Being evicted from your home is traumatic. It often occurs after days of fear at the arrival of bailiffs or high court officers, after weeks of trying to organize support and to pack up your things, after months of fighting in court and by other legal means to stay in place, and after years of struggling to keep up with inflated rents in spite of illness or unemployment or slashed benefits or all three. It is a violent and distressing process and it causes havoc for the people who have to go through it.
When it does happen, evicted tenants need adequate support while they work to put their lives back together. But the failures of the law and of government to support tenants extends beyond the eviction itself and includes its aftermath as well, even for tenants who are not summarily classified as ‘intentionally homeless’ and refused help altogether.
Digs members Nadia was evicted from her home in Stoke Newington in late August. Her and her sixteen-year-old son Jad were initially moved to a bed and breakfast in Finsbury Park and from there to a thoroughly inappropriate one-bedroom flat in White Hart Lane. This was effectively a studio flat, lacking a door to separate the bedroom from the living room, and was therefore allocated in obvious violation of the council’s own statutory obligation to provide suitable accommodation. It also relocated Nadia and Jad outside of the borough of Hackney and away from the friends, community networks and educational and health services on which they were reliant.
After a legal challenge and significant campaigning by Nadia they were then moved to slightly less inappropriate accommodation in Homerton. Three moves in less than two months absorbed an enormous amount of their time, frayed their nerves and cost them money that they didn’t have to spend.
The Council has a statutory obligation to provide Nadia and Jad with suitable accommodation and support. What kind of help did it provide?
While all of this was going on, the majority of Nadia and Jad’s possessions remained in storage in Islington. Despite receiving assurances from the bailiff and from police that they would be entitled to return to their home in order to recover their things, the landlord of the property, Mark Bushman, decided to take matters into his own hands. All of Nadia’s and Jad’s things were removed from the house under his supervision within a week of the eviction taking place. Many of Nadia and Jad’s possessions were damaged in the process, and for many weeks they also believed that they had lost their pet cat [I can’t remember the cat’s name!].
Nadia and Jad didn’t have time to collect their things from storage and they didn’t have the money to hire a removals van. Despite repeatedly reaching out to the Council for support, Council representatives who are responsible for temporary accommodation and for child support consistently dithered or behaved dishonestly. The person responsible for temporary accommodation supplied mixed messages about the availability of funds to assist in removals and about the accessibility of cheap Council storage, while a child support worker who did offer to help then spent her time trying to persuade Jad that he would be better off going into care.
While all of this was going on – and while Nadia and Jad were trying finally to settle into their fourth home in less than three months – their ex-landlord set about destroying the possessions that Nadia and Jad had not been able to retrieve from the storage facility. He left behind a few (not all!) documents and computers as if to make a show of observing legal requirements.
Nadia lost furniture and her life’s collection of books. Jad lost the collection of camping equipment that was his passion and that he had collected over a period of years. To the injury of losing their home because of extortionate rents is added the further injury of losing many of the things that might have helped them to settle in their new home.
Why are we expected to accept this? Why is there not a clearly advertised support system for evicted tenants that can aid them to recover their possessions? Does Hackney Council think that, if it provides real assistance to tenants who are thrown out of their home, that if it provides substantive and compassionate assistance, of the kind that actually suggests a commitment to tenants as people, then it will have to provide more tenants with support? It’s difficult to see how else to explain its unwillingness to provide a minimum of assistance to homeless families who have already suffered hell and who it has a legal obligation to support. And then what is the rationale for the Council to pay for its own private storage if it won’t be honest with its constituents about its existence? Nadia and Jad’s case won’t be isolated – if you get evicted and then shunted around from place to place then you don’t have the time or money to concentrate on removals – and so why are there not concrete plans in place to aid tenants in securing their possessions after they have gone through an eviction?
As for the landlord, Mr. Mark Bushman, no surprise there. His action is par for the course for entitled homeowners who have made hundreds of thousands if not millions of pounds through inflated property values, through no virtue of their own besides the virtue of good luck, and who then use all of the legal facilities at their disposal (and often other facilities too) in order to harass and to punish tenants who have the audacity to fall behind on their ludicrous rents.
- Don’t rent from Mark Bushman. For so long as our homes are business transactions for people like him then homelessness will continue to rise and the situation for the majority of people in Hackney will continue to worsen.
- Pressure the Council to take action! Hackney Council needs to do more than pay lip service to the suffering experienced by evicted tenants. Real concern for the situation of renters means recognizing that no one CHOOSES to get thrown out of their homes, and by treating the people who do get thrown out with the humanity and care that is currently reserved for the paying customers at the coffee shops on Stoke Newington Church Street. We are not trash. If we are treated as if we are then we will answer straight back.