Tales from the Frontline

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

7 years ago

Tales from the Frontline

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Tales from the Frontline

Regular readers will know that I am a working Tenancy Relations Officer dealing with harassment and illegal eviction cases and also a freelance trainer of housing staff, delivering housing law courses and communication skills such as conflict management.

I was recently training a group of housing staff in Dorset who told me that the worst case of harassment they had encountered was a landlord who cut off somebody’s electricity because they owed him rent. To be honest, working where I do I wouldn’t even consider that one a priority.

I am currently working on a case that is sucking days and days out of my working life and will to live. I thought you might be as amused and exasperated to hear of it as I am to work on it, plus it gives you an idea of the sort of things that are going on out there in PRS world. Believe it or not, this kind of thing isn’t even unusual for TROs.

Do you remember that old sitcom in the 1980s “Soap”? It had the opening line “Confused? You will be”.

Names have been changed to protect me!

Mr and Mrs Olu come in and claim their landlord James Annan has threatened them and changed the locks to their HMO room and front door. One of my colleagues rings Mr Annan and he admits he has done it and says he refuses to let them back in and we can go to hell. Perfect evidence for me.

An injunction would work here to get them straight back in but Mr Olu is working and cant afford the £175 so we put them into temporary accommodation, a B&B, with their baby while I do more investigations.

I take a section 9 statement to kick start a criminal prosecution of Mr Annan, my colleague’s conversation with him pretty much sealing up the case for me.

We have this bizarre conversation as I take the statement:-

Mr Olu “He was shouting and threatening us and throwing my things out of the room into the hall”
Me:   “Ok, when did you find out that the locks had been changed?”
Mr Olu:   “When we got back from lunch”
Me:   “When did you go to lunch?”
Mr Olu   “While he was throwing our things out”
Me:  (puzzled) “Why did you go to lunch in the middle of an illegal eviction?”
Mr Olu:    “We were hungry”

People are strange.

First stop in any investigation is to find out who the property owner is. Land registry shows the property is owned by Mrs Jamie Annan (Christian names too conveniently close don’t you think?) and Mr Annan’s name isn’t on it.

I send a letter to Mr Annan at the property address as I don’t have his real one telling him of the allegation and conversation he had with my colleague, calling him in for a formal interview under caution. In response, I get a letter back from Mrs Annan giving her actual address and saying she has never heard of Mr and Mrs Olu. She adds that her tenant there was 1 man, called Kenneth Obunda who moved out in mid-October.

Mr Olu shows me 6 recent rent receipts that he says were all signed by Mr Annan but when you look at them, each signature is different.

So I ask myself at this point, has Kenneth Obunda been pretending he is Mr Annan to rent out this HMO flat and raking off the profit from the multiple tenants while Mrs Annan actually knows nothing about it? Alternatively, is Mr Olu lying about Mr Annan’s identity?

But then more information comes in. Mr Olu has retrieved his 2 tenancy agreements from the past 2 years. The landlord is given as ‘J Annan’ (neither Mr nor Mrs) and the address of the landlord being the one that she gave me on her response to my original letter.

The tenancy agreements were issued by a local agent called Chrysalis Services, so I give them a call. I do one of my well honed old TRO tricks and make out that I am simply trying to confirm a trivial matter just to get my paperwork straight. I also hint, through subtle suggestion, that I’m from housing benefit as I find that human nature being what it is, people are generally more willing to give information if they think money is involved.

The say they know Mr Annan, at which point my enthusiasm gets the better of me and my tone changes to one of a police inspector uncovering the murderer in the conservatory, giving my intention away somewhat and I all but shout “AHA!” whilst raising my index finger. They clam up on giving any further information.

Next port of call for me is to talk to housing benefit. Their computer tells me that there is an active housing benefit claim there for the entire property, but in the name of Mr Salim Jentoo

And that is where I am currently at, my quandaries being:-

  • Are Mr and Mrs Olu telling me truth about Mr Annan?
  • Was the person my colleague spoke to on the phone Mr Annan, Mr Obunda or Mr Jentoo, or none of them?
  • Is Mrs Annan telling the truth about Mr Obunda and not knowing Mr and Mrs Olu?
  • If she thinks her tenant was Mr Obunda why is there an HB tenant listed called Mr Jentoo?
  • Is one of them lying?
  • Are all of them lying for different reasons?
  • Is the man that Chrysalis Services knows actually Mr Annan?
  • Are Chrysalis in on it?
  • Were the locks changed with Mrs Annan’s knowledge or instruction?

The problem is I have to take action somewhere, but in order to do anything I have to know who everyone really is and clear up these questions to the court’s satisfaction, otherwise the judge would throw his wig at me.

If I can’t, then Mr and Mrs Olu will end up getting rehoused by the council when they could be lying through their teeth.

I currently have 45 live cases and more than one is like the Olu case. This is why I say that the current rallying cries by Shapps, Shelter, Ken Livingstone are impractical in so many instances. To prosecute, you are looking at criminal standards of evidence, so ‘Beyond all reasonable doubt’ is what you need. In order to get it in this case it is taking me days.

Rogue behaviour going on? Yes of course, but exactly who is the rogue here?????

‘Evenin all!



Comments

Sharon Crossland

7 years ago

Good luck Ben and keep us posted!

7 years ago

What a tricky one! Looking forward to a future post letting us know how you got on. Assuming you get to the bottom of it one day!

Ben Reeve-Lewis

7 years ago

Thanks Sharon, I'll update as and when. This is just busines as usual for me though it has to be said. I've been doing it too long to even be annoyed. I sit in the evening telling Frazzy about my day and we just laugh

Ben Reeve-Lewis

7 years ago

Do you know what the real problem is here? The legal concept of the 'Burden of proof', As investigating officer the burden of proof is on me to prove or disprove what is going on, not Mr and Mrs Olu. If it were up to them to make a case my job would be made so much easier and public funds would be saved.

To be brutally honest, what I think I have on my hands is a whole bunch of lying *bleeped out by moderator* that drain time, resources and enthusiasm that I am duty bound to follow up.

in 2009 a case went through the lower courts of AB v. Leicester. To be eligible for homelessness assistance a person must have immigration status confirmed as the first test of homelessness. AB refused to supply her immigration documents or to talk to the council about her status. Leicester, not unsurprisingly said "On you bike love". She appealed and the judge held it is for the council to prove or disprove, not the applicant, and in the absence of such proof you have to give the benefit of the doubt to the applicant.

The excellent and reliable Garden Court Chambers reported on it this way 19 February 2009
AB v Leicester City Council
[2009] EWCA Civ, noted on LAWTEL
The claimant applied for homelessness assistance. She declined to provide any information about her nationality or immigration status or allow the authority to contact third parties about her status. The authority refused her application. She appealed, contending that unless an authority could be positively satisfied that an applicant was not eligible it had to proceed on the basis that she was eligible and then provide her with assistance. The Court of Appeal took the unusual step of adjourning the appeal so that the claimant's representatives could explore the possibility of appointing a litigation friend for the claimant as her litigation was potentially being conducted in a manner contrary to her best interests".

These kinds of scam exhaust me sometimes

chris howells

7 years ago

what a mess, and it seems unfair that the nus is on you to prove it one way or the other you are in a no win situation.seems odd that they wont provide evidence of immigration statusPit council cant stop all payments to landlord receiving benefit perhaps sitaution would be resolved sooner. Probably a scam

Mary Latham

7 years ago

Ben are Housing Benefit paying LHA to Mrs & Mr Olu?
Surely if HB are paying LHA for Mr Jentoo they will have varified that he has a current AST for the property and is therefore the current tenant?
If Mrs & Mr Olu are not in receipt of LHA how are they paying their rent?
Who is paying the council tax?
Who is paying the utility bills?
I know that this is old hat to you but I am really facinated by what is going on here and I am dying to know more.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

7 years ago

Mr Olu works so no HB although he did put in a claim for it in September and was turned down because he didnt have a tenancy agreement as proof and yet he brought 2 into me on Monday.
Mr Jentoo's HB claim was verified by a tenancy agreement from Chysalsis with J Annan on it, the same as Mr Olu's - I have stopped his benefit for now.
Council tax is down to Mrs Annan which contradicts her assertion that there is only 1 tenant as the landlord would only be liable for an HMO ( there is also outstanding CT of £3,000 prosecution is being started)
Cant get info on the utlity bills yet as I dont know who the ocupiers are although I am making an off the record calll to a mate in EDF today who can tell who the bill suppliers are.

As Mad as it sounds I quite like my job for this, I have to be copper, private detective and lawyer all at the same time and once I feel I am being lied to I dont let go.

I have 1 case that makes this one look straightforward. It involves, 52 propertries in 7 boroughs, well over a million pounds worth of fraud, people trafficking, 200 tenants, 7 dissolved companies and their bank accounts, harassment, illegal eviction, council tax non payment in the 10s of thousands of pounds.. They've probably got a parking ticket or 2 as well haha

I've been working on it with Police, Serious Orgnasied Crime Agency and environmental Health for 2 years and we are getting nowhere.

@Chris 'PROBABLY a scam'? haha no doubt about that.

Mary Latham

7 years ago

My guess is that stopping the HB will motivate the landlord. I expect that you will hear from her quite soon. Why should you do all the work when she is the owner of the property!

Ben Reeve-Lewis

7 years ago

The landlord might not be getting the HB though Mary. The payments go direct to Mr Jentoo, who may in actuality be Mr Obunda or Mr Annan. If she is innocent, which i very much doubt and she has 1 tenant who could be any of the above people and they have been paying the rent whilst in reality taking rents off of the various other tenants.

If she isnt getting any rents at all it remains to be seen what will happen next. Will Mr Jentoo find his locks changed? Mr and Mrs Olu told me they have never heard of Mr Jentoo and that there were 4 tenants in the property in all, 2 of whom have left and with the Olu's gone leaving only a woman they know as Nicole in residence. I went to the property to talk to Nicole but she wasnt there, so i left a letter outlining the position and asking her to contact me but she hasnt done so. Has she gone too or was she just out?

I have sent a letter to Mrs Annan asking her to come in for an interview but she hasnt responded. If it was me I would be straight down to clear my name, which is why I think she has something to hide as well

HMOLandlady

7 years ago

Wow! Confusing stuff - can't you just stick all the pictures of all the parties involved on a notice board, blindfold yourself, turn round three times and see where your pin ends up? Probably quicker than trying to get to the bottom of this lot. Seriously, though, it's annoying that your time, paid out of the public purse, is spent doing so much investigating - you need a sidekick.

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