‘I wouldn’t wish this on my worst enemy’: How ‘no-fault’ evictions are hurting families as government pledges ban
PUBLISHED: 06:45 20 July 2019 | UPDATED: 14:50 22 July 2019
Hundreds of families in Norfolk have been removed from their homes by a controversial law which the Government now wants to ban.
For some tenants the ban on so-called 'no-fault evictions' can not come soon enough.
Mother-of-five Michelle Wright said she was forced to live in a caravan for six months after her family was kicked out of their home of four years in West Raynham.
She had to live away from her children - aged between two and nine years old - who were placed with family.
The 38-year old said the eviction notice, called Section 21, in April last year from her three-bedroom home came out of the blue.
"We did not know it was coming," she said. "I had to move into a caravan because that's all I could afford. It was a really horrible time."
Ms Wright, who now lives with her parents in Swanton Morley, claimed the landlord decided to evict her because there were too many people living in the property.
"We tried to fight the eviction but they were having none of it," she added.
The loss of a private tenancy is the leading cause of homelessness in the UK, with housing charity Shelter claiming families were being thrown out of homes in Norfolk everyday through Section 21.
Kerry Barker, 34, is also being made homeless for the second time in almost a year through a Section 21 notice.
She and her three children - Evie-Rose, nine, Riley, four, and Harley, three - have been told they have until September 1 to leave their current home in Louden Road, Cromer after a relationship broke down.
It comes a year after being evicted from her previous property in the same way.
In February 2018, her home of six years near Northrepps flooded and she and her children were put into temporary accommodation while repair works were being carried out.
She said the work was scheduled to take six to eight weeks but the landlord needed more time to fix the property. She was then served the notice in April.
"I had no choice but to leave otherwise they would take me to court," she said. "I didn't know at the time it was a no-fault eviction."
Ms Barker claimed the house was back on the rental market for £150 a month more than what she had paid before her two months notice was up.
She added: "It was horrendous. My mental health took a nose dive with everything going on. But I had to deal with it, I had no choice.
"I am very much in the same situation as I was last year - Section 21 is an easy way to get us to leave, there's no security for private tenants, it's no easy feat to move again.
"Last year I fell apart, I really didn't know what to do.
"I don't want to uproot my kids and move again. They have suffered and struggled with being unsettled and feeling insecure."
The notice came "out of the blue" for 32-year-old bus driver Chris Richmond, who had to find a new job when he relocated to a new village after being evicted from his home of four years.
Mr Richmond, of Holkham Green, West Raynham, was served a Section 21 notice at his previous home in Wighton in May 2018.
He had been living at the three-bedroom house with his former partner of six years and their two dogs Max and Dill.
"Our biggest obstacle was that we have two dogs and in private renting only a few landlords allow pets," he said.
With little affordable property in the area at short notice, Mr Richmond decided to move to West Raynham which meant leaving behind his job as a private hire taxi driver.
"After that amount of time you get used to a place and get settled," he said. "It was all a bit of a blur, it all happened so quickly.
"It puts you on edge, I decided to compromise everything and just get out of there."
Lauren Mitchell, 27, had to rehome her two cats Fudge and Dusty after being evicted from her rented two-bedroom cottage in Norwich Road, Dereham.
She and her partner had originally planned to buy the house but the landlord needed them out to sell it.
"It was one of the best houses I'd ever lived in," she said. "We had to go into a smaller property and paying a lot more. We had to urgently move somewhere.
"It was stressful and made going into work harder and we had to find money to pay for a deposit for another property.
"I wouldn't wish this on my own worst enemy."
Mother-of-four Sophie Southall, 28, was heavily pregnant when she and her family were served an eviction notice in September 2014 after her husband Tim, 36, lost his job as a warehouse manager.
The couple were unable to pay rent for one month and while Mr Southall was waiting to find out how much housing benefit he would be entitled to the family were asked to leave their home in Wharton Drive, North Walsham.
"We wanted to stay there but there wasn't much we could do about it," Mrs Southall said.
MORE: Family of five almost made homeless by landlord just two weeks before Christmas
Section 21 notices have long been a bone of contention - tenants demand their abolition for better security while landlords insist the law is necessary to boot out trouble tenants.
They warned abolishing it, as the Government announced it would in April, would do more harm than good for tenants.
Paul Cunningham, chairman of the Great Yarmouth and Gorleston Landlords Association, said Section 21 was an easier route for landlords to regain possession of a house from tenants as opposed to a Section 8, which requires a reason for an eviction.
"The ban is proposed at the moment because it would benefit tenants, I don't think it quite will," he said. "I have been a landlord for 30 years and landlords would never evict a good tenant because they don't need to.
"I can see the point of view that families are saying they have no stability, I completely get that, but if they were good tenants that would never happen anyway.
"A good landlord is like running a good business and you want to look after that business."
- 'I have no rights over my house'
"I would be very reluctant to take on people on benefits," says David Harris, 61, from Framingham Pigot, who has been a landlord for 35 years.
"I want to minimise the problems I have."
Mr Harris, who owns seven properties, has used Section 21 "on a couple of occasions" to get rid of tenants who had fallen behind on their rent.
He served a Section 21 on a couple who had been living in one of his properties for three years and accumulated £4,000 in unpaid rent.
"I had a good very good relationship with them but, unfortunately, it got to the point where I wasn't getting any money and I have a commitment to a mortgage company," Mr Harris said.
"We need to be supported by the council and the government and there needs to be legislation to enable us to get our properties back sooner."
Mr Harris's views were echoed by landlady Claire Punchard, 42, from Martham, who has been renting her 10 properties since 2002.
In that time she has evicted three tenants, all of whom failed to pay their rent for several months.
The most recent eviction last year dragged on for six months and cost her £5,000 in rent arrears, court costs and storage fees for the belongings the tenant left behind.
With the impeding ban, Ms Punchard said: "The ban makes me really angry. I have no rights over my house. The government is taking our liberties away from us."
John Hicks, 70, from Mileham, has sold one of two properties he rents out but is thinking of selling the second home as soon as the current tenant decides to leave.
He said: "It's just not worth the hassle.
"The ban is a bad thing. Everything is going to be weighted towards the tenant and I don't agree with that at all."
It is the same sentiment held by Sonia Norman, 77, from Swafield, who owns a flat and maisonnette in Cromer.
"I wouldn't feel confident about keeping those flats," she said.
"If there is no substitute for this notice then I can see that landlords are going to have no alternative but to sell. Where will that leave people who are looking for a home?"
- 1,000 evictions
Almost 1,000 people have been ordered to leave their homes through Section 21 court action within the last five years in Norfolk, according to figures given to this newspaper.
But a charity claims the number of people evicted is much higher.
Since 2014, figures from the Ministry of Justice show there have been 925 Section 21-related possession orders made in Norfolk County Court.
Some 185 cases reached county court in 2018/19, with 2016/17 seeing the highest number of possession orders at 213.
But Lesley Burdett, manager of Shelter Norwich, said the court cases were "only the tip of the iceberg" as most tenants leave when asked to do so in the initial two months.
"The grief and instability that it causes is almost unimaginable," she said. "But these shocking court figures are just the tip of the iceberg, as most renters simply leave when they're told to and so go unrecorded."
- 'Revenge' eviction
Renters hope banning Section 21 will bring an end to so-called 'revenge evictions', in which tenants who complain are served the notice to leave.
Thomas Cannon, 24, believes he was the victim of a revenge eviction after he was told to leave his flat in Ethel Road, Norwich, in April this year.
He had been living in the one-bedroom property for two years and in that time complained to the landlord about persistent mould 30 times.
"There was a lot of mould, I was constantly reporting it to the estate agent and they were reporting to the landlord," he said.
"He sent a contractor round and he'd done a very botched job - he just put a bit of paint over it."
In an email to the estate agent, the landlord blamed Mr Cannon for the issues in the flat, stating it would be better to get him out before he causes further problems.
"I had to get loans from family and friends to move my stuff," Mr Cannon said. "These evictions shouldn't exist."
Meanwhile, a 44-year-old designer, who did not want to be named, said he was told to leave after asking his landlord at his previous home in North Walsham to fix the fence in his garden after it blew over in strong winds in January last year.
"He refused and said it was our responsibility as tenants," he said.
It was around the same time the tenant was asked to sign a tenancy for another 12 months but he declined to do so.
"We were looking to buy somewhere rather than rent," he said. "It got quite nasty. It put us under a lot of stress. It was completely unnecessary."
He added: "I firmly believe the Section 21 served to us was a revenge notice."
-Follow the latest from our investigations unit on Facebook