Council advises tenant to break back into landlord’s property

Council advises tenant to break back into landlord’s property

13:22 PM, 6th November 2017, About 7 years ago 21

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It has been widely reported that in a bid to cope with Britain’s housing shortage, councils often advise tenants facing eviction, and in need of social housing, to stay put in buy-to-let properties when landlords ask them to leave.  This is because, with resources already stretched, councils are reluctant to rehouse tenants until they are legally evicted and ‘technically’ homeless. Now for the first time, specialist tenant eviction company, Landlord Action, has been instructed by a landlord whose tenant vacated his property only to subsequently break back in, allegedly on the advice of Havering Borough Council.

Mr Lewis Selt, a landlord from Hertfordshire, has owned his two bedroom first-floor flat in the town centre of Romford, Essex, for many years. A little over a year ago, he let his property to a single mother in receipt of housing benefit.

A local letting agent, which manages the property for Mr Selt, confirmed that the tenant and the rent guarantor, in place to ensure the tenant’s ability to fulfill her tenancy obligations, passed all referencing checks. However, after 4-5 months payments became irregular and eventually stopped altogether. By this point, the twelve month tenancy agreement had come to an end and with £2000 rent arrears accrued, the landlord had no choice but to serve the tenant notice. The tenant surrendered the property and left with her belongings on the agreed date. The agent retrieved the keys from the property on the same day whilst carrying out his check-out report.

However, the next day the tenant along with her guarantor returned to the letting agent to ask if she could have the keys back and return to the property.  She informed them that Havering Council had said they would not rehouse her because she had voluntarily made herself homeless and that she should have remained in the property until she was evicted. When the agent refused, she explained that Havering Council had advised her that if the agent would not give the keys back, she should get a locksmith and break back into the property.

Robert Gordon, Property Manager for Mr Selt said: “I went to the property the next morning to ensure everything was ok but my keys no longer worked. I could see that furniture had been moved back into the property. In an attempt to resolve the matter, I drove straight to the local council but no-one would speak to me or identify who had issued such ludicrous advice to a tenant who felt she had no choice but to break the law.”

Mr Selt is now faced with a sitting tenant and having to start eviction proceedings. Although he could take legal action against the tenant under a trespassing law, he has decided to serve a Section 21 notice and a Section 8 notice in a bid to get his property back and recover money owed as quickly as possible. It will now take approximately six to eight weeks for a judge to grant a possession order and if the tenant still refuses to leave, which she is likely to do based on advice by Havering Council, bailiffs will be called.

Landlord, Mr Lewis Selt, said: “Not only am I not receiving rent on my property, I’m now faced with eviction costs and yet I’m powerless to do anything about it. The agent has done everything possible to protect my interests but landlords and agents are facing a losing battle if local authorities are going to issue such ridiculous advice.”

 According to National Landlords Association (NLA), nearly half (49%) of tenants who have been served with a section 21 notice by their private landlord say they have been told to ignore it by their local council or an advice agency such as Shelter or the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB).  In March 2016, the former Housing Minister Brandon Lewis wrote to all chief executives of local councils telling them to stop routinely advising tenants to stay put until the bailiff arrives.

Paul Shamplina, Founder of Landlord Action, the company instructed by Mr Selt to evict his tenant, says: “Local authorities are forcing landlords to go to court to gain possession, running up considerable costs. Landlords are losing confidence in the system and turning away from communities which rely on their private housing to bridge the gap in the chronic shortage of social housing. This advice is exasperating the problem and something needs to be done.”

Contact Landlord Action

Specialists in tenant eviction and debt collection. Regulated by The Law Society.

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Mark Alexander - Founder of Property118

14:08 PM, 6th November 2017, About 7 years ago

I don’t understand why the Police couldn’t be immediately involved on the grounds of squatting, which is now illegal. That’s certainly the way this case looks to me, given that the tenants had surrendered the tenancy.

Squatting is now a criminal offence so the Police should have powers of arrest.

Chances of proving the Council gave the alleged advice is very unlikely I suspect.

Robert M

15:06 PM, 6th November 2017, About 7 years ago

I agree with Mark, if the tenant moved out and handed her keys in to the letting agent, and these were accepted, then she has surrendered the tenancy. I presume the letting agent did a check out inspection and gave the tenant a receipt for the keys, so that is the evidence of the surrender having been given and accepted.

If the tenant subsequently breaks into the house, then that is burglary? trespass, and squatting. As Mark says, squatting in a residential property is now a criminal offence so the police should have been called and should have removed the tenant (by arresting her if necessary).

If police are refusing to do their job, then perhaps a private prosecution is required?

Also, if tenant has surrendered the tenancy (e.g. by handing back the keys to the letting agent), then how can a new s21 or s8 notice be valid, as there is no tenancy to serve notice upon.

Ian Narbeth

17:47 PM, 6th November 2017, About 7 years ago

I would also cite Havering Council and the guarantor for incitement to commit a criminal offence. I would also threaten the tenant with prosecution for criminal damage, theft of the old lock and theft of electricity if she has used any power. First action though as Mark says is to get the police to evict her as a squatter.

Mark Alexander - Founder of Property118

18:16 PM, 6th November 2017, About 7 years ago

Paul Shamplina from Landlord Action has asked me to post the following on his behalf ...

"Our solicitor recommended to the landlord from the outset to take the trespassers route, but the landlord was worried about the risks of a judge dismissing the action and costs incurred. The tenant was trying to deny the surrender the tenancy. He reluctantly went with the safer option of the S21 route. According to the agent the police were called to the property once they broke back in to the property, as it was believed they were trespassers, but the police would not act and said the landlord had to take the court possession action route. Unfortunately still some police fail to act when it is believed there are trespassers in a residential property, its frustrating. We were one of the organisations that successfully campaigned to the government to change the laws in 2012."

Jay James

20:57 PM, 6th November 2017, About 7 years ago

Sick, disgusting and a number of unmentionable words apply to the police, but..."The agent retrieved the keys from the property on the same day whilst carrying out his check-out report." Was the tenancy surrendered? (I doubt the police thought of this, rather I bet they are use to taking the 'it's a civil matter' approach.)

Neil Patterson

11:36 AM, 7th November 2017, About 7 years ago

Response from Havering Borough Council to Landlord Action:

A Havering Council spokesperson, said:
“The client reached out to staff at the Public Advice and Service Centre (PASC), where she was informed she still had a number of months in the property, as the landlord would need to follow the legal eviction process. The client then told staff she had handed the keys back to the Estate Agent and had put her belongings in storage. After speaking with the agents, it became clear that she had not handed back her keys, but had left them inside the property.

“Council staff later advised her to return to the property as she still had the right of occupation. The agents were also reminded that as the case had not gone through the courts, the client had the legal right to remain in the property.

“Havering Council will always do its best to support vulnerable residents from becoming homeless, and we urge both private landlords and letting agents to act responsibly and follow the correct legal procedures.”

Chris @ Possession Friend

11:40 AM, 7th November 2017, About 7 years ago

I don't think this is a Police matter, she was very, very recently a tenant with legal occupation and its not part of, nor do the level of Police have resources currently at the countries disposal to pontificate over Housing and other Act legalities on this issue.
What is clearly wrong here, and lets not loose focus of it, is the Council acting yet again in contravention of their duties regarding Homelessness, as reminded to them by Mr Lewis ( and a previous Housing Minster before him )
I agree regarding a Private prosecution, and believe there must be more than the 15 members of the Prop118 Action group who have been subject of similar action by Council's.
So, how about it Mark, - what about spending some of the funds from the Action group on a case against Havering. seems quite strong on the face of it, so should win our fees back. What's Mark Smith's view. ? [ would be excellent publicity for Prop118's Action group ! ]
In absence of above and anyway, I'd recommend the landlord make a formal Complaint to the Council, taking it to the LGO if necessary ( although LGO isn't an independent adjudicator of councils, but more of their defence mouthpiece. )
I spoke with Two landlords yesterday having experienced the same and that's what I advised them.
Yes, its happening up and down the country, but interestingly, not by all councils. - so, basis for a case !

Richard Adams

11:47 AM, 7th November 2017, About 7 years ago

There is rent owing from before this ghastly scenario kicked off. Now there will be additional costs like lock changing due to tenants breaking back in plus maybe more legal costs. It would seem that the tenant was financially flaky from the start but thank heavens there is a guarantor in place who appears to have been part of the process of following up on the Council's absurd advice. The guarantor should be proceeded against so that at the very least after this awful situation is eventually resolved the poor landlord is not out of pocket to the tune of a single penny.

Chris @ Possession Friend

11:51 AM, 7th November 2017, About 7 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Richard Adams at 07/11/2017 - 11:47
Re Tenant being 'Flaky from the start' ~
What were the extent of reference checks carried out by the Agent ?
If the Agent has been found wanting in their due diligence, -
Have a look at case of HALE v BSP (Blue Sky Properties) where landlord won all his damages back from agent.

Mark Alexander - Founder of Property118

11:57 AM, 7th November 2017, About 7 years ago

Reply to the comment left by Chris Daniel at 07/11/2017 - 11:40
Hello Chris

Private Prosecution of whom and on what grounds?

We don't even know who the landlord is.

Sorry, but this is not a case for TLU to take up.

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