Tales from the Frontline

Tales from the Frontline

13:27 PM, 2nd November 2011, About 13 years ago 30

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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!

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Ben Reeve-Lewis

12:31 PM, 3rd November 2011, About 13 years ago

A sidekick? That would be nice. 2 years ago we were a team of 8, now we are 2 and we have to deal with mortgage repossessions on top of landlord/tenant stuff as well. I see so many people now that I can spend an hour interviewing someone in tears about what they are going through and then bump into them in the street at lunchtime and not recognise them. Everyone is morphing into 1 big whinge haha.

Scammers do bring out my Inner Daily Mail I have to say. I would love to cut through the BS and just call them al for what they are really doing. I know they are all as bent as anything but I have to be professional and legal. It would also help if there were some way of flagging up every name and property adress where this sort of thing goes on and circulate it to every council department and benefits office to make life hard for them but that unfortunately would be Libel so you just have to grit your teeth and sit in the interview room knowing you are being lied to.

What I really hate about it is I do this job because I like helping people in trouble but with these cases I am solely focussed on trying to catch people out

Mark Reynolds

20:18 PM, 3rd November 2011, About 13 years ago


I know only too well the frustrations you are going through on a daily basis. I spent the last 24 years in the public sector and to try and get to the bottom of a scenario such as this one is, lets say, somewhat tricky. My only concern with what you are trying achieve is that there may never be a criminal prosecution due to the burden of proof you mentioned. Sounds like you are doing some great work to get some justice but when you do finally track them down have you considered, "Displaced Residential Occupiers"? I am sure you have, it's just a thought 🙂



Ben Reeve-Lewis

21:16 PM, 3rd November 2011, About 13 years ago

But who are my DROs Mark? I dont even trust them anymore. Why was Mr Olu's HB claim turned down a few weeks back for lack of a validating tenancy agreement, when he brings in 2 on Monday going back to 2009? They are the complainants and are obviously the core of my work but what do you do when they may be complicit too?

I've been doing this too long to simply believe what a DRO tells me.

To be honest I very much doubt there will ever be a criminal prosecution here. Beyond reasonable doubt sort of shoots me in the foot unless I get a breakthrough.

I once did a raid with the cops on a serious scammer and we found 20 black bin liners full of fake passports, marriage certificates, birth certificates. the Cops approached us for help because they were lost themselves. We found a filing cabinet with the scammers files in it which showed that everything they did was structured. They knew exactly which name they were using on which particular day and had all correspondence in date order. Its not random, it is planned.

I googled my tenant/ client's name (this was the scammer) and found a picture of him standing next to the President of Sierra Leone. My collegaue, little Eva looked over at my screen and recognised the man standing the other side of the president of Sierra Leone as one of her clients. I called my mate in Housing Benefit fraud and she looked at the link and burst out laughing, which brought one of her collegaues over to see what she was laughing at and she said incredulously "He's the pastor of my church". You couldnt make this up but obviously they are.

I think they know exactly what they are doing and they know that it takes the council or the police so much time to get a legal case in order that all they have to do is create a labarynth of identities and actions that need untangling before action can be taken that they are safe.

That is why my experienced and weary head identified Jamie and James Annan as being too close for comfort and the fact that the tenancy agreements just say 'J Annan', it creates a tangle that has to be dealt with. I cant take out a court order on 'J Annan', it has to be more specific and I have to clearly seperate James from Jamie and when I have done this I need to clearly identify the link between the two.

Scammers are laughing all the way to the bank...literally, and on the rare occasion I get there they just disappear back to country of origin and reappear 2 years later under a new name

21:14 PM, 5th November 2011, About 13 years ago

I have a similar case going on of a criminal tenant who has attempted to claim on 2 properties.
The only reason she was sussed because I as the landlord following 2 months of missed rent payments decided to contact the council tax department and confirm the status of the occupants which much to my surprise was not the tenant on my AST agreement; consequently her council tax liability was reinstated!
Subsequently I was contacted by a investigator from the Corporate Investigation Branch of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea who wished to know whether the person they were investigating was known to me by a different name.
This turned out to be the case.
It was only due to my calling that apparently anything out of the usual causes communications to occur between councils which has flagged up this fraud.
My advice to ALL landlords is to every 3 months contact the council tax dept and confirm that the the tenants on your tenancy agreement are the same as the council tax bill.
I also make it a requirement that before someone signs the AST they have to sign 2 copies of the eclectoral roll for; 1 for them to keep and 1 for me to send off to the electoral roll dept.
I find putting these rquirements on my property ads stops lots of tenant enquiries!

21:31 PM, 5th November 2011, About 13 years ago

It is absolutely ridiculous that your dept has been reduced in staffing when what you need is increased staff nos.
All that is happening now is even more taxpayers money is being STOLEN by these scum,

I am sure that you could justify a dept of 10 based on the amount of money you save with fraud detection.
Even if it was cost neutral that is still 10 jobs paying tax and NI and not being on JSA.
This is £0 cost for the govt as you are saving them the fraudulent monies being handed out.
WHY don't they see this?
With more illegal immigrants working the system you need more staff not less; I suspect a racism issue here!?
Lewisham!?...hmm. perhaps some of those in the council don't want their mates caught; solution reduce your staffing levels.....Conspiracy theory!?,,,I don't think so.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

10:05 AM, 6th November 2011, About 13 years ago

Its not just my lot Paul, the government said all council's had to cut spending which means staff as well as services so everyone has lost whole teams and many are being re-interveiwed for their own jobs as more tweaking goes on. Many politicians are warning of depleted staff morale as a result of the constant insecurity in the public sector. I spent 9 years as a self employed housing law trainer for most of the noughties so I alwasy have an eye on outside opportunites and job insecurity is familiar to me but not to most of my collegaues.

But the wearing effects of having so many clients to deal with and so few resources does get to you. You never feel like you can make much of a difference in really tackling a problem, we are in blue light mode all the time, running around looking for quick fixes before moving on to the next problem in the queue. This was my beef with Shelter's rogue landlord campaign.

Scammers are very clever up to a point but the other side of the coin is that the legal and bureacratic system required to nail them moves slower than a sloth with a hip injury and they are committing criminal offences which need to be prosecuted beyond reasonable doubt, it isnt just down to staffing levels. Scammers have the freedom to break the rules as it suits but we have to constantly gather evidence to get them, all the while in reality knowing exactly what they are up to - the law requires us to prove it though.

The constant chase causes many good and experienced people to not even bother starting to investigate as it is a waste of resources. I suspect scammers know this too.

And I have to say I think you are going into conspiracy theory there Paul haha but it can get you like that some time. The fact is all the senior managers in a council who are responsible for policies are 99% white middle class and usually male it has to be said.

Scammers are a dedicated lot, that is why all countires on the world have to constantly change their passports as technology advances scammers find new ways to fake them. Britain isnt alone in being open to fraud and most of it goes on the internet now anyway.

We went on a fraud course recently and were shown loads of fake documents and how to spot them. Once you know how paper should feel or how things should look when held at an angle you find that many things you didnt notice before become quite obvious - even clumsy. The trainer explained that the problem is not with people like me but in banks and other offices where they arent on the lookout for fraud. People open a bank account with documents that wouldnt pass us by and get a couple of other things in that sphere and you can easily build up a reasonably convincing identity to get more essential and important documents.

Better education on this accross the board would really help cut down. There is an excellent website called 'Document Checker' that shows you what pretty much every ID card, Passsport, Immigration document etc should actually look like. Thats presuming that it isnt run by scammers with their own documents on there haha

Mary Latham

12:24 PM, 6th November 2011, About 13 years ago

What a briliant idea Paul I had never thought of using the electoral roll to sift out unwanted tenants. Can you please give information about where a landlord can get the neccessary documents. I am certain that many landlords would do this if they knew how and I shall be doing it in future.

I also think that ringing the Council Tax department is a really good idea or even perhaps preparing a standard email and mailing them every 3 months?

I shall also be passing on this excellent advice to landlords who attend my seminars - thank you

Time you started blogging on this site Paul from your posts you have some very valuable information to pass on. I have been a landlord for almost 40 years and I run seminars for landlords and you have just told me two things that I had not thought of doing - we all have information to share and this site is great for sharing, I look forward to reading your blog (no pressure I will leave that to Mark hahahaha)

Ian Ringrose

15:07 PM, 11th November 2011, About 13 years ago

Do we need a nationwide register of all houses that may be let, with tenants being expected to check it before moving in and full details of the landlord/agent on the register?

All letting agreements would need to be listed, with a tenant legally not being allowed to move in until they have check that their agreement is listed (combine with despot protect scheme, so tenant do check and a reward for information on anyone trying to let a home that is not listed) . The “renting register” could be combined with the land registry, with the owner being required to confirm all letting agreements.

Then it would be a lot harder for anyone to sublet without the owner’s permission, it would also be a lot easier to trace the landlord. If the rent was also recorded, but only viewable by the tenant, landlord, housing benefit and HMRC, more problems could be stopped – with once again a reward for providing information about incorrect listings.

Any landlord should be able to get a listing of all past address of a possible tenant from the register, so they can check if the tenant has left an address off the reference form due to issues they are trying to hind.

Yes this would cost a bit of money, but I would not mind paying £100 each year to register as a landlord if it clean up a lot of the problems.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

15:32 PM, 11th November 2011, About 13 years ago

For a while now the government have had a 'shop a neighbour' reward scheme to deal with sub lets and just today Birmingham city council have introduced their own scheme. For the last couple of years we have taken to photographing everyone we place in temporary accommodation because too often the person who arrives at the hostel isnt the one we interviewed. BUT people always find ways around.

You could take the view that agents should have written approval from mortgage lenders that their borrower has permission to let but to be honest, if they did that, loads of properties owuld disappear off the market overnight, as many landlords do it on the QT. I know that but what would be the point of bubbling a landlord to their lender? we need the properties, whether they are breaking contract or not

9:10 AM, 12th November 2011, About 13 years ago

Hi Everyone. I am new here and must say - what an interesting and informative thread. Thanks to everyone. It could be time to call in Inspector Poirot? I run 10 HMO's in Bristol. I usually make 1 person in each household my 'buddy' and look after them. They in return keep an eye on the property and the tenants comings and goings. No major incidents in 5 years:-)

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