'It was disgusting': Landlords say rogue renters make their lives hell
- Credit: Sonya Duncan
You've heard of bad landlords – but what about bad tenants?
An investigation by this newspaper found that private landlords were the subject of 10,000 complaints to Suffolk councils in the last five years – with 249 health-threatening hazards identified in rented homes during that time.
We found there is little recourse available for tenants stuck in squalid homes, with councils resorting to enforcement against negligent landlords only in the most extreme cases of non-compliance.
But now landlords are hitting back, claiming they also lack protection when it comes to rogue tenants.
One property developer in Great Yarmouth who says he lost over £27,000 in rent arrears, court costs and repairs because of three rogue renters is selling the home he owns in Lowestoft altogether – claiming "horrible tenants" have driven him away.
Last year Propertymark, the main membership body for property agents, warned that tenant debt and a failure to reform the court system could encourage 20pc of private landlords to sell all or part of their portfolios in 2022.
According to John Pitts, chairman of the Eastern Landlord Association, this would be catastrophic for renters.
A National Audit Office report estimated there were 4.4m households in the private rented sector as of December last year, with Mr Pitts claiming landlords should be incentivised to provide housing stock in the absence of affordable council homes.
Currently, if a homeowner wants to evict someone from their property, and the fixed tenancy period is over, they do not need a reason and can serve a Section 21 no-fault eviction notice as long as they follow due process.
They can also evict people during a fixed term if they break the rules. This is a Section 8 notice, and is valid if the tenant refuses to pay rent or is antisocial.
But a landlord can only use a Section 8 for rent arrears if the tenant has fallen behind on two months' worth of payments – sparking criticisms from landlords they have to "suffer" before they can seek redress.
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But issuing a notice does not guarantee landlords will get their property back.
If a tenant refuses to leave, the landlord must take them to court to apply for a possession order, which they claim is a costly and drawn-out process.
If the tenant still won't leave once the possession order is granted by a judge, the landlord will need to pay for county court bailiffs to kick them out, which may take a further six weeks.
'I did my best to vet the tenant'
Terry Baccus, a 60-year-old originally from Queensland in Australia, rents out three properties in Norfolk and Suffolk.
But he said the experience he'd had at his three-bed house on Jacobs Street in Lowestoft had convinced him the legal system "does not do enough to protect small landlords".
He claims a tenant who lived there from January 2018 to September 2019 was "a nightmare".
"I did my best to vet her with all the tools I had available and everything seemed fine," Mr Baccus said.
"But soon she was refusing access both to me and tradespeople, kept cats, left bags full of cat poo and urine everywhere which attracted flies, damaged windows and wallpaper, destroyed the garden and deliberately flooded the kitchen when she knew I was evicting her.
"When I went into the property to inspect it after the bailiffs had been, she'd already left. I found human waste and bloody underwear lying around. The place was disgusting.
"At one point during the tenancy I had even reduced the rent for her so it was more in line with her housing benefit, but it didn't change anything."
Following this report, the tenant denied this version of events, claiming she withheld rent because the landlord refused to deal with her complaints of "extreme damp and black mould".
The landlord called this a "lifestyle issue" and said no other tenants had ever raised this as a problem before or since.
She said: "I moved out of that house before the case even went to court, and when I left everything was packed and ready to leave in boxes. The landlord created that mess by emptying everything on the floor."
Mr Baccus, however, claimed this was a "ridiculous suggestion", adding: "why would trash my own house and cost myself thousands in repairing damage?"
The landlord then had to issue another Section 8 after the next tenants likewise refused to pay rent between December 2019 and November 2021. They did not respond when contacted for comment.
Mr Baccus claims both were receiving housing benefit direct to them through Universal Credit.
"A conservative estimate is that they cost me £18k in lost rent, court fees and damage repairs", he said.
The 60-year-old said terms like slum landlords "incensed" him, because he tried his best to make properties "as nice as possible" for his tenants.
"I grew up with very little", he explained. "I've always been interested in doing up homes for others to a quality standard because of that.
"I'm just a small landlord, and I'm sick of people vilifying us.
"The government has removed incentives for landlords, like getting rid of tax relief on buy-to-let mortgages, paying Universal Credit to the tenant rather than the landlord and introducing extra stamp duty when buying a house that's not your main home.
"So while non-payment of rent and the costs of eviction might not be much to portfolio landlords, with dozens of properties, they are to me.
"Despite the tenants being ordered to repay me thousands in court costs and rent arrears, all I've got back are the deposits."
Mr Baccus criticised councils for "making situations worse".
"It's no secret councils tell people in private tenancies who can't find anywhere else to wait there until the bailiffs kick them out. Otherwise they make themselves 'intentionally homeless' and don't qualify for temporary council accommodation," he said.
A spokeswoman for the Department for Work and Pensions said Universal Credit was designed to support people into work and help claimants "budget their own money".
But she added there were "safeguards in place if claimants are falling behind on their rent, including direct payments to landlords".
'I'm not sure what more I can do'
Lena Legge, 61, living in Barton Mills, is currently in the process of trying to evict her own "troublesome tenant" – and despite managing a "portfolio" of homes has been left battling panic attacks by the ordeal.
Originally from Sweden, Ms Legge began looking after the 35 properties at a Lakenheath farm 20 years ago.
She attempted to evict the tenant last year when she kept complaining living there was "hell", but the Section 21 eviction notice she served was invalid because the house's Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) had expired.
Instead, she issued the tenant with a valid Section 8 for refusing to pay rent and, according to the landlord, breaching the terms of the tenancy.
Before she was evicted, Ms Legge gave the tenant an opportunity to pay off her arrears.
But when she didn't, and when the tenant refused to leave, she took her to court and was granted a possession order.
Months later, however, and Ms Legge says the tenant "still won't budge", meaning she will have to be removed by the bailiffs later this month.
When contacted, the tenant told this newspaper she is not leaving because she has nowhere else to go and believes the landlord owes her compensation for "14 months of hell".
Ms Legge said: "When you have a truly awful tenant, there is no resolution other than sending in the bailiffs.
"This situation has been so frustrating for me because her references all came back clear."
Ms Legge said the house was immaculate when she first rented it out and emails show the tenant saying she "absolutely loved it here".
But the tenant admitted she had refused to let the landlord or tradespeople anywhere near the property since last August following an altercation with a contractor.
The tenant claims the contractor "threatened [her] with a Stanley knife", but confirmed she did not report the incident to the police. Ms Legge said the contractor denied this.
After that, the tenant also called the council about what she claims were poor housing conditions – despite Ms Legge stating no complaints were ever made to her directly.
"I can only imagine the state it's in", Ms Legge said. "So on top of the £6k she owes me in rent and court fees, I'll probably have to spend thousands repairing damage when she is gone."
Ms Legge said the tenant stopped paying rent in October 2021, and soon after found out she'd been keeping animals there despite having a lifetime ban due to a cruelty to animals conviction.
On February 21, the RSPCA raided the home in a joint operation with Suffolk Police, rescuing seven cats, two budgies and a dog.
When contacted by this newspaper, the tenant explained she withheld rent because the EPC had expired and because the landlord kept carrying out "unnecessary repairs" while she was still living in it.
She added that the animals did not belong to her but the man she cares for, who visits every day – and that she was not letting anyone in the house unless they sent her copies of their driving licences and their car's registration, make and model in advance, because she had faced "distraction burglaries" in the past.
"I've tried countless times to send people round and fix the problems the council told us about, but she refuses them access, even when they show their company ID", Ms Legge explained. "I'm not sure what more I can do."
According to one contractor, the tenant told them she "keeps weapons by the door", with the workman abandoning the job over safety concerns.
The tenant said she had reported one incident to the police in November last year when the landlord had come round to the property and assaulted the man she cares for, and that an investigation was underway.
Suffolk Police, however, said enquiries were complete and no further action had been taken.
Ms Legge said: "It's been horrible. The tenant called the police on me when I went round to have a discussion with her about how we can resolve this situation.
"There are so many outlandish accusations, none of which are true.
"This entire process has been so mentally exhausting and draining. We've tried our absolute best to communicate with her but it has fallen on deaf ears.
"I've had to seek solicitors' advice the whole way through the process, which has cost me £1,500 so far – and we're not even finished yet."
What has the government said?
The Department for Levelling Up said a private rented sector White Paper will set out reforms in the spring to make renting fairer for all, including making sure landlords have the tools they need to gain possession of their property when they have a valid reason to do so.
Its spokeswoman said staff were also committed to exploring improvements to the possession process in the courts, with a new online system being introduced that reduces common user errors currently delaying the possession process.
She added: "We are also working with the Ministry of Justice to free up bailiff resources by reducing their administrative tasks so they can focus on enforcement."
Also in this series:
- 'I had to smash up mouldy furniture': Landlords hit with 10,000 complaints
- 'Were about to be made homeless because estate agents won't touch us'
- 'I can't put my kids to bed': Disabled dad one of 10,000 applicants stuck on county's housing register
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