Whilst the positive elements of RTM are promoted, what seems to be overlooked is the importance of two sections the Commonhold and Leasehold Reform Act 2002: s100 (enforcement of tenant covenants) and s101 (tenant covenants: monitoring and reporting).
Whlst this is designed to cover those leaseholders that live in their properties, The RTM Company is required to make sure that there are no breaches of the lease and to report to the freeholder any that occur. The company gets the power in terms of enforcement to sue for debts or seek injunctions for breaches such as repairs or nuisance and it also gets the right of entry into a property for the compliance of covenants. This could be tricky enough when a block is largely (or fully) comprised of owner occupers but what no one seemed to consider was how this section of the 2002 Act would work a large (or majority) flats on a block were sublet. in breach of the subletting covenant.
There were also the legal issues surrounding the accessing of rented flats.
Which brings us nicely to the issue of uncontrolled subletting, the involvement of local authorities and the problems it added to the ones we already had!
After some considerable investigation we found that many landlords at Wellington Mansions were housing the homeless (or those about to become so) through various council-led schemes such as Private Sector Leasing. They were offered a number of incentives to hand over their properties because councils were under pressure to meet homelessness targets in terms of re-housing and they were leaning heavily on the PRS to help them. Sadly I was advised that councils did not have enough resources to make thorough checks on either the landlord or the properties.
It also introduced us to the first of our landlord and tenant nightmares, a toxic partnership between a ‘rogue landlord’ and his alcoholic tenant both of whom we inherited when we officially took over the management of the block.
We believed that the landlord had picked the tenant up off the street and put him here but the tenancy was shrouded in secrecy despite my trying to find out exactly what was going on. So, in the early days of management, we sent a number of e-mails and letters to the landlord because myself and my partner were fed up with having to deal with the drunken down and outs that we kept finding in heaps in the garden, on the stairs and in some cases, outside residents front doors. We also had the added bonus of being subjected to verbal and physical abuse and even had a dog let loose on us! The flat itself was also in a terrible state but despite our requests to evict the tenant, and repair the flat, it took a long time before the landlord finally came to see us. When he did, he requested witness statements about his tenant to support the e-mails and letters we had already sent which was a perfectly reasonable request and one which we complied with, but also went on to complain that he couldn’t see any work being done for the service charges he had paid, which was beyond ludicrous because he hadn’t paid any!
In the meantime the tenant decided to hot wire the electricity meter which ultimately led to its removal, leaving him without heat and light and using candles(!). This was obviously a major health and safety risk so I requested the council attend under the Housing Health And Safety Act 2004, specifically under HHSRS.
Although they initially found it tricky to gain access, once inside the Housing Standards Team issued the landlord with a Schedule of Works for the interior to which he had to respond within 7 days. He was also given 14 days to arrange to re-connect the electricity supply. The tenant would be temporarily housed whilst the works were complied with.
After these were ignored, and aftera number of further visits, Environmental Health (on behalf of the council) finally served a the landlord a 28 day Prohibition Order Notice under a Category 1 fire hazard, citing the use of candles.
The landlord made no appeal against the notice and so Prohibition Order was placed on the flat declaring it could not be occupied because it was a) unfit for human habitation, b) it had 3 Cat 1 hazards of fire, cold and trips making it very dangerous for anyone living in it (the most serious hazard) and c) the tenant was required to either leave the flat or, ask the landlord to find somewhere else whilst repairs were carried out to make the property safe before the flat could be used again.
Landlord Fails to Attend Court
The Housing Act 2004 only prescribes, (by way of enforcement of the Prohibition Order), either prosecution of individuals in breach, or entering premises to carry out work in default, the latter which apparently they could not do although I could not find out why.
The landlord not only ignored the first of his court hearings which had to be adjourned but he failed to attend a second due to ill health. A “Not Guilty” plea was entered in his absence and a trial date was finally set for 21st January 2013 where LBWF Housing Standards attended court and gave evidence. Unsurprisingly he again failed to attend and they proceeded in his absence. He was found guilty of breaching the order and was fined £500, with costs of about £1500.
Whilst this dealt with his failure to evict the tenant on a financial level it dealt with nothing else, as not only did the tenant stay in the flat but the continual drunken shouting and swearing still gave us cause to continually call the police. The tenant even ended up being assaulted by one of his so-called ‘friends’, taken away by ambulance and the ‘friend’ arrested on a charge of GBH. All this was then followed by a number of attendances to the flat by the paramedics relating to the assault but despite this, in his weakened mental state he allowed his attacker to come with him each time the paramedics attended! More ‘friends’ kept coming to the flat and when some couldn’t get in, they broke the lock on the roof access door and took shelter in there overnight, scaring half to death the tenants in the flat next door.
WE GET ARRESTED!
At the beginning of 2013 two unknown women and children were found by my partner hanging around the rear of the property. We were already on a ‘state of alert’ in that a fireworks display was being held close by and our block was a magnet for trouble at the best of times, both by people who lived here and people who didn’t!
We went down to see if they were looking for someone but we were told to go away in not the politest of terms. When we asked (politely) asked them to leave they started hurling abuse at us and the younger of the two women then started screaming that my partner had assaulted her mother and her child and would someone call the police! She was so loud she gave cause for concern to some stewards who were policing the event to come to the front of the block! Someone did actually call the police, (I don’t know who) but I thought that at least it would soon be dealt with for what it was. Some hope! My partner was arrested on the spot for the alleged assault of a child! After following him to the police custody suite and realising there was nothing I could do as he could be in there for hours, I returned home.
I was arrested myself 3 hours later on a fabricated racial abuse charge. Three police offers attended, I was handcuffed in my own living room (hands behind my back, not in front which made me feel like Public Enemy No 1) read my rights and taken down to the police van.
Obviously I was extremely distressed and angry whilst I was being transported to the police station and when I arrived I could not stop pacing up and down whilst I was being booked in. I was photographed, finger printed and a DNA swab taken. I asked for my partner to be advised that I too had been arrested and used my right to contact a solicitor before I was placed in a cell for the night.
In fairness the police looked after me really well, providing me with coffee (I declined the offer of food), books and blankets. I had access to the nurse at 4am because my back pain and hip bursitis had kicked in and I needed painkillers as the stress and the ‘bed’ had aggravated both conditions.
My solicitor attended around 10am the following morning and I totally denied the charge. In fact when he read out the full sentence of what I was alleged to have said which was to have called them ‘black bitches and that they needed to ‘f**k off back to where they came from’, I was absolutely gobsmacked! I then asked what rights did I have under the circumstances but it appeared that at this point I didn’t actually have any. So I could be arrested on a false and malicious charge of racism (they had hours to fabricate it) but could not lodge any counter-protest or complaint in immediate response.
After relaying my side of events on recorded interview to the investigating officers about an hour later, I was finally released on police bail to re-appear on the 25th January, as was my partner.
On going back a bit further on the CCTV on our return, my partner discovered that in fact these women had not entered any of the flats visiting a sick relative as they had claimed to the police but had been to see the tenant which they admitted when interviewed.
There was no case to answer for either of us but it wasn’t going to be pursued on our behalf as it wasn’t in the public interest!
Whilst the council continued to carry out a number of visits to the flat, took witness statements from other residents who had been affected by the behaviour of the tenant and his ‘friends’ and I continued to liaise with my ward MP, all the council could do in the end was to issue an invitation to the tenant and his ‘friends’ to sign up to an Acceptable Behaviour Contract! Why on earth they would they do that as a stand-alone measure when it is was offence to allow the property to be used under a Prohibition Order beat me!
LANDLORD DECLARED BANKRUPT
Just when we were despairing of getting the problems sorted, to our intense relief the landlord was declared bankrupt. I spoke to his lender and provided the full picture in terms of the Prohibition Order and asked what should happen next. I was advised that the normal procedure would be for the flat to be repossessed, the tenant evicted (so the council would have to re-house him) and the property likely sold at auction (and at a considerable loss). The only advice they could give me was to keep an eye on the front door to see if any repossession notices had been posted on it!
It was our company solicitor who provided us with the name and contact details of the trustee in bankruptcy who was dealing with the landlords’ estate so I contacted him to see if he could tell me anything. At his request I provided him with details of a) the lender, b) a brief overview of the situation and c) a copy of the prohibition order. He also wrote to the new solicitor at the council to try and get more information regarding the questions I had previously raised regarding the Prohibition Order as I continued to be ignored. He also stated that because he didn’t need to sell all of the properties in the portfolio to pay the landlords debts, this particular flat would not be included due to its inherent problems.
However, if we were to send details of monies owed up to the date of the bankruptcy then there would be money available to pay us for service charge and ground rent arrears accrued to that point.
Finally the locks were changed on the flat, it was made secure and the bailiff attended on the 8th July 2014. As far as we were aware the tenant was in hospital at the time so you can imagine our shock when he arrived on our doorstep in a very bad state and still in hospital garb. I rang the council and found his social worker who told me to speak to the ‘out of hours’ social worker as she had finished work for the day. This conversation resulted me being advised to get the tenant re-admitted to hospital so all the relevant assessments could be done, (not to mention getting him a roof over his head). Which I did.
Sadly and despite the attempts to help him made by us and others, the tenant died. There was a brief time where he had been seen looking physically better and smarter but in 2016 he was taken to hospital and whilst he got through an operation on his liver, his other organs failed.
I could not help feeling rather sad, as I remembered him when I still saw a spark in him that could have been ignited if he had wanted it to be.
The flat has was subsequently sold on the open market at £105,000 (!) and purchased by a really good landlord although we didn’t envy him the work he was taking on as this is what was found on opening the flat up.
The flat is now beautifully kept and to date the tenants he has placed in there have been really good ones.
It didn’t stop here though because the next landlord and tenant were even more of a nightmare. The parties involved here not only physically assaulted both me and my partner but we again got arrested on false charges!
This story can be read here.