unable to pay the rent, as if they move out they will lose their right to be re-housed by the Local Authority. It is harsh on the landlord, but this is one of the risks you take.
If you are thinking of renting out your property, take note – most tenants are fine, but sometimes there are problems. New landlords should do research before they let property so they are aware of these things.
As for Ms Butler’s erstwhile tenant, no doubt she is speaking to her lawyers about her legal rights and remedies.
(Photo by Brett)