A day in the life of TRO Ben Reeve Lewis.
The case of the reckless man and the criminal police
Explanation: Tenancy Relations Officers (TROs) 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.
Back in March of this year a Hungarian woman who we will call Olga (Yeah I know it’s Russian but how many typical Hungarian names do you know?) turned up for advice on a notice that her landlord had served on her. I looked at it and it was just 4 lines of a letter telling her he wanted her to move out. I duly advised her that legally the letter wasn’t worth the paper it was written on and she toddled off.
The landlord, Ivan (for the sake of some Russian continuity in the names, even though he is actually Turkish) rang me and I told him about his problem and gave him a bit of advice on how to do things properly. He went away and did a bit of Googling and emailed me telling me he had arranged for a company to serve a proper notice on the tenant. I said that sounds fine to me and that was the end of it……………………until a few days back.
Our out of hours manager receives a phone call in the evening from a distressed Olga saying that Ivan had gone to the house and had changed the locks and the Police were there trying to sort things out.
Legal Point: if there is a tenant in occupation a landlord cant change the locks without getting a court order. Illegal evictions are criminal offences but it’s the council that prosecutes them, not the police.
The police refused to speak to the duty officer on the phone, which is a real shame because the police always side with the landlord because they don’t know about illegal evictions, and the inevitable was about to happen.
The landlord insisted he wouldn’t let Olga back in. The landlord’s dad was becoming angry and aggressive towards Olga, who is a tiny slip of a thing (or ‘Ctponhbin’ in Russian…..I looked it up) and the police had to warn him off.
Eventually the police told her they had brokered a deal that would get her back into her tenancy. They came up with the fantastic and creative solution of getting her to sign a letter written quickly by the landlord on a scrap of paper he had, agreeing to give up her tenancy in 14 days time.
So there you go. You call the police because the landlord has locked you out of your home and the police help him get rid of you.
She signed it but said she felt under pressure to do it and one of the police told her that she was being unreasonable. How wonderful is that?……. she is being unreasonable in trying to stop herself being thrown onto the street by a man who has been making a profit out of her tenancy for months and now can’t be bothered to obey the law.
I picked up the case the next day. I called Ivan and asked him why, if he had served a valid notice that had expired, he hadn’t simply gone to court for possession and he replied “I cant afford to”.
I said, in my best ‘Sweeney’ voice, that we had him ‘Bang-ta-rights’…….’Done up like a Kippaaaa’, coz the police had witnessed it and said I was starting a full on investigation towards criminal prosecution. He whined that the police had okayed everything and I said that we are thinking of prosecuting them too (in a recent case Manchester police had to pay a large sum for getting involved in an unlawful eviction).
The next day he sent me an email saying that he had been taking advice and was now clear that he was being ‘Used’ to house Olga and enquired ‘Surely there must be a council department responsible for dealing with cases like her’.
I couldn’t resist emailing back saying that I failed to see how he is being ‘Used to house the tenant’, when nobody had twisted his arm when he chose to create a lawful tenancy with Olga that would be an investment opportunity and wondered what possible planet there could be in this universe where, when a relationship between a landlord and tenant breaks down, it suddenly becomes the council’s responsibility to sort it out..
He also emails through a copy of the notice which had been drafted by a major and very well known online company (not a firm of solicitors) who specialise in these things……..Ladies and gentlemen it was not much better than the one he served originally off his own bat and would have caused any lay advocate picking the court case up on the day, to get it adjourned because there wasn’t enough detail on it for the tenant to know why she was even being taken to court.
I asked him how much he paid for the notice and he said “£200”.
I am trying to think of a moral to this sorry tale. How about ‘Just because the police tell you are acting lawfully it doesn’t mean that you are’? or how about “Just because you pay £200 for a notice it wont necessarily guarantee you success”. Or maybe just plain old ‘Look before you leap’.
His rash actions caused much distress to his tenant who doesn’t appear to have done anything wrong, other than to have not found a new place quick enough for the landlord who wants to go travelling. He has left himself open to a criminal prosecution and the accompanying criminal record and good grounds for the tenant to sue him for damages. AND…….more importantly…….I had to miss my lunch to take the tenant’s statement……Heads will roll.
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 Tenancy Relations Officer 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.