Don’t Shoot the Messenger # 8Make Text Bigger
When a tenant has a beef with their landlord, I’m the guy they go to. My job is to either negotiate or prosecute, depending on the circumstances. This occasional and random series aims to let landlords know the common complaints that are made about them, the laws that cover them and how to deal with it.
“I have served my tenant with a section 21, I sent her to the homelessness unit but they have told her to wait for a possession order”
Oh my word I cant tell you how many times I get complaints from landlords on this one.
As we all know there is no defence to a section 21 claim. Once the fixed term of the Assured Shorthold Tenancy runs out and a section 21 notice has been served a possession order is guaranteed (presuming the paperwork is in order) and comes out in the post without a court hearing.
If the tenant cant defend it what is the point of going the full distance right? And if the tenant is also eligible to be rehoused by the council’s homelessness team (kids, pregnancy, physical or mental health problems usually) then why is a landlord forced through the hoops when the council has to pick her up in the end anyway? Surely they are just being difficult for the sake of it.
Sorry but no they aren’t. the law on homelessness applications is huge and tortuous….I know…..I have it teach it to councils. It is dominated by an ever changing raft of complex case laws and, increasingly these days, human rights challenges to homelessness decisions.
You also need to factor in that the department for Communities and Local Government and the relevant audit teams monitor statistics that are sent to the CLG every single week for scrutiny. They are called ‘P1E’s and are the bane of the homelessness unit manager’s life.
I spent some time as the head of homelessness for West Wiltshire District Council and I had to fill these bloody things in weekly, fortnightly, monthly and quarterly, showing how many people we had picked up, how many we had placed in temporary accommodation and what ethnic background, family status, health problems each of them came with.
All of these results are scrutinized by civil servants looking to jump on your back when you do something you shouldn’t.
The legal bit.
Apart from the very cautious attitude to picking people up there are some very specific laws that the homelessness units use to determine whether someone is legally ‘Homeless’.
If the aren’t legally homeless the council cannot pick them up.
I wont bore you with the full definition, because there are many categories of legal homelessness, not just sleeping on the street, I’ll just examine the ones that relate to our context here.
- A person is homeless if they have no legal right to occupy a property
- A person is homeless if they are threatened with homelessness within the next 28 days.
No legal right to occupy
Serving a section 21 notice does not end a tenant’s legal right to occupy. A notice of any kind, and there are many notices for different types of tenancy, not just section 21, is simply the first stage of an eviction process. If a tenant moves out when the notice expires everything is hunky dory but if they don’t, or simply cant for a variety of reasons, then the landlord is obliged by law to get a possession order.
And there is the sticking point for councils, until the possession order is issued the tenant still has a legal right to occupy, therefore they aren’t homeless within the definition of Part VII of the Housing Act 1996, so the council cannot treat them as a homeless case. If they did it would be picked up on the P1Es and the government would jump on the council’s back.
Threatened homeless in the next 28 days.
A notice on it’s own doesn’t make a person threatened with homelessness, a possession order or a warrant of eviction performs that legal function.
If there is a court hearing coming up, then the date of the hearing is not the date a person becomes threatened with homelessness because court cases can be adjourned for a variety of reasons and a tenant could defeat a landlord’s claim in any number of ways, even section 21 claims are not done-deals until possession is granted by the judge.
If a judge issues a possession order they will usually put a date of possession on it, often 28 days, and that is what the council is looking for to fulfill this requirement. Similarly if a landlord already has possession and has gone back for a warrant the council would have to open a case.
Note that they aren’t required by law necessarily to provide temporary accommodation while they are investigating, so for instance if a tenant is threatened homeless within the next 28 days, in other words the landlord has a possession order, the council will open a case and carry out investigations but still leave the tenant in the property while they do so, because, as you should all know, a landlord cant just evict a tenant on a possession order alone, they must first obtain a warrant of eviction.
Putting people in Bed & Breakfast hotels, hostels or other temporary accommodation, or ‘T.A’ as it is known, costs a fortune and there are obviously limited spaces, so council’s will only do this when absolutely necessary.
My unit in inner London has around 100 homeless applicants every single day through it’s doors on average, they all come with tragic stories and they all want to be re-housed. If we ignored the rules and picked up every case that came through the door we literally wouldn’t last to the end of the week.
We have to say ‘No’ more than we say ‘Yes’, and to do this we need to nit-pick on legal issues and this results in sit-ins and visits from the police. Our security staff wear stab vests, feelings run high in homelessness.
Me being contentious again
Also, forgetting the law for a minute and lets look at what the annoyed landlord is asking a homelessness unit to do.
A landlord lets a property to a tenant, it is a both a business and legal arrangement for which the landlord (in theory) makes a profit, that is why they do it.
If that business arrangement goes wrong, through a nightmare tenant, or the landlord simply has other plans, such as selling the property then why should the council be expected to use public money to bail them out of their problem?
And yet these expectations get thrown at us all the time. When we send the tenants back with the bad news we get angry phone calls from landlords and even illegal evictions.
You will get different approaches in certain cases based on their specific circumstances and the resources available. Rural homelessness units differ from inner city ones, but having said that, although a rural unit will see far fewer people in a week they also have less places to put them so it usually balances out in terms of pressure on the service.
So next time you feel that the council are being obstructive and difficult just for the sake of it, bear in mind that they are trapped between a very strict set of laws and the number of people making homelessness applications.
In an ideal world homelessness units would be able to work more closely with landlords to find common sense solutions, in fact many are but there is a limit to what can be done, for all of the reasons I mention above and with homelessness on the increase (Leeds City Council recently reported a 200% increase in the past 2 years) things will only get worse.
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