Jumping on the bandwagon of exploitation stories of desperate LHA (Local Housing Allowance) claimants I want to tell my tenant, Nadine’s, story. Last year, during the Harry saga she texted me to say she wanted to talk to me personally. It was either going to be “there’s a nasty smell from Harry’s room, can you investigate” or “I’m moving out”. It was the latter. I was absolutely devastated as she had been the gel keeping that particular house together over the last 3 years – I’d rather have investigated Harry’s room as he hadn’t been out for days. How on earth was I going to sell a room when the USPs were a beautiful garden and a dying drunk upstairs?
Going It Alone
Nadine was excited as her elderly mum had given her £1,500 to get herself a flat of her own which she felt, at the age of 45, she was more than ready for. She’d found one above a shop and turned down my offer to look at it and go through the paperwork to make sure she was getting a decent deal. It was £500 deposit, £500 for first month’s rent by which time her LHA would kick in (God willing that the Housing Department would shuffle her application from desk to desk in a timely and orderly fashion). She was so excited and I really did wish her well with a tear in my eye.
A month later she called me in despair, asking me to visit. It was indeed above a shop, along a narrow unlit alley, over commercial rubbish and up a slippery high set of steps. The bathroom floor had holes in the floorboards so you could see to the damp storage unit below (not unlike medieval toilets, in fact) and shook if you jumped up and down. Everywhere was cold and damp with mould growing over her clothes, her shoes and starting on the carpet. Doors and tiles had fallen off in the kitchen,water was coming through the roof onto her bed and in the living room where the chimney breast met the ceiling. On top of everything there was no smoke alarm or gas safety certificate for the boiler – it was absolutely freezing and desolate. Even her pet rats had a blanket over their cage!
She was at her wits end so I suggested she put her complaints in writing to her landlord, Baz, but his address wasn’t on the tenancy agreement. So we called to arrange a meeting for which he was an hour and a half late and, acknowledging her independence let Nadine do the talking. He was polite, even sympathetic and, when she went to make a cuppa, he turned to me and asked who I was. “I’m her ex landlord and here to advise her” I said feeling smug – even smugger when I stood up and discovered was a good head taller than the slippery little bugger.
He assured her he’d fix everything and “no” she couldn’t leave her contract early. It was let on behalf of a company who took tenancy agreements VERY seriously. “Where’s her deposit registered then? Where’s the smoke alarm and gas certificate?” I was loving being sanctimonious, it suits me. We left the meeting with him assuring her he’d fixed the problems and us assuring him that we’d contact Environmental Health if work hadn’t commenced within the next week.
The next week came and went with no remedial work starting but I did get a phone call from Baz asking what Deposit Protection meant , did I have a copy of her reference I gave and could he buy me a drink! Answer “Look it up on the internet, you didn’t ask me for a reference and absolutely bloody not!” However, I got him talking and it turned out he was managing 200 properties for a company (flats and bedsits) and only let to LHA claimants (DSS) or foreigners “as they don’t know their rights”. I should have contacted that company and bid for his letting contract.
In the meantime, Nadine sought advice from Housing and Legal Aid Centre who backed up what we’d already done. She told them she had a Plan B as I hadn’t relet her old room and the advisor said “You’re lucky, love, most people I see don’t have a Plan B. They have to live with Plan A”. So, she got onto Environmental Health who stopped short of condemning the flat and confessed they’d had “dealings” with Baz before. Nadine was still in her fixed term and was left to live in the flat – winter had set in and she couldn’t have been more miserable.
Then, one bright sunny day the following week Baz called me of the blue with the charming words “What do I have to do to get her out of
the flat within the next 24 hours?”. “Her full deposit and any rent paid until the end of the month – you in trouble, Baz?!” Nadine was delighted, we packed her bags and rats and moved her back into the cosy warmth of her old room, but not before slipping down the snowy steps to her flat!
The End. Actually, not quite. Nadine later found out that he’d painted over the mould and relet the flat to another LHA claimant within 1 month.