A day in the life of TRO Ben Reeve Lewis.
The Case of the Railway Sleeper
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 have been thinking of the often gloomy tenor of my posts, i.e. tenant gets illegally evicted – landlord gets away with it – and I thought that for a rare moment I would grace the reader with the tale of a case where I actually got a result. I mentioned this case briefly in my post on using force to break a tenant back into their property.
Naming a name
Let me introduce you to Diana Gould. For once I can tell you the real name because she was roundly admonished, fined and sent to bed without any supper by Judge Lincoln at Wells St Magistrate’s court, just off Oxford Street in London’s fair city.
Incident No 1.
Len Dawson walks into my interview room with a tale of woe, concerning his landlord, the previously mentioned Ms Gould, who had been in a strop over him missing a month’s rent. Len, for once, isn’t disputing matters. He was working as a temp and was between jobs and missed a month, his hands were well and truly….up! The problem was that Ms Gould’s reaction to this breach of contract was a trifle severe. She had turned off the gas supply and had left a note admitting it.
I did a flying visit to find a wooden built eco-house in a very attractive cul-de-sac of only 6 or 7 houses, on a hill with a fine view of the Thames and St Pauls. The house itself was on stilts and it didn’t take me long to figure out what the problem was. I climbed under the wooden supports and simply turned the gas supply back on at the tap.
Incident No. 2
I returned to the office and phoned Ms Gould and warned her about her behaviour. So far, so routine, and I didn’t expect to hear from Len again, but 2 or 3 days later he came back in with a sorry tale. He had returned home from work to find that all of the burners had been taken from the top of his cooker and his numerous houseplants had been tipped onto the floor. Ms Gould had left a note saying she wanted the money she was owed………………and she had turned the gas tap off again.
I called her again and asked her if she was off her head………….albeit in a legal manner.
Len still didn’t want to make a fuss. He managed to obtain replacement burners and simply swept up the dirt. By now he also knew where the gas tap was.
Eviction! Illegal of course
A few days later he came back in, saying he had returned from work and he couldn’t get in. He said that his key fitted the lock but the door wouldn’t budge, so I did a flying visit and found the same thing.
I did a full recce by looking through the windows; you could clearly see no signs of re-occupation so I called the Police and put them on- notice that I was going to force entry. I don’t normally bother because 2 guys scrambling in through a side window is not an un common thing to see in South East London. I have done it before on some rough arsed local estates and nobody batted an eyelid, but this was a leafy, money-ed up close, neighbourhood watch territory, so I thought I would cover my back.
Ben gets a CAD
The person on the other end of the phone noted my call and gave me what is called a CAD number (Computer Aided Despatch), which should mean that any attending officers called to a scene will have been forewarned of the situation………….emphasis on the word “Should”.
Legal Point. Under Section 6 of the Criminal Law Act an illegally evicted tenant can use force to re-secure their accommodation if there is nobody in there to object to the force being used. The set up was such that it was evident there wasn’t anybody in.
Making an entry
Despite the sturdy wooden build there was a weak spot. The sliding glass panels by the front door that opened onto the bathroom. Len and I were able to simply use our fingers to pull the aluminium frame aside enough to remove the glass. Len slid in first and I followed.
I had gotten half way through when I nearly had a heart attack. Something big, toothy and horrible (and I don’t mean Esther Rantzen) had grabbed my foot in a vice-like grip. Growling was involved, (and I don’t mean Esther Rantzen) . Len looked as alarmed as me and I felt a strong pair of hands pulling me the other way, as Len tried to hold my wrists.
Lassie and the prison movie extra
But his grip wasn’t strong enough and I was hauled out. Luckily, I was riding a motorbike in those days and so my boots were sturdy enough to protect me from turbo-Lassie and her owner. As I hit the decking I was confronted by around 8 police officers and 2 vans. I am not a small fella and have a shaved head and goatee beard, and I’m aware that I look like an extra from a prison movie.
I had my hands up and was shouting “Woah, woah, woah” and blurted out my CAD number and brandished my council ID Badge while Lassie was snapping at my head and hurriedly explained what was going on. One officer got onto the radio and confirmed my story and Lassie suddenly became as cute as a puppy…….marvellous training.
The duty sergeant and I conversed with Len through the gap and we both climbed through. Len had the opportunity to look around while I was being professionally mauled and was in a sorry state. As the Sergeant and I made our way in we saw all Len’s clothes dumped in the bath. They had been liberally sprinkled with bleach, both liquid and powdered form.
We went from there to the bedroom, where we found all 6 pairs of his shoes in perfect order……….apart from the fact that the left shoe of each pair was gone. A glance in the kitchen showed the gas burners to have been taken again, but most bizarrely of all there was a full railway sleeper screwed to the inside of the door frame. Not something ‘as big as’ a railway sleeper – but an actual railway sleeper, held in place by the biggest screws I have ever seen.
Ben goes to court
I returned to the office and phoned the landlord again. She admitted everything but was convinced of her innocence, justified by the missing month’s rent. I cautioned her over the phone and advised her to come in for a formal interview in connection with breaches of the Protection from Eviction Act 1977. She refused.
I liaised with our legal department, made out the required Section 9 Statements, went to court to get a summons and served it on her. She didn’t utter a word when I turned up and gave her the envelope.
Duly served, she turned up in Wells St Magistrates 18 months later (the law is quick like that) and was fined £2,000. She asked for time to pay. The judge asked her “How long?” She replied “6 Months”. Judge Lincoln said “I understand you own 2 properties?” she admitted that this was true. He then said “I’ll give you 2 months to remortgage one of them to raise funds” and that was it……………a successful prosecution.
It happens sometimes!
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.