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Eviction: is this the Hebden way?

From Elizabeth L

Monday, 1 September 2014

I have just been emailed a notice to vacate my studio flat of four years in one month, on the grounds that I have not vented it enough, I did not have the dehumidifier on - when the landlords electrician called. It is cluttered and landlord states that I have now 'outgrown it'.

The landlord wishes me all the best for my search for a new home and that he will provide a reference.

I also have a two year old toddler, thus I have had to continue to reside in an overcrowded property because I have been unable to afford to move elsewhere in Hebden. I am also on other waiting lists.

What can I do? In my tenancy it is written "to make full proper use of the heating & ventilation to prevent damage by damp, mould or rot, bearing in mind that it has under floor heating which I cannot use due to the huge costs. Also, other tenants have stated their mould & damp problems within the building. My gable end wall (living kitchen,bathroom & bedroom) becomes saturated during the winter months. The flat already had one small dehumidifier when I moved in which I use once the heavy wet weather arrives because it is too expensive to run all year.

Can anyone offer any viable or legal advice? I am distraught with fear and uncertainty.

From Simon Hayles

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Hi Elizabeth,

I'd recommend getting advice from the Citizen's Advice Bureau.

It seems to me that the landlord is asking you to pay to make the building habitable. I think the landlord has a duty to ensure that the building meets certain standards, and if it doesn't because of damp the landlord should fix the problem or pay for the ongoing dehumidification.

It does sound unfair - hopefully the CAB can help.

Best wishes,

From Anne Williams

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Elizabeth. I would very strongly suggest calling Shelter's helpline 0808 800 4444 (8am to 8pm Monday to Friday, and 8am to 5pm weekends - website) - hang on until they get to you, from experience it is worth it – they can advise on your situation. Also worth talking to Calderdale Council - even without a child, when we were faced with eviction, it meant we had some priority for housing if it had been needed.

It's not completely clear what your situation is, however many (most) tenancies are assured shorthold tenancy agreements (AST), and the landlord has to follow certain processes to ask you to leave. If it is an AST one month's notice is not sufficient – and there are other procedures the landlord has to follow, and they cannot make you leave without a court order.

Whether or not you left the dehumidifier on is not relevant to whether they can make you leave without proper process, whatever the contract says. It sounds like the landlord may not know what they are doing – not your job to help them, but make sure you know what your rights and options are.

That said, there is still very little protection from eviction - far too little, I would say. We know from experience that Hebden is far from immune from "nice" "left-liberal" Guardian reading landlords who care about their property interests over people's welfare.

From Julie C

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Hi Elizabeth. Sad to hear you are being evicted. Don't know if you are working, but there is at least one empty shared ownership house for sale on the estate at Chiserley in Old Town. You have to get a mortgage for half and pay rent for half, but I think you can get housing benefit to help with the rent bit. Don't know if this is any help, it may just be too much money for you to find. Pennine should help you, but they haven't much locally now. Anyway, thinking of you, it's such a hard and scary spot to be in.

From Andrew B

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The rent-seeking property owning classes are unproductive parasites on society.

We have eroded tenant rights in the UK, wound down social housing and given tax breaks to buy to let landlords to such an extent that renters are very vulnerable indeed.

And the worse of this happened under Labour, although some of it started under the Conservatives. Unfortunately no party seems interested in 'generation rent' and even usually left leaning people think that buy to let is an ethical business to be in.

Good luck with taking on your landlord.


From Pedro de Wit

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Elizabeth, although this is a unpleasant situation I wouldn't worry too much about being evicted.

In contrast to what Anne says tenants are very well protected against eviction and the balance definitely swings in favour of the tenant in this country. I don't want to open another can of worms so we will leave that subject for now.

The grounds for possession fall into two categories:

  • mandatory, where the tenant will definitely be ordered to leave if the landlord can prove the ground exists, and
  • discretionary, where the court can decide one way or the other (i.e. the Judge has a 'discretion' whether or not to make the order).

If the landlord wants to evict you because you have not used the dehumidifier and in the contract it says "to make full proper use of the heating & ventilation," then his reason for eviction is that you breached the tenancy agreement. This is a so called discretionary ground.

For the landlord there are number of potential disadvantages of basing a claim for possession solely on discretionary grounds:

  • they give a window of opportunity for the tenant to defend
  • the tenant may be able to obtain legal aid to defend
  • the judge will normally be sympathetic towards the tenant as they will potentially be made homeless which is a serious matter. Judges do not like making tenants homeless, particularly if there are children
  • if the landlord loses, he will probably be ordered to pay the tenant's legal costs (which if he has obtained legal aid could be substantial), and
  • where possession is obtained under a discretionary ground, the judge can suspend the order for possession if he thinks it appropriate (which he frequently will).

This means that even if the landlord obtains an order for possession (which he is very unlikely to get in my opinion) he may not be able to actually get the property back. Even if the tenant breaches the order, judges will often re-instate a suspended order if they consider it reasonable.

My advice is to discuss the situation with the landlord and work out a solution. If he is not willing to cooperate seek legal advice. Whatever you do don't stop paying the rent or do anything else that might give him other reasons to evict you.

Good luck!

From Anne Williams

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Elizabeth, what Pedro says on discretionary grounds may be right as far as it goes - but it is very far from the whole story –and as utterly morally wrong as it is, tenants in many cases can be evicted through no fault (for ASTs this often called 'section 21') where the landlord says they want the house back, and the court has no choice but to allow this as long as the landlord has followed the legally correct procedure. If this is the case for you, there is time and a court case before you can be made to leave – so don't worry too much, just get the information you need.

For that reason I would really suggest getting independent advice - from Shelter, and/ or the Council and/or CAB (there might be others). There are things you can do, perhaps to stay longer where you are or to make sure you have somewhere to go to (and back-ups if necessary), but do find out what your legal situation and options are.

I'm resisting the temptation to say much more about how completely wrong things are for tenants in this country – I doubt anyone who thinks things are stacked in favour of tenants has any idea about the fear of eviction for 'no fault'. I happen to think people matter more than property - hardly radical is it?

As others have said – all good wishes.


From Oscar B

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Elizabeth, As a landlord myself, and also a tenant, may I suggest this is not an eviction. Short term tenancy agreements have the right to cancel, and your landlord has given you notice. This is well within his rights.

I feel you should perhaps look on this as an opportunity.

A very damp overcrowded studio flat does not sound conducive to the welling of a two year old toddler and yourself. When you talk of mold, rot and damp my concern increases.

As someone who has been homeless myself, albeit for a short time, I empathise with your position.

I beg that you do not take your time and energy on challenging your landlord, but except the cancellation of your tenancy, and move positively forward.

Whilst you are distraught with fear and uncertainty I feel you can only improve the living standards for yourself and your child, what ever your situation may be.

From Anne Williams

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

I feel a bit reluctant to keep coming back – but this happened to us and I have tried to find out as much as I can  - although there's a lot I don't know – I'm not a lawyer etc.

Assured shorthold tenancies (ASTs) cannot just be cancelled. A landlord can give notice (not to quit) but to say that they will seek possession from the court (after a certain period – often two months, but that can depend on factors about the status of the contract). This is the no fault section 21 notice. For an AST (at least) only a court can make you leave.  As I said before – if the landlord gets the process right, the court has no discretion on this – but apparently landlords frequently get the process wrong.  If a landlord tries to make someone to leave without a court order, that is an illegal eviction – although there are many reasons that people might decide to leave before it goes to court.

But – it is not obvious whether Elizabeth has an AST.   It depends on lots of factors - which is why getting free, independent advice is, I think, so important.  Beyond that, getting advice can help with finding somewhere to go, if staying is not viable.

I agree the state of the flat sounds terrible. Might be worth noting the council do have some powers act on disrepair and poor conditions and make the landlord carry out repairs.           

From Maureen Brian

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Bad advice, Oscar B. If Elizabeth just walks away - without seeking help, without establishing what her rights are - the she runs the risk of being classed as making herself intentionally homeless.

The potential negative effects of that are many. Very many!

Elizabeth, if you want to use my land line to talk to council or hang on for Shelter, just email me.

From Elizabeth L

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Firstly may I express my up most gratitude in the responses to this thread. I wrote it purely for therapeutic reasons and upon reflection I feel now that I was in absolute shock.

To underpin a few details, my tenancy is an assured shorthold contract which has never been renewed.

The issue of damp has always been difficult with my often interaction with the landlord to resolve it - he has always maintained that it is condensation, but with the water saturation rising from skirting board to ceiling, more so if I switch on the under floor heating, it strikes me as not - this problem is also prevalent in at least two other flats (it is a block of five dwellings).

The dehumidifier was present on viewing the flat initially four years ago and I hasten to add I had no idea what this piece of equipment was! Only that he stated that the windows should be left open. I have done this. However, since the arrival of my Baby I could not carry this task out to the same degree as before, due to the property being housed on the busy traffic ridden Market Street where the pollution is incredibly high, although I ventilate when I am not in the home and always keep the bathroom and kitchen windows ajar for obvious reasons.

My reaction to this issue has been an all time emotional low and of course I know it is not suitable for my Child but to be vacating under duress is very different to leaving peacefully. My emotional status will inevitably affect my Child's well-being and this is what is not necessary.

I have been searching for an alternative property for a long while but due to the extortionate estate agent fees, private rental fees and general lack of affordable housing within Hebden Bridge this ultimately has proved the to being the blockage.

I would dearly love to stay here as I have at last at the age of forty five laid my anchor down and feel my young Son benefits greatly, more so now as he is under going an autism diagnosis and has become very established in his daily routines around Hebden, playgroups and park life.

It is the manner in which all this has been colluded without respect, integrity or sensitivity.

I have contacted the c.a.b and thus I have emailed the landlord for a section 21 notice as a legal requirement.

From Pedro de Wit

Friday, 5 September 2014

Elizabeth, if you have lived in your current flat for a number of years and paid your rent I find it hard to understand why your landlord wants to evict you. He will have to redecorate the property, sort out the damp and go through the hassle of finding a new tenant. This costs time and money. It makes more sense to come to an agreement with you and use the money to sort out the damp problem.

Anyway... there are very specific rules about serving a Section 21 notice. If your landlord is knowledgeable and does everything according to the law the notice period will be between two and three months depending on when the notice is served. If it is not done correctly any judge will throw out the eviction notice if it goes to court.

Something else to be aware of is that under changes to the Tenancy Deposit legislation that came into force in April 2012 the landlord will lose the right to serve a Section 21 Notice if your bond has not been protected. He can only serve a Section 21 if he first returns your deposit in full (or with agreed deductions).

From Anne Williams

Friday, 5 September 2014

Rational landlords even if they just have a little integrity do just as Pedro says and fix damp problems. In other cases landlords hang on to the 'it's condensation….' claim in the face of compelling evidence that it is a problem of disrepair. Tenants who dare to suggest otherwise can be at risk of section 21 eviction - see here for instance.

As I said before, we have been evicted under section 21 - we always paid rent in full on time, and we got full deposit back in case anyone thinks we didn't look after the place, and got on well with the neighbours who helped us a good bit. We don't know why the landlords did that, but it did happen just after we declined to meekly agree with them when they claimed that damp must be condensation caused by failure to leave windows open at all times right through one of our more severe winters – we actually had the audacity to listen to the damp expert (called in by the landlords) who said leaving windows open in cold weather can make the problem worse and that work was needed to fix the damp.

Perhaps the evidence of pre-existing damp, which had been painted over so as to not show for just long enough to let the place was a figment of imagination. It would be good but unrealistic to expect all landlords to act with any integrity – but it should be realistic to change the law so that it is no longer easy for a landlord to evict someone who asks them to do the repairs they are meant to.

Seems obvious to me that not doing repairs will cost someone more in the long run, but some landlords just don't bother - maybe they paper over the cracks and paint over the damp and sell in short term so it's someone else's problem (seen that), or maybe they don't think past next month – who knows.

All that aside, for everyone's health in those flats I hope the damp problem gets solved quickly.

From Elizabeth L

Friday, 5 September 2014

Good evening Pedro,
I am also puzzled as to why, yet I do feel his motives are somewhat self centered to say the least.

Upon one of the numerous invasive visits, when he needed to take dozens of photographs of a leak which had occurred from the upstairs flat and subsequently left tea coloured stains on my ceiling and he wanted to claim insurance for it. I had to reiterate again (which I had stated in an earlier email to him) that I was not willing to have the living /kitchen area re-painted due to the paint fumes and sleep with all the windows open which is incredibly noisy (sirens, people & cars) and subject my child to the high traffic pollution, plus I had told him I was looking for somewhere bigger and that it could easily be rectified once I had left! The landlord seemed to readily accept all of my concerns.

He refuses to believe that the building is riddled with rising damp. Other tenants have a similar problem but mine is the 'runt' flat hence the major problems. I realise now I should have involved the environmental health but like many tenants did not want to cause disharmony and also felt I would have moved on to a better /cheaper home a long time ago.

He will not be short of prospective tenants, whoever moves in after me will have to be careful and prepared for the expense (underfloor heating /shower /electricity), the numerous visits he and his entourage conduct, the close proximity with neighbours - shared door with a tiny slither of outdoor walkway.

When I have left, his painter will perform a brilliant cosmetic job, this is how I was fooled!

I do not think I have ever lived in such a turbulent property as this. I only can hope by what has been sent it is a blessing in disguise.

From Dave Gee

Friday, 12 September 2014

Sad to here this dreadful tale. I suggest in addition to legal fight to hang on to your home you also contact Calderdale Env Health who have powers to ensure housing fitness standards are upheld by private landlords. They have reasonable advice on this and how to get hold of them on their website

The Green Deal may be the way the landlord can be helped to afford to do the necessary work whereby insulation is improved in the property this will reduce the liklihood of condensation and help to keep down the bills, but will be disruptive whilst work is done, providing the general fabric of the building is watertight.

This perhaps the best longer term solution in the abscence of revolutionary justice.