In much of the UK, if you fall out with your landlord it can cost you your home. Christmas is approaching but in Weybridge in Surrey, a tenant is preparing for eviction.
Earlier this year, Wendy (not her real name) threatened to take legal action against her landlord to force him to carry out repairs on the flat she has lived in for the last 12 years.
Her landlord subsequently issued her with a Section 21 order. The law doesn’t require Bazmore Enterprises Ltd to give a reason for throwing Wendy out as it’s a so called “no-fault eviction.” Wendy believes she’s being punished for getting solicitors involved and complaining about the condition of her home.
On the face of it, Wendy has plenty to complain about. The smell of damp hits you as soon as you enter her two bedroom flat. Dark mould covers large areas of the ceilings in both the kitchen and the bedroom. The walls are cold and feel wet to touch.
Wendy says the source of the problem was a leak in the roof of the property which she says began seven years ago. The landlord says repairs were carried out in August and the problems have now been resolved.
Russell Moffatt is a former housing enforcement officer with the London Borough of Newham. ITV News and the Guardian asked him to inspect Wendy’s flat, he was appalled by its condition and says there are issues that still need addressing.
“These windows were ok in the 1950s, they are not ok in 2018,” Moffatt said. “They should have been replaced long ago. They are the original metal windows and are hopeless in terms of insulation.”
In Moffatt’s view the level of insulation at Wendy’s flat is sub-standard and the heating system is inadequate. He says that the two, combined, are leading to the damp and mould.
“I’ve seen it over and over again,” Moffatt told ITV News. “Landlords avoid spending money on their property. That’s why there need to be rules and there needs to be people from the council saying this has to be done and you shall do it and if it's not done then there shall be consequences. That’s not really happened here has it.”
Wendy asked Elmbridge Borough Council for help but the local authority has a weak record of enforcement.
Local authorities are under financial pressure and the Institute for Fiscal Studies calculates that their Housing budgets have fallen by 53% in real terms since 2009/10.
Analysis by the Local Government Information Unit predicts that funding for services like Housing and enforcement are likely to come under further pressure, shrinking to 15% over the next six years.
Councils have significant powers to punish negligent landlords but a recent investigation by ITV News and the Guardian found that many don’t use them.
Following our investigation, the Housing Minister wrote to the chief executives of every local authority urging them to make “the most of the powers you now have available”.
In the letter to council leaders, James Brokenshire MP said “some of you have made greater progress than others” in tackling rogue landlords and he reminded them of the range of measures they could take to force landlords to improve their properties.
Elmbridge was one of 53 councils in England and Wales not to make a single prosecution under the Housing Act during 2015, 2016 or 2017, according to the freedom of information requests we submitted.
Furthermore, Elmbridge hasn’t imposed any fines on landlords since the Government introduced civil penalties eighteen months ago, according to a freedom of information request by the Residential Landlords Association.
Elmbridge did serve an improvement notice on Wendy’s property in March 2015. It noted: “evidence of water penetration above and around the head of the kitchen window, causing cracking and localised dampness to the wall plaster.”
Wendy’s landlord bought the flat shortly afterwards. Bazmore Enterprises Ltd, which is owned by Bujang Bin Ahmad Zaidi, who is resident in Malaysia, denies it has failed in its obligation to maintain the property.
Bazmore argues that Wendy was a difficult tenant who often frustrated attempts to carry out repairs by refusing workers access to the flat.
Tim Oliver is the leader of Elmbridge Borough Council. Mr Oliver is also a private landlord but he told ITV News that this does not influence the way the council regulates the private rented sector.
Elmbridge denies it is too lenient with landlords. In a statement the council said it has developed “an approach built on advice and guidance, backed up by the threat of enforcement action. We have found this to be an effective way of addressing concerns about property conditions.”
A spokeswoman for Elmbridge added: “We did follow up on the improvement notice, in terms of reminding the then landlord of their responsibilities and strongly encouraging them to act...All things considered we were broadly satisfied with the progress that was made.”
Bazmore Enterprises Ltd says it decided to evict Wendy because of complaints about her behaviour made by other tenants in the building.
Winkworth’s, the agency that manages the flat on behalf of Bazmore, initially offered a different explanation. Kim Karpeta, a director of Winkworth’s Weybridge branch, told ITV News: “If [Wendy] hadn’t got lawyers involved and tried to beat the landlord up with a stick, she’d have probably been fine. We were making a huge effort to make things better.”
Mr Karpeta later told us he’d “used the wrong choice of words and...did not present the situation in the correct light.”