ELL reporter Briony Pickford explains how she dealt with her Crap Landlord
It’s less expensive.
There aren’t any admin fees.
The deposit is tiny.
I get the key straight away.
I don’t have to deal with any agents.
In September 2018, I moved into a seven-person shared house in Brockley, south-east London. The room was big, with good light. The building was fine, a little bit of an ugly duckling in the middle of a street lined with neat garden fences. But fine, just fine.
Its dark underbelly appeared gradually, little things that seemed of no consequence at first glance. The first red flag was the gas cooker, with only three working hobs for seven people. The second – which was significantly more alarming – was that the electricity shut off regularly, instances that increased in frequency until it happened once a week. Two broken windows, which the landlord said “would be fixed soon,” remained cracked and draughty. The mould in the bedroom started to have an effect on my health, leaving me with a two-month-long cold. We wanted to run but the lock on the door was jammed, trapping us inside until we learnt how to pick it.
But this is London; subpar living conditions and overcrowding are just part of the deal, right? Thanks to the housing crisis, more people than ever are living in sub-standard accommodation and paying rent to landlords who don’t care about their safety. Over the next few days, our series will show the worst of these situations, and how you can make the best out of them.
My story starts with a call to Shelter, a charity which campaigns to end homelessness and bad housing in England and Scotland. The call was motivated by the lack of fire extinguishers, fire blankets and gas safety in our house and worsened by the fact that we were essentially locked inside.
They began by asking multiple questions in order to establish my tenancy rights. I was in an assured shorthold tenancy; I had exclusive possession of the property, I was paying rent and I had agreed a legal verbal relationship.
Shelter informed me that the property should have had an HMO license, as more than five people shared a bathroom and kitchen, and it turned out that our landlord could be fined an unlimited amount of money by not sourcing one. Furthermore, omitting the gas safety certificate is a crime, potentially resulting in a fine of £5,000 or even imprisonment.
If I wanted to resolve these issues and remain in the property, I had to contact the HMO enforcement officer at my local council, requesting they send an officer round to survey the flat and serve the landlord with an improvement notice. This would secure my place in the flat, as any future attempt at eviction would be considered retaliatory; under a section 21 eviction notice, a no-reason eviction required both an energy safety certificate and a protected deposit scheme, both of which our landlord had not provided.
Furthermore, I should check if the other renters were in the same position, or if they had more security by being in a fixed-term tenancy. Either way, their involvement would mean access to their rooms, therefore an improved inspection and improvement notice.
Moreover, as the landlord had not used a safety deposit scheme, he was in violation of section 2014 of the Housing Act. We were entitled to claim compensation; however, as all citizens have an obligation to attempt to solve disputes outside of court, we should contact the landlord with a demand for a safety deposit scheme, explaining how much it could cost him (£16,000) if we should go to court. We would have to explain that we wanted the money transferred into a scheme, and the potential of some reimbursement. If the landlord should resist these demands, only then should we settle the dispute in court.
I phoned the council on February 11, 2019. They sent an HMO enforcement officer round. He confirmed the above and served the landlord with a schedule of works, HMO management and regulations notice and a Section 61 notice. These are required to be completed within 28 days; they say the council will inspect the flat after that to enforce the improvements. So far, the council have kept me completely anonymous, telling the landlord that the inspection was part of a “survey of shared houses”. If you are worried about creating foul feeling between yourself and your landlord, then don’t; the council really do hold up their end of the deal.
Due to a multitude of excuses – including attempting to convince the HMO inspector that all of the tenants are holiday when we are not – the works have not begun. The last phone call with the HMO enforcement concluded with a plan to begin fining the Landlord if he did not begin the works immediately. This has resulted in an engineer’s visit which hopefully means the beginning of the necessary works. If not, we can perfect our lock-picking technique.
Follow our Rogue Landlords series this week to find out more about the difficulties of renting in London #RogueLandlords