Brentwood Council ‘Gatekeeping’ have been found at fault by the Local Government Ombudsman for telling the tenant to remain in the property, after the court order, until the bailiffs evict them.
The Landlord’s lost rent and bailiffs fees were ordered against the council, who must also issue ‘advice’ to their Housing Options staff, and go sit on the ‘naughty step’.
Click here for the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman’s final decision.
- Mr X told the case officer in mid-May 2019 that he intended to recover possession of the property. He also confirmed his tenants had substantial rent arrears. Although Mr X told Mr Y and Ms Z they could stay in the property until 31 July, he was not willing to renew their tenancy agreement.
- As a landlord, Mr X knew he had to go through the legal process to recover possession of his property. He instructed an agent to deal with this on his behalf. Mr Y and Ms Z had a contractual liability to pay the rent due so they are responsible for the rent arrears.
- Mr X considers the Council actively encouraged his tenants to stay in the property after the Possession Order was made. He referred to the letter sent to his tenants in May 2019 which explained their legal right to remain in occupation until the Court made an order for eviction. That was an accurate summary of the law. So it was not fault for the Council to give them this information about their legal rights. The Council had a duty to give housing advice on request.
- When Mr Y and Ms Z applied for homelessness assistance, the Council had a duty to consider the statutory guidance in the Code. In late July Mr Y told the case officer there was a possession hearing in the County Court later that day. The officer relied on Mr Y to tell him the outcome. But when Mr Y did not provide that information promptly, he should have contacted Mr X instead. It was fault not to do so because the Code says councils should maintain contact with the tenant and the landlord in these circumstances.
- The Council should review whether it is reasonable for the tenant to remain in occupation at different stages in the possession process. The Code says one of the factors councils must consider is the financial impact on the landlord. The Council did not have regard to that advice. It failed to consider the impact on Mr X although it knew there were significant rent arrears. The Code says it is “highly unlikely to be reasonable” to expect tenants to remain in a property after the Possession Order has expired. The relevant date in this case was 9 August. The Council did not consider the financial impact on Mr X if the tenants stayed in the property beyond that date and did not pay rent. It did not arrange temporary accommodation for them until 5 September. Because of this delay, Mr X was out of pocket because the rent arrears continued to increase and he had the extra expense of applying for a warrant for eviction.
- It seems more likely than not that if the Council had considered the advice in paragraph 6.36 of the Code, and made contact with Mr X, they would have decided it was not reasonable for Mr Y and Ms Z to remain in the property. The injustice to Mr X is the additional lost rent and the cost of applying for a warrant for eviction. There would have been no need to make that application if the Council had acted sooner to accommodate Mr Y and Ms Z.