Why renting your home to a council is Barking mad...
TONY HETHERINGTON email@example.com
P.H. writes: I saw your article about Havering Council and the difficulties a reader had in getting back a property that was rented to the council.
Barking and Dagenham Council are even worse. We are still waiting after two years to recover a property from them. The matter has now gone on for so long that we have had to pay for the agents Wentworth
Housing Ltd to go to court for a possession order.
YOUR partner signed an agreement in 2018 with Wentworth Properties in Ilford, allowing the agents to rent out her property in Basildon, Essex. The agreement allowed Wentworth to let the property to Barking and Dagenham Council for use as temporary housing. But when you contacted me, the same person had been living in the property for about five years.
At the end of 2021, your partner gave the required notice, saying she would like her house back. However, Wentworth reported the tenant was in arrears with rent to the council, and as a result the council was refusing to rehouse her. And when the council did eventually offer to rehouse the tenant, she rejected the new property, saying it was unsuitable.
The result was that your partner did not get her house back. Instead, she continued to receive rent of £950 a month, the figure negotiated in 2018. And the occupier stayed put. The council did offer to negotiate a new rent at current rates, if she would sign a fresh three-year contract.
Wentworth told me that although its agreement was that the house could only be regarded as temporary accommodation, this description is almost meaningless as no time frame was specified. The agents had passed on the request for the return of the house, but the council had replied this could only be done once it had found suitable new housing for the occupier.
By July this year, you and your partner had lost patience. Along with Wentworth, you won a court order for the return of the house. But when I questioned the council and the agents, it turned out this was a hollow victory. The tenant who had been installed by the council moved out – but she left behind her ex-partner and her own teenage son, and they were still living in the property.
Barking and Dagenham Council shrugged off some of my questions, refusing to comment on what it saw as an agreement between your partner and Wentworth. It did accept it had been asked to return the house in 2021, and it told me ‘steps were made to work with all relevant parties to offer up vacant possession’.
As for the rent, a council official agreed it was below market rates, but added that an incentive for property owners is that the council guarantees payment, whereas a private tenant might default. You first contacted me in August, but today I can finally report that you and your partner have regained the property. It is still not a happy situation though. The house is damaged. The council has agreed to pay for the repairs, on top of £3,000 they already forked out for repairs last March. They have said they will even pay rent while the repairs are carried out.
And there may be more problems. You have found debts have been run up by the occupants, and there are signs the address has been used to register cars and vans. This may mean you will be plagued by parking penalties and bills for driving in London.
Like my report in July about Havering Council in Essex and its failure to return a rented property, your experience illustrates that renting to a local authority may not be as safe as it seems. Being paid a lower than normal rent is bad enough, but having to take legal action to recover your own property makes the whole idea unacceptably risky.
Wealth & Personal Finance
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