Tenants claim back rent from unscrupulous landlord Sheila Kawol with help from council and Safer Renting

6 September 2019

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Waltham Forest Town Hall

Two Waltham Forest private tenants have been able to claim back over £9,000 from their landlord Sheila Kawol with the help of Waltham Forest Council and Safer Renting after their locks were changed without their knowledge and their possessions removed.

Jack and Craig lived in a House in Multiple Occupancy (HMO), a house where individuals share facilities, in Walthamstow. In November 2018 Jack returned from holiday to find that the lock to the front door had been changed without his knowledge and, even worse, that his room had been emptied. Likewise, his friend and housemate Craig discovered the lock to his door had also been changed after the landlord requested access to fix a radiator.

Both tenants had been residents at the address for over a year, and Jack had lived there for five years, paying rent on time. After discovering that the locks had been changed and that they no longer had access to their belongings, Jack and Craig contacted Waltham Forest Council’s Private Sector Housing and licensing team for advice.

It is a requirement that HMOs in the borough are licensed, Jack and Craig’s home was not registered as it should have been. The council can enforce against unlicensed properties, but in this case the loss of Jack and Craig’s possessions and their illegal eviction meant it was necessary to pursue a harder line to redress the injustice caused by their landlord Sheila Kawol, of Ilford.

Therefore, the council referred the case to Safer Renting, an organisation who work to protect tenants victimised by criminal landlords. Safer Renting first secured the return of Jack and Craig’s belongings with the help of the police. Next, Safer Renting assisted the duo in applying for a Rent Repayment Order (RRO) under powers created by the Housing Act 2004 and the Housing and Planning Act 2016. Under these powers, landlords who commit offences including managing an unlicensed HMO or illegally evicting tenants can be made to repay the tenants’ rent. In order to successful secure an RRO the offences must be substantiated to a criminal standard of evidence – in other words, proven beyond reasonable doubt.

The case went to the Residential Property tribunal in London, on Friday 19 July. Months of preparation by the Safer Renting team were required as the case was complicated by the lack of receipts for the rent paid in cash. Witness statements were prepared and emails, text messages, and photographs collated to support Jack and Craig’s claim.

The tribunal panel heard six full hours of evidence, with representations from both sides. On Thursday 1 August the tribunal announced that it had found in favour of Jack and Craig, the tenants, and awarded RROs of £3737.70 and £5995.29 respectively.

Cllr Louise Mitchell, Cabinet Member for Housing and Homelessness Prevention, said: “Imagine coming back from a holiday to a place you called home to find the locks had been changed and your possessions removed. What an unpleasant surprise – no-one should have to experience that.

“The behaviour of the landlord Sheila Kawol in this case was nothing short of atrocious. I am delighted that, with the expert assistance of Safer Renting, these tenants have been able to reclaim their money and are now able to look for safe, suitable places to call home. This success illustrates the impact that multi-agency working can have on tackling rogue landlords, as well as the justice that tenants can achieve without having to pay costly legal fees.”

“We work hard to protect tenants from unscrupulous landlords who cut corners and jeopardise their tenants’ comfort and safety. If you’re looking for a rental property in our borough, please take a minute to see whether potential landlords are registered – as they are required to be – with either our Private Rental Property Licensing scheme or register of licensed HMOs. It will only take a minute but could save months of hassle.” 

Sarah Collins, a Safer Renting advocate, said: “Rent Repayment Orders are a relatively new facility allowing private tenants to recover up to 12 months’ worth of rent paid where a property is unlicensed, or they have been subjected to harassment or illegal eviction. You don’t need a lawyer to take on a case and the cost of starting is only £100 court fee.”

The Waltham Forest Private Rental Property Licensing (PRPL) scheme database is available here, and the register of licensed HMOs is available here. Tenants in London can also check the Greater London Authority’s rogue landlord and agent checker to see whether potential landlords or letting agents have been subject to enforcement action.

Note: Some names have been changed in this article to protect privacy

Is your landlord legitimate? Some warning signs…

- Is your landlord demanding payment in cash without giving you a receipt? You have the right to ask for a receipt, and legitimate landlords will be willing to accept standing orders to pay rent.

- If you live in an HMO, what do the other tenants say? Have they lived there long? A high turnover of housemates could be a sign that something is not right.

- Make sure you check the council’s Property Licensing or HMO register online before you sign a tenancy agreement. If the landlord is not registered, they are not operating legally and should be avoided.  If you have any doubt or concerns please contact the Property Licensing team on 020 8496 4949 or propertylicensing@walthamforest.gov.uk