A day in the life of TRO Ben Reeve Lewis.
The Case of Cat-woman and the Strange Coincidence
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.
Not my usual TRO stuff, but I couldn’t help but get involved.
Edna has …..Well not exactly mental health problems, she is a happy soul and in many ways much more well-adjusted than many people that I know…..including me, but she has this obsession…..with animals…..lots of them.
I don’t know if there is a medical definition of ‘Eccentric’ but if there was, it would be Edna. She must be in her late 60s and reminds me of a female version of Private Godfrey in Dad’s Army.
She is living in a 1 bed flat above a row of shops, along with her friends, who are……7 cats, 4 dogs, 7 Rabbits, a range of caged birds and to cap it all, a snake. It’s like the united nations of animals in there, all of them happily coexisting in ways that put humans to shame. There is however, the smell…… More on that later.
A new case begins
Edna comes in for advice. Her landlord….let’s call him Johnny Morris, (only those of you over 40 need laugh at this joke), has been to court and obtained a possession order. Despite clear breaches of both common law and contractual clauses he hasn’t bothered using a Section 8 notice because he has been around a while in the letting business and he knows that it would be unnecessarily complicating matters. He issues a Section 21, for expiry of the fixed term. He has also gone back to court to get the warrant and the locks are due to be changed in 2 days’ time.
I call Johnny and I must say he is a very reasonable and patient man who invites me to meet him at the property that afternoon. Edna says she can’t be there but doesn’t mind us going there alone (I think she is embarrassed, bless her). As we go in through the door I am immediately hit by the smell. It’s a bit like when you empty your child’s hamster cage into a bin liner with the remains of some cauliflower cheese and then open it accidentally a week later.
A bit more than fair wear and tear …
Despite Edna only being in occupation for 9 months the flat looks like it has seen neither a hoover nor a bottle of bleach since 1947. Discarded cat and dog food tins adorn the work surfaces and there is a huge sack of rabbit pellets in the corner (god knows what she feeds the snake on – maybe the rabbits). There is also a solid film of old dog and cat food on the draining board and in the sink, that wouldn’t come off with sandblasting.
Every time I look down there is a flock/herd/shoal of something or other checking out my shoes. Despite all this there was something insanely peaceful and friendly about the whole place and if it wasn’t for the overpowering smell I would have burst out laughing and sat down.
Johnny isn’t best pleased though and I can see his point, it is going to cost him a small fortune just to get the place habitable again.
Him next door
We go out into the back garden, which is where she has been discarding the tins of animal food, just by throwing them out, not putting them into bins or rubbish sacks. There is no fence between the flat and next door, which is a Chinese take-away. I have a file in my hand and am foolishly wearing my council ID badge, which brings the take-away’s proprietor out in a fury.
He makes straight for me shouting in heavily accented Chinese/English (Chinglish as it is called) “I see you….you F****ng council man”. I stop him and point out that I am not Environmental Health but he ignores it and shouts “Look at mess….look at f****ng mess, and council do nothing…..you…..you F*****ng council man”
The landlord agrees
Leaving him to his private rantings and stepping back into hell, I have a chat with Johnny and ask him if he would give me some time to sort something out. He very graciously agrees to not turn up on the day of the proposed eviction and just re-apply for a new warrant, which will buy me the time I need. He keeps his promise and the attending bailiff’s go back to the court without taking action.
I dig around a bit with social services and find that Edna had once been a tenant of the council, in the first floor flat of a converted house. They had evicted her 2 years before for the same behaviour, namely keeping a zoo on the property. I call the housing officer who groans at the mention of Edna’s name, thinking she had gotten rid of her.
Complementary neighbours …
She tells me that she had so many animals using the floor as the toilet that animal urine soaked through the floorboards and joists and even dripped through the ceiling of the tenant below……amazingly the tenant downstairs had obsessive compulsive cleaning disorder, so in many ways the two were made for each other…..the housing officer didn’t share my sense of humour though. Apparently it cost the council £40,000 to set right the damage after she had left.
The thing is, what do you do with the Edna’s of the world? She isn’t mentally ill in the harmful sense so can’t be sectioned under the Mental Health Act, she is just eccentric basically, and although she doesn’t relate to the real world (what sane person would?) she just loves animals. People like Edna end up going round and round in the system, not quite fitting anyone’s job description or criteria for assistance.
Ben sorts it out
I am not a social worker or any kind of mental health professional, I only do landlord – tenant law, so I persuaded the Homelessness team to take a Part VII (Homelessness) application from Edna. They could mount an argument that she has made herself intentionally homeless, and I am sure they will try, but I argued that she has the ‘get –out’ of not being in control of her actions. Anyway, with a new and lawful warrant issued, and a landlord who has shown the patience of a saint there is no TRO work left to do, so I go back on normal duty.
Now thats what I call an illegal eviction …
A few hours later the phone rings and I get a proper TRO case come in. Eduardo has been in dispute with his landlord over withheld rent and disrepair issues. He went to visit friends in the Lake District for a week, with his landlord’s knowledge. When he returned he found all the ground floor windows to his house bricked up.
As if that wasn’t enough the landlord had dug a round hole, about 2 feet deep in the front porch, sunk a large metal rubbish bin in it, one of those 6 feet high ones on 3 wheels that you get in council flats, and half- filled it with concrete……..Now that’s what I CALL an illegal eviction, it shows a bit of creativity and commitment. The kind of thing I can get my teeth into.
Eduardo called the police who told him that he could not remove the bin or the bricks because they didn’t belong to him and therefore could be construed as criminal damage.
And guess who his landlord is?……..Edna’s neighbour, the owner of the take away! ……….So now ‘F****ng Council Man’ has to call him and threaten legal action…………….Oh joy!…..see you in 2 hours.
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.