Not even disabled renters are safe from evictions - Emma's Story

Sep 10, 2021 4:07 PM

Generation Rent supporter Emma explains what it's like facing a revenge eviction and the effect of discrimination in the private rental market as a disabled renter.

I have always been happy renting as I had a good job, salary and rental history and could pick and choose somewhere. I was very careful in picking the place where I previously lived and checked out the landlord beforehand. Unfortunately, although my salary was good, a mortgage on the south coast was still out of reach without a second income so when I split up with my partner I had to reconcile that I would probably never be able to buy somewhere. 

Nonetheless, I didn't really have any complaints and everything went really well for about 15 years or so until the landlord decided to sell his portfolio and cash in. Unfortunately, he sold to a complete crook. Things got off to a bad start immediately with a huge rent increase. We never met the new landlord. When I asked the agent who the landlord was they told me “I didn't need to know” the details as we should deal with them. Things stopped being fixed. Initially we thought the problem was the agent. The only time we ever heard from them was once a year when they wanted to increase the rent (again).

Several people moved out, which was upsetting as I had got to know everyone who lived in the block and we all got on well and sometimes socialised. We'd made our own little community. Within a couple of years it was all gone, and I only knew a couple of people who, like me, were the "original tenants". The area was going through gentrification as people moved down from London.

The property was actually becoming dangerous to live in because of the disrepair, and it was becoming clear it wasn't the agent but the landlord refusing to authorise the repairs as he didn't want to spend any money. I made the mistake of going to the council to ask for help. It was a mistake not because they weren't helpful - they were - but they don't have enough powers to help effectively. They can force the landlords to fix things or fine them, but they didn’t serve the crucial enforcement notice that would have stopped mine from turning around and evicting me.

The official reason for the eviction was that he wanted to turn the flats into AirBnBs. I think he realised that these are even less regulated than the private rental market. I suspect he'd have done this eventually anyway, but complaining to the council obviously made him angry and he decided to "put us all in our place" for daring to complain about the building having become actually unfit for human habitation. I couldn't believe it, and hired a lawyer who told me there was nothing they could do as legally the landlord can evict anyone for any reason at any time with a section 21. I had always assumed I had more rights, but it turned out I didn't.

When I'd moved in I had been very successful, running my own business and taking home a decent salary. Unfortunately, during my tenancy I had been in an accident and become quite severely disabled. I was signed off work indefinitely and had to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) due to seemingly never-ending health issues that arose afterwards. I had previously been really healthy but that all changed because of an accident that wasn't my fault.

It took three months to find somewhere else that would accept me as a tenant, and they wanted 6 months rent up front and a guarantor, all because I was "DSS". This is an abbreviation for "Department for Social Security" and refers to anyone claiming welfare. I enquired about over 100 properties, was "allowed" to view three - two of which turned out not to be suitable for me after all for various reasons, despite claiming in the ads they were. I think they thought I would take them anyway as they knew no one accepts people on benefits, so I would be desperate. The third was not ideal either but by this time I knew it wouldn't be long before an actual physical eviction would happen, so I took it.

I had been on a council house waiting list for three years due to the dangerous conditions that the block fell into, and initially thought I would find somewhere as I was placed in Band B, which is the second highest band. I bid on every property that was suitable for me - but some "cycles" there were literally ZERO one-bed flats to bid on in my area. In the end, because I managed to rehome myself, they now consider me "adequately housed" and have removed me from their waiting list. This means I will likely never get a council house and have to continue to pay a big chunk of my benefit money on the rent. The rent is so high that it isn't covered by housing benefit: so much has to come out of my ESA and Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which is meant to be for other things, as the cost of being disabled is £583 a month more.

I feel really bitter about the whole experience on so many levels. Firstly, that the council failed to warn me about the danger of revenge evictions (which according to them don't happen simply because that's illegal). I am disheartened at how many places still refuse to let out to people on benefits, which is surely discriminatory. When I said that to one agent they said it wasn't discriminatory at all as "lots of disabled people still work", implying that I didn't because I was lazy. I have also watched the entire town I live in basically become hollowed out by AirBnB properties or flats/houses chopped up into HMOs and the long-term tenants evicted, because they make more money.

I wish I had never learned about section 21s as it is very difficult to feel safe now as I know that it can happen again at any time. I thought disabled people were supposed to have protection against evictions, but there isn't any protection, despite the immense stress and difficulty that it causes. I am also terrified now to ask for repairs. Imagine having finally got a flat to the point where you've adapted it to your disabilities and a wheelchair, and then having to start all over again. Think about how impossible it is to move things when you are disabled, which results in you having to pay for a mover to literally do EVERYTHING for you. And then think that a landlord can legally do that to you every six months and doesn't have to help with any of those costs. The whole experience has broken me and my psychiatrist says I likely now have PTSD as well as permanent personality change.

I was happy to hear the government had committed to ending Section 21s, although I worry they will simply expand Section 8 to basically make them Section 21s by another name. They need to shut all the loopholes so renters can feel safe. As it turns out, two years after promising to do away with them, they’re still legal. The Government needs to be held to account and made to keep their promise. We're tired of waiting.