Tales from the FrontlineMake Text Bigger
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?????
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