It was a proper Christmas, no culinary catastrophes, the family gathered round the table for a feast, no-one’s voice raised above 70 decibels. Bliss. The real tree looked and smelled of Norwegian wood, there were rows of candles, a box full of economy crackers with truly groan-tastic jokes. All just like a real homey Christmas should be.
Then, a few days before New Year’s Eve 2017 and still amid the warm festive glow, a hand-written window envelope fluttered on to the doormat. A late Christmas card? Nah, they don’t come in window envelopes. Probably some neighbourhood thing. I left the letter on the hall table and went shopping. An hour later, warming up with a coffee, I opened the handwritten envelope:
Dear Ms De Keyser,
RE: Notice Seeking Possession - Tenanted Property...
I read on, fully expecting this to be one of those standard communications landlords need to send once a year to comply with the contract. Only when I got to the end of the letter did I realise that this was nothing of the sort:
“Our client has instructed us to commence court proceedings should you fail to vacate the property [within two months of this letter].”
Well, I nearly choked on my croissant. What?! Was I actually being evicted? I had, in a flash, become the star in one of those shocking stories you see on those ‘rogue tenant’ shows on telly.
After a decade of being a model tenant, I was served with one of those nasty “no fault eviction” notices – even the name should make you grab the nearest protest placard and storm off to campaign outside parliament. ‘No fault eviction’, known to landlords as a ‘Section 21 notice’. simply has no place in civilised society.
But then, perhaps we are well on the way to becoming an uncivilised society. If a person can be unceremoniously turfed out of their home, having committed not one single wrong, how can they ever protect themselves and their home? Being thrown on to the street, out of the blue, is such a profoundly unsettling experience that those who have not experienced such deep insecurity, will find it difficult to relate to this emotion.
Anyway, never one for just rolling over, I launched a protracted email negotiation with my landlord. Could he at least give me a little longer to find somewhere else? Six months, perhaps? “No”. I invited him for coffee. “My lawyers advise me against visiting”. Eh? Lawyers? He’d never mentioned any lawyers in over a decade, so who were these lawyers? Landlord Action, as in the eviction notice? I googled the group and found they work with Channel 5’s Nightmare Tenants, Slum Landlords. Nasty stuff. Was I was suddenly a ‘nightmare tenant’?
The email exchanges with my landlord became increasingly comical, with me refusing to go, and him protesting that “My relationship is falling apart and I need to move in to your flat.” “l’ll be homeless if you don’t move out, I’m sleeping on my sister’s sofa.”
Needless to say, I was mightily peed off and, in my cross-ness, I decided to get my own back. Loads of growling and trawling through Shelter, Citizen’s Advice Bureau, legalservice.which.co.uk, privaterenting.gov.uk, Generation Rent and a shed load of other sites, revealed that however desperate my landlord was to get rid of me within the next few weeks, that just wasn’t going to happen.
I learned that, once the two months notice are up, and not a moment before, my landlord could issue court proceedings to get me out. That would take about a month. And cost him money. I’d then have 21 days to respond to this. If the case proceeded to court, it’d likely be another minimum two months before a hearing date could be found.
So there’s your six months or so in which I could look for another place at leisure, and even suggest to my landlord that he might speed my departure by contributing to my relocation expenses. Several tweets and forum entries showed some success with this approach.
I must stress that, according to sound legal advice, all of this is within the law, nothing unlawful going on. I just had to hope that my landlord’s sister’s sofa was comfortable.
But it was, with sweet irony,a website for landlords that dealt me my trump card: The Tenant Deposit Scheme. The website warned landlords that, if they fail to register a tenant’s deposit with an accredited deposit protection scheme, they’re liable fora fine of up to three times the deposit, payable to the tenant. Now, I had never received any paperwork about a deposit protection, and so with my six week deposit riding on it, we’re talking the equivalent of 18 weeks rent.
And there was more. Even if a landlord has registered the deposit some time after a tenant has moved in, and even if the landlord has paid back the deposit, and even if you’ve already moved out, the landlord has still broken the law and still has to pay you three times the deposit as a fine for not having protected it in the first place. Well, I could have kissed my computer. Fast forward six months, with an endless torrent of emails threatening me with all manner of plague and pestilence, I finally moved out, in my own good time.
Now safely ensconced in my new abode I posted my landlord aLetter Before Action (handily downloaded from the Shelter website, you just fill in the dotted lines). The letter asked for my deposit-times-three to be transferred into my bank account, in accordance with the law governing deposit protection.
It took about eight-and-a-half minutes for a solicitor from Landlord Action to get on the blower. A conversation followed, laced with passive aggression, veiled threats, you name it – they knew how to dole it out. But I had the law in my corner, so I stuck up my dukes and thoroughly enjoyed the bout. Three times my deposit, or I’d see them in court.
The following week, and many phone calls later, my landlord paid up. In full. And my bank account now looks like one of those beautiful wildflower meadows you see on adverts for life insurance, all fragrant and abundant. Or at least it does to me.
And the moral of this story? Check out if your deposit has been protected, and don’t let your landlord push you around. They say an Englishman’s (or woman’s) home is his castle – so I say if you’re threatened with eviction, head for the barricades.