Almost 2,000 people have signed a petition protesting at a decision by British Waterways to evict an elderly Poplar couple from the houseboat they’ve lived in for 14 years.
Rod Taylor, 75, and Annie Gavin, 71, who live in one boat and own another on Poplar Dock and have both recently received treatment for cancer, are facing eviction after on-going disagreements about widebeam charges were taken to court.
Taylor had challenged the decision by British Waterways Marinas’ to classify Poplar Dock as an ‘inland’ rather than ‘coastal’ marina, citing an agreement made with the dock’s previous owners that a change in classification could not happen.
However, the agreement was never properly drafted into the terms and conditions of the tenants’ contracts and therefore BWML were able to implement the change, meaning a more severe widebeam charge, adding extra payments to tenants’ usual mooring fees.
At a coastal marina, vessels only incur the charge with a beam wider than 4.5 metres, whereas for inland marinas the limit is three metres.
According to Taylor, 85 per cent of the barges at Poplar Dock are wider than three metres, making the change in classification profitable for BWML.
In January, Taylor unsuccessfully challenged the new charges at Bow County Court. After his defeat an eviction notice quickly followed.
Over 1700 people have signed a petition to urge the eviction notice to be revoked. David Stark, a leading figure in the campaign against the eviction, said: “Rod and Annie are lovely people, they’ve always paid their rent and have been there for a long time. Rod is sort of a community leader, as it were.”
In the eviction notice, BWML accused Taylor of incurring the charity “substantial legal costs”, alleging that Taylor, who suffers from a serious heart condition, regularly behaved aggressively.
BWML were asked to elaborate on Taylor’s alleged physical aggression but said they would rather not add to their previous statements.
British Watersways Marinas Limited, Operations Director Darren Bramhall said: “We have operated totally within our terms and conditions and this unfortunate action was a necessary business decision, however hard that may sound.”
Bramhall said the eviction notice would be revoked if BWML received Taylor’s “written assurance that he would stick to the agreement [Taylor’s contract with BWML which obliges him to pay the widebeam charges] he has signed with us.”
But Taylor has questioned Bramhall’s reference to terms and conditions, stating they weren’t mentioned in his original eviction notice.
Taylor responded: “There was no mention of being in breach of the terms and conditions in the eviction notice but they are now bringing that into the equation. I consider that it is blatant harassment.
“BWML is part of the Canal and River Trust, a charity! They are behaving like the worst money grabbing landlords in history. They are completely immoral.”
Taylor and Gavin live on a boat named Wylam, while Taylor describes their second boat as his “retirement project”. According to the eviction notice both boats are to leave the dock.
Stark is concerned about the consequences of the rising costs that boat dwellers have faced in recent years. “Some people are being hit for 100% rises each year,” he said.
“There’s a couple of previous cases on Poplar Dock alone, vulnerable, elderly people who are simply living off their pensions and they can’t afford another £5000 a year for literally no reason.”
Community support has been widespread for Taylor and Gavin, although Stark claims BWML’s policies are preventing more dock residents from speaking out.
He added: “BWML customers will be hesitant to have their names listed on articles. They’re petrified of a 28-day reason-free eviction notice being used on them.”
Taylor echoed the same sentiment, saying he considers “BWML’s action as a gagging order to intimidate everybody into not complaining. It is very childish of them.”