Landlord? Tenant? Want to have a chat with me?

Every 11 minutes, one household in England & Wales loses its home. So I decided to write a book about renting and eviction, keeping it down-to-earth and simple. That’s why I want to talk with landlords as well as with tenants.

It is not going to be stuffed with talk about the correct procedures, and how to avoid mistakes. Its working title is “How to make eviction fun”. It will include stories from both tenants and landlords. Stories in which the landlord or the tenant was not cooperative and stories in which both sides accomplished a breakthrough and anything in between.

I want to make the topic more accessible. I also want to show that eviction can be very hard on landlords too. Either side (tenant or landlord) can completely overlook the agony experienced by the other side. Understanding helps keep the stress level down in such situations.

I will change your name and the book will not have any details that could make you identifiable. Are you willing to have a chat with me? We can do this on Skype, if you want.

houseI want to talk with:

  • Landlords who are currently evicting tenants;
  • Landlords who have evicted tenants;
  • Landlords who considered evicting tenants but found a way to work with their tenants so that they didn’t have to evict them;
  • Tenants who got into rent arrears but solved the situation and worked with their landlord;
  • Tenants who were evicted and got back onto their feet because the council rehoused them or who were homeless for a little while but managed to get off the street;
  • Tenants who were evicted and later found out that they could have avoided eviction if they had known then what they know now;
  • You. Because you are reading this.

I will let you read what I wrote about you before I publish it, and if you decide you don’t want your story published after all, all you have to do is tell me. I may not publish everyone’s story. I am not new at this. In the past, I interviewed scientists and civil engineers all over the world, at various levels, by e-mail, phone, Skype or on location.

You can contact me on 075 1826 1184 or at the ID angelina.souren on Skype.

 

Vulnerability, in practice

It is strongly influenced by the degree to which a housing officer is able to identify with the applicant.

Why? Everyone has need for safety. The housing officer too has a deep-down need to believe that if something happened to him or her, he or she would be helped.

That’s where blame comes in. Judgment. It enables people to say “it could never happen to me”. It reassures them. Housing officers after all are human beings too and they deal with that vulnerability all day long. They are reminded of their own vulnerability all day long.

That’s why the law needs to be clear.

Something similar happens when someone who needs food asks for food (and it also applies when someone has suffered a serious crime). That’s also sometimes why politicians and Lords get it wrong. (No, I am not naive enough to believe that this is always the case when they get it wrong.) It happens when they have to be able to blame people for their hardship in order to continue to feel secure themselves, as mere human beings.

You can sometimes very clearly see when people don’t (want to) identify with someone else. It shows in instances when they talk about the person, not with the person, and speak as if the person is not even there, or cannot hear them talk.

It is never going to happen and it clashes with what the law says, but it might be more useful to let homeless persons decide who is the most vulnerable among them and among those who are threatened with homelessness.

If you are looking for the honest admission of personal vulnerability, talk with people who are street-homeless (but not from a position of power!). With that admission of personal vulnerability comes the ready admission that there are some among them who are more vulnerable.

It is likely based on the same idea. When you’re out on the streets, you have to believe that others would help you if things were to get much worse for you.

Homelessness, housing duty and vulnerability

courthouse

Today is the third of three days at the Supreme Court that focus on homelessness, housing duty and vulnerability (or rather, priority).

The three cases are:
– Hotak (Appellant) v London Borough of Southwark (Respondent)
– Johnson (Appellant) v Solihull MBC (Respondent)
– Kanu (AP) (Appellant) v London Borough of Southwark (Respondent)
(Interveners in all three cases: Equality and Human Rights Commission, Shelter, Crisis and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.)

What is it all about? Predominantly 189(1)(c) in the Housing Act 1996:

189 Priority need for accommodation.

(1) The following have a priority need for accommodation—

(a) a pregnant woman or a person with whom she resides or might reasonably be expected to reside;

(b) a person with whom dependent children reside or might reasonably be expected to reside;

(c) a person who is vulnerable as a result of old age, mental illness or handicap or physical disability or other special reason, or with whom such a person resides or might reasonably be expected to reside;

(d )a person who is homeless or threatened with homelessness as a result of an emergency such as flood, fire or other disaster.

(2) The Secretary of State may by order—

(a) specify further descriptions of persons as having a priority need for accommodation, and

(b) amend or repeal any part of subsection (1).

(3) Before making such an order the Secretary of State shall consult such associations representing relevant authorities, and such other persons, as he considers appropriate.

(4) No such order shall be made unless a draft of it has been approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.

Hotak is a pretty straightforward case, at first sight; the two other cases are less clear. Hotak concerns two brothers, one of which (Sifatullah) would certainly be considered vulnerable if the other one (Ezatullah) had not said that he would look after his brother. The brothers were living in a friend’s flat in Southwark, but told to leave because of overcrowding. Ezatullah’s immigration status at the time, however, made him ineligible for housing assistance.

Southwark did give the brothers temporary housing while it made its mind up. It decided that Sifatullah was unintentionally homeless, and eligible for assistance, yet did not consider him vulnerable in terms of in priority need of housing because his brother was looking after him. This is where the case went off the rails.

If Sifatullah were a pregnant woman, unintentionally homeless (as it is called), and eligible for assistance, whether the person with whom she resides or might reasonably be expected to reside supports her or not makes no difference, as one of the lawyers highlighted on Monday.

Another one pointed out that the law does not contain an element of comparison. A person’s own condition makes him or her relatively vulnerable when on the street, and the law had the intention of preventing and eliminating all homelessness. This would mean that a) there is no such thing as “an ordinary street-homeless person” (used by Southwark to compare Sifatullah against) and b) one could say that being homeless in itself already points toward a person being less able to fend for himself or herself, as homelessness is not the norm in this country.

It looks like the practice of the application of this legislation – carried out by the decision-making housing officer – has been moving toward comparing a blind applicant with street-homeless blind applicants, deaf applicants with street-homeless deaf applicants, mentally ill applicants with street-homeless mentally ill applicants, applicants with substance abuse with homeless people with substance abuse.

More specifically, practice seems to be more and more relying on the premise that all homeless persons are, almost by definition, street-homeless mentally ill and/or substance abusers and/or physically ill, deserving no special protection (in Johnson, for instance). The law was not intended that way. The law does not even say anything like this.

The pregnant woman, however, is never compared with other pregnant women to determine her vulnerability. The same applies to any persons who have lost their home in a flood.

“Ideas about vulnerability are perhaps most often applied by those in more powerful positions to define those in less powerful ones.” (Kate Brown)

When are you homeless?

From the Housing Act 1996:

175 Homelessness and threatened homelessness.

house(1) A person is homeless if he has no accommodation available for his occupation, in the United Kingdom or elsewhere, which he—

(a) is entitled to occupy by virtue of an interest in it or by virtue of an order of a court,

(b) has an express or implied licence to occupy, or

(c) occupies as a residence by virtue of any enactment or rule of law giving him the right to remain in occupation or restricting the right of another person to recover possession.

(2) A person is also homeless if he has accommodation but—

(a) he cannot secure entry to it, or

(b) it consists of a moveable structure, vehicle or vessel designed or adapted for human habitation and there is no place where he is entitled or permitted both to place it and to reside in it.

(3) A person shall not be treated as having accommodation unless it is accommodation which it would be reasonable for him to continue to occupy.

(4) A person is threatened with homelessness if it is likely that he will become homeless within 28 days.

Housing matters at the Supreme Court – 5

Today in Court 2:
Aster Communities Limited (formerly Flourish Homes Limited) (Respondent) v Akerman-Livingstone (AP) (Appellant)

Not broadcast live.

A clear case of a causal relationship between someone’s disability and the reason for issuing proceedings, in my view. Someone unable to comply with what is expected from him. (One could see it as maladministration, perhaps.)

Will the Supreme Court see a violation of the Equality Act and let this weigh heavier or will other interests overrule?

Not an easy case.

Update: still went live later.

Revenge evictions – part 2

A little while ago, I posted about the upcoming vote on the Tenancies (Reform) Bill. Its intention is to put a stop to revenge evictions.

arrowpointingright

First, I received an update from Crisis (the national charity for single homeless people), informing me that “despite hundreds of Crisis campaigners like you emailing their MP, the Bill to tackle revenge evictions has failed.”

arrowpointingrightA few days later, I received a letter from the MP for Portsmouth South, Mike Hancock. He explained in detail that two Conservative MPs “intentionally used up the rest of the allotted time to prevent the Bill from being voted on“.

arrowpointingright

At around the same time, I also received Lime Legal’s newsletter (edited by housing champion Jan Luba QC), which included an item on the same topic:

“On 28 November 2014 a private members bill designed to address retaliatory evictions … was talked-out in Parliament and, despite having had UK Government support, is unlikely to make further progress.”

arrowpointingrightAlso interesting is what the Residential Landlord’s Association had to say about what actually happened. Among other things, it wrote:

“The Bill ran out of time, after only 60 MPs voted on a procedural motion to put the Bill to a vote.  100 MPs are required for such a motion to succeed.  It now drops to the bottom of the order for Private Members’ Bills and has no chance of proceeding.”

If you clicked on that last link, you’ll have seen that someone called the Bill “badly drafted“.

Together, these four views give a better picture than either one of them individually, particularly when combined with the official account of what went on that day.

More information:

home

The second reading debate is expected to continue on 23 January 2015. Initially, that appears to have been scheduled for 5 December 2014 (tomorrow), a day on which there would likely have been no time to discuss the Bill in Parliament as there would be 8 bills ahead of it, so I understood from Mr Hancock’s explanation. It is even less likely to be read on 23 January, as 11 bills will be ahead of it on that day, and everyone agrees that is it dead in the water.

If you want to follow what happens to the bill, click on this link to its page on the Parliament’s web site.

UPDATE 10 December from Lime Legal:

“After the talking-out of the Tenancies Reform Bill, there is to be an attempt to introduce the same provisions controlling retaliatory eviction as part of the Deregulation Bill which is currently going through the House of Lords”

Revenge evictions

On 28 November, MPs can vote to outlaw revenge evictions, evictions that happen just because a tenant asks to have the heating fixed or a mould and moisture problem dealt with. The law currently still allows that. Find out if your MP is standing up for renters. Mine is (but I don’t know yet if he will also attend the debate in Parliament that day).

Here are examples of other MPs who are voting to end revenge evictions:

Andrew Smith
Oxford East

Bob Blackman
Harrow East

Nicola Blackwood
Oxford West and Abingdon

Peter Bottomley
Worthing West

homePhilip Hollobone
Kettering

Sarah Teather
Brent Central

Stephen Williams
Bristol West

Tessa Munt
Wells

Andrew Slaughter
Hammersmith

Annette Brooke
Mid Dorset and North Poole

Caroline Lucas
Brighton Pavilion

David Lammy
Tottenham

Diane Abbott
Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Don Foster
Bath

Heidi Alexander
Lewisham East

Jeremy Corbyn
Islington North

Jim Fitzpatrick
Poplar and Limehouse

Julian Huppert
Cambridge

Karen Buck
Westminster North

Kate Hoey
Vauxhall

Keith Vaz
Leicester East

Lynne Featherstone
Hornsey and Wood Green

Simon Danczuk
Rochdale

Stephen Pound
Ealing North

Teresa Pearce
Erith and Thamesmead

Brian Donohoe
Central Ayrshire