BRIXTON LEGAL: Keeping a roof over your head

Pam DouglasPam Douglas is a solicitor with local firm Wainwright & Cummins. Each month she takes a common enquiry and asks one of her colleagues from the relevant department to answer it for our readers

Housing disrepair and homelessness are issues that increasing numbers of us face daily, whether we rent privately or from social landlords.

The charity Shelter has estimated that one in three of us are only one salary cheque away from losing the roof over our heads. Causes include rent increases, loss of employment and relationship breakdown. Many are also facing home loss due to welfare benefits issues and the regeneration of social housing estates.

One of our recent cases illustrates just how unpredictable and precarious life can be.
Grace Bovill, head of our housing team, recently successfully represented a long-standing Brixton tenant when her landlord, Guinness Partnership, took her to court, putting her at real risk of losing her home.

Our client’s first home was demolished by her landlord in 2015. Not only did this mean that she had to relocate from the home she had lived in for over 10 years, but that her weekly rent was increased from £109 a week to £265 a week for a two-bedroom flat in a new area.

This single mother of two had no choice but to take the property on offer. If she had not, she would have been deemed to have made herself and her children intentionally homeless.

In moving to a new area, she could no longer keep her full-time job in Brixton, and had to seek part-time work. While the Department of Work and Pensions worked out if she was entitled to benefits to assist her in paying the increased rent, they suspended her payments for three months. As a result, our client fell into arrears with her rent and her landlord took steps to evict her.

However, thanks to her own dogged persistence and widespread community support, she was able to obtain legal representation in the nick of time. As it turned out, the landlord had restored previous possession proceedings without permission to do so, and the court threw their claim out. This would not have been the outcome if the error hadn’t been pointed out to the court by her solicitor.

If your landlord is threatening you with eviction or failing in their duty to provide you with decent, safe accommodation, you should make sure you keep copies of all correspondence and get legal advice as soon as you can.

In many cases it’s possible to raise a defence to a possession claim or bring a counterclaim (for example for disrepair). Legal Aid is also still available to defend possession and eviction claims in many circumstances. In relation to disrepair, it’s sometimes an option for a tenant to withhold rent until the repair is done, or to pay for the repair themselves.

There are almost as many solutions as there are scenarios, but the most important thing to remember is that you have rights and your landlord has obligations.

Do get in touch with us with any legal queries, whether or not they’re related to housing: