08/10/2008

On the Naughty Step

Very firmly esconsed on the step are Sutton Estates, managing agents on Merseyside. These charmers came up with the idea of putting notice boards outside the homes of tenants in rent arrears, proclaiming it to be the home of a ‘rent dodger’. Sutton Estates believe this to be an effective and reasonable way of getting people to pay their arrears. Perhaps sensing that some people might be a little, how can I put it, ‘unhappy’ about this approach, one landlord, Pat Slattery, whose property is managed by Sutton said “It’s not a medieval witch-hunt. The signs will not apply to hardship cases, but there are people who take the rent paid to them by the Government and do not pass it on”.

Sutton’s managing director, Mr Heffey, took a rather more robust view, saying “They can avoid us, but not their neighbours. Now, every time they walk in and out of their door, the neighbours will be laughing at them”. And, in fact, it turns out that people suffering genuine hardship would end up with a sign attached to their home, as Mr Heffey said “For someone who calls us, explains that they are having problems, we would not persevere with this if they are suffering difficulties.” So they get the sign put up, then have to call the managing agents, begging them to take it down.

Now comes the fun bit. Just how many offences are Sutton Estates/the landlord committing here?

Libel and/or harassment have been raised, as have incitement to assault and breach of Art 8 privacy. I’d add breach of covenant of quiet enjoyment and possible breach of data protection rules. Any other suggestions?

Any readers in the north west fancy bringing this nonsense to an end? I reckon it could be done on a CFA, if not legal aid.

Giles Peaker is a solicitor and partner in the Housing and Public Law team at Anthony Gold Solicitors in South London. You can find him on Linkedin and on Twitter. Known as NL round these parts.

6 Comments

  1. Jim Paton

    It’s certainly a breach of the Data Protection Act, 1998 and the statutory Code of Practice issued under it. I agree Article 8 also seems promising.

    But there could be better fun to be had. Just as every right-thinking teenager wants an ASBO or falsely claims to have one, if I lived in the area I’d mock up one of these signs immediately and fix it outside my flat. I’d run off a batch, of course, as my friends would be clamouring for them. What planet do these people live on with “the neighbours will be laughing at them”? Not my neighbours, anyway.

    Oh, and how about some signs fixed to landlords’ or agents’ premises saying “REPAIRS DODGER OPERATES FROM HERE”. This could catch on. Imagine signs appearing on Homeless Persons Units (by whatever fancy name they have nowadays) saying “DANGER! STATUTORY DUTY DODGERS AT WORK”.

    Reply
  2. Usefully Employed

    Something very similar caused a stir few months ago in the city where I live – but I suspect it had been done by a private landlord. There were two flats on a main artery into the city, and across the front of the top flat was a fifteen foot hand painted banner with something like “No 34a dodge their rent’ scrawled across with an arrow pointing down. For agencies to name and shame might be putting things a bit too far, but small private landlords can be put into fairly desperate straits by tenants that *won’t* pay rather than can’t, and sometimes tenants are just bad people. It’s all a bit NOTW vigilante-ist though.

    Reply
  3. Francis Davey

    My thought is that it would actively discourage me from renting or buying a nearby property and might therefore be an own goal on the part of the letting agents as it would lower property values. Maybe that’s only my impression though.

    Reply
  4. Claim Help

    Certainly asking for trouble, if nothing else it will antagonise the tenants and probly lead local councils to blacklist letting agents who take this approach – could backfire badly.

    Reply
  5. Niki Goss

    1 if let property was a house the landlord will have trepassed upon the demised property to put up the sign

    2. there was a very useful provison s40[1] of the admin J 1970
    (1) A person commits an offence if, with the object of coercing another person to pay money claimed from the other as a debt due under a contract, he—
    (a) harasses the other with demands for payment which, in respect of their frequency or the manner or occasion of making any such demand, or of any threat or publicity by which any demand is accompanied, are calculated to subject him or members of his family or household to alarm, distress or humiliation;

    (3) Subsection (1)(a) above does not apply to anything done by a person which is reasonable (and otherwise permissible in law) for the purpose—
    (a)
    of securing the discharge of an obligation due, or believed by him to be due, to himself or to persons for whom he acts, or protecting himself or them from future loss; or

    see http://www.statutelaw.gov.uk/
    but this has just been excluded in certain circumstances
    see para 13 schedule 2 of The Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 SI 1277
    whuch has inserted:

    “(3A) Subsection (1) above does not apply to anything done by a person to another in circumstances where what is done is a commercial practice within the meaning of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008 and the other is a consumer in relation to that practice.”.

    “commercial practice” means any act, omission, course of conduct, representation or commercial communication (including advertising and marketing) by a trader, which is directly connected with the promotion, sale or supply of a product to or from consumers, whether occurring before, during or after a commercial transaction (if any) in relation to a product;
    “product” means any goods or service and includes immovable property, rights and obligations;

    if it is a commecial practice one wonders if it would be caught bybt offence of agreessive commecial practice contrary to reg 7

    Reply

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