drama@home

This morning I was sitting at the ‘puter (as one does), when there’s a ring at the door.  Stick the head out of the window to communicate: there are three men.

“Hello?”

“Are you Flat 3?”

“No” (dammit, that would be the doorbell labeled “3”, and it doesn’t ring in my flat)

“Can you open up so we can access it?”

“Erm … I think you should speak to the agent” (all four flats are managed by the same agent for the same landlord, but it’s a long, long time since a tenant has been seen in Flat 3).

“It doesn’t matter; if you don’t let us in we’ll break in anyway.  We have a warrant.”

WHAT??????

“Erm, if you have legitimate business there, I’m sure the agent will arrange access”

On the one hand, I wouldn’t exactly expect a housebreaker to ring my doorbell.  On the other hand, this is alarming.  OK, time to ‘phone the agent.  The ‘puter is on, so it’s a ten second job to google the agent’s number.  ‘Phone it.  A recorded message tells me a mobile number for emergencies only.  Try that one, get voicemail.  Heh, so much for emergency hotlines!

Hmmm …

OK, next stop, try the police.  Explain what’s going on, let them either sort it or disclaim all interest.  At least the presence of the workmen outside should help deter anything too extreme, if the men are up to no good.  The police do show up fairly quickly, and find the men do indeed have legal authority for what they’re doing!  Meanwhile the men have got in (turns out Clare from Flat 1 let them into the building), and I hear drilling as they force entry to Flat 3.

Going out later, I see a notice on the door of Flat 3, the lock has been changed!  The notice is (or claims to be) from British Gas, so not a repossession[1].   Before anything else I go straight to the agent’s office in search of an explanation.  It seems they knew some of the story: BG was in dispute with the tenant and cut off the supply (wow, that must’ve involved a marathon legal process even if, as seems likely, the tenant never answered any of their correspondence).  But they didn’t know the flat had been forcibly entered and the lock changed!

Black marks to both BG and the agent there: it could’ve been handled so much better if they’d communicated.

[1] A repossession would’ve been alarming for me. If a mortgage holder is in difficulties, huge amounts of taxpayer help are available.  If a tenant defaults on the rent, he can only be evicted after months of legal process.  But if a landlord defaults on a mortgage, the tenant gets treated like dirt, and may not even get notice of the bailiffs coming to evict.

Posted on March 30, 2010, in homes, housing, uk. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Interesting last comment. I would change it to “…the tenant…WILL not get notice…”

    Once I was unfortunate enough to be a tenant in a property where the landlord defaulted on his mortgage. I found out that the bailiffs were coming only because I opened some suspicious looking mail addressed to the landlord, rather than passing it unopened to the agent. Had I not done that, I would have returned from work one day to find my possessions locked into a house that I could not access. I have no idea what my rights would have been, but I guess they were pretty minimal, and I doubt that anyone in authority would have been very interested in helping me out.

    My only revenge was to be able to squat in the property rent free for the six weeks or so between becoming aware of the impending repossession and the coming of the bailiffs (who, to be fair, did agree to give me notice of their arrival once I had told them that I was living at the property).

    You are correct – tenant’s rights (and legal remedies) need to be massively strengthened in this specific area. For starters I would suggest that letting agents should have a legal duty of care to protect tenants’ interests in such circumstances. Mine couldn’t have cared less.

  2. British Gas has the right to break into your home and change the locks? When there’s an agent that could have let them in without damaging anything? That strikes me as a bit… excessive, for anything that could be called their legitimate interest. Okay, at least they need a warrant, but I’m disturbed they can even get a warrant for that level of attack.

  3. My guess: British Gas didn’t know there was an agent (or that the place was rented). The men who came round were contractors of the kind who aren’t encouraged to show initiative when told there is an agent, but are trained to treat any such distraction as fobbing off and ignore it.

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