A day in the life of TRO Ben Reeve Lewis.
The Case of 3 Daft Interviews
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.
Sheila comes in with her arm in a sling, accompanied by her sister who translates (Sheila is from Ecuador, English OK but not when she is a highly emotional state). Her landlady Natasha had gone to court and obtained a possession order but before waiting to see if Sheila was going to move out she let the property to a new tenant – one of her existing tenants Aleisha – who was from another property Natasha was also renting out.
Interview #1: Sheila
The story goes that Sheila opened the door to be greeted by Aleisha and her boxes of belongings, brandishing a shiny, new tenancy agreement for the property that Sheila had yet to be evicted from.
Aleisha had 2 removal men with her. Aleisha forced the door when Sheila protested and her arm was hurt in the process. The ambulance was called, as was the landlord who duly turned up at the property at the same time as the ambulance.
Our helpful police
Police were also called who tried to pour oil on the troubled waters, arriving as they did at a time when much complaining was going on and Sheila was being treated by the ambulance crew. Sheila was taken away in the ambulance and the attending police officers then helped Aleisha carry her boxes upstairs into her new flat…….unbelievable!
I speak to them as a group and then call the incident room to see how the case was recorded at the police end. I get told that it is recorded that police did attend at stated time but that no allegations of assault were made, even though the ambulance was there at the same time as the police and the tenant taken away to hospital. I find this strange.
Three women looking for justice
Sheila, Aleisha and Natasha are all in our reception area looking for justice.
Natasha swears that butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth, adding that she is a bank manager and obviously wouldn’t behave in such a way.
Aleisha tells me that she took the property on in good faith, following Natasha’s instructions. Sheila accused Aleisha of being the one that forced the door and assaulted her (although she later admitted she didn’t see who actually forced the door). Aleisha said the 2 removal men were the ones that forced the door and caused the injury. So I get Aleisha into interview room 4…..
Interview #2: Aleisha
Me: So who were these 2 men?
Aleisha: I don’t know I just contacted them as men to help me move.
Me: How did you find them?
Aleisha: They left a card in a phone box.
Me: So did you call them to help you?
Me: OK. So you still got their number on your phone?
Me: How can we contact them?
Aleisha: You can’t. I don’t know their names or where they are, it was just one of those cards in a phone box.
Bubble wrap landlord
I go back and speak to Natasha who is by now fuming because things aren’t going her way. She complains that a friend is looking after her child whilst she is sleeping in a garage under a sheet of bubble-wrap. She says she can’t occupy Sheila’s flat because now Aleisha is in there and she can’t occupy Aleisha’s original flat because it is damp and her son can’t live there because he has Asthma.
Aleisha relents and says she will move out to a friend’s so Sheila can move back in, but Natasha threatens to burn down the house with Sheila inside. So I have to call the police.
The police again
2 young officers arrive. They interview Sheila and get the same information I already had. Natasha repeats her threat to burn down the house and kill Sheila. The 2 officers call their sergeant…..By this time we are now we are around 4 hours into this nonsense.
The sergeant arrives and starts saying to Sheila, “Now look love. The landlord has got a possession order so it is now its all down to you and you have to move out”. I groan and have to stop the interview and take the police outside to explain the eviction process, re; the legal requirement for a landlord to obtain a Warrant of Eviction if the tenant doesn’t move out after possession is granted, we then all toddle into another interview room to talk to Natasha, who is by now shaking and tearful.
The sergeant says that he will have to arrest her if she continues to threaten to kill Sheila. Natasha relents and says she will only burn down the house when Sheila is out, adding that she will then kill herself. The sergeant tells her not to be so silly and, newly advised, he tells her to just go and get the bailiff’s warrant and finish it properly.
Interview #3; Natasha
Me: Look you have done the right thing and got the possession order. Sheila hasn’t found anywhere else yet so now why don’t you just pay the £95, get the warrant and end the tenancy properly?
Natasha; (Shaking and crying) I cant afford it
Me; Have you got a partner?
Natasha: My husband, lives up north and doesn’t know anything about what is going on.
Me: Well, can’t he lend you the money?
Natasha: He has no money, he’s an asylum seeker, he isn’t allowed to work (more tears, more shaking)
Me: (thinking for a minute) Well if Aleisha is going to stay at her friends why don’t you move into the empty flat?
Natasha: (Near hysterical) I need arms……I needs arms. The removal men just dumped all my stuff in the hall and I can’t move it to get in.
Me: Then why don’t you get your husband to help you move the stuff?
Natasha: (Even more hysterical and wailing) He’s disabled……….
Ben sums it up
Me: So Let me get this straight Natasha, coz a lot of information has been exchanged in the last few hours and I want to know If I have things right.
You are a bank manager and a portfolio landlord, owning more than one property. You are sleeping under a sheet of bubble-wrap in a garage and you are married to a disabled asylum seeker who lives up north and knows nothing about what is going on?
Natasha: Yeeeeeeeesssss!!!!!! Why is all this my faaaaauuuuullllltttt?.
So where do we go from here?
Cut to scene. 1 wailing woman, 1 TRO sitting blowing his cheeks out wondering how to phrase the next question, 3 Coppers in stab vests looking equally bemused, the silence broken by the crackle of a police radio reporting a disturbance next door in MacDonalds.
Just a day in the life …
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 and visit his website here.