This Landlord Used a Legal Loophole to Boot Out His Renters in Just 11 Days

Sayonara, folks.

by Rivkah Brown

5 September 2023

A man and woman sit drinking wine on holiday
Paul Odell (right) kicked out his renters in less than two weeks. Photo: Facebook

A landlord has used a legal loophole to kick out a group of renters in less than two weeks.

Paul Odell, who owns the property in Pinner, northwest London, was on the brink of signing a new tenancy agreement with four renters when he abruptly pulled out of the deal, claiming “someone had lied to him”.

Odell cancelled the new contract on Saturday 19 August. Since the existing agreement was set to expire on 30 August, the landlord gave the renters just 11 days to leave what in emails he referred to as “my house” – and under English and Welsh law, he was wholly entitled to do so.

The case exposes the threadbare nature of renters’ rights – and that what few protections do exist often feel inaccessible to renters deterred by arduous court battles.

A grey area.

32-year-old Jonathan Bristow moved into the house in November last year. With three other housemates, he signed a joint, one-year assured shorthold tenancy agreement.

Without consulting her fellow housemates, one of the renters, Fahra*, gave the landlord notice to quit on 30 June, triggering the start of the two-month notice period for the entire house (in Wales, where housing law is devolved, the government recently acted to prevent similar situations: under the 2016 Renting Homes (Wales) Act, joint tenants have to give notice collectively). A second housemate decided to leave with her.

Yet Bristow and the fourth housemate, Sigrid*, had wanted to stay in the house for at least another year. They were shocked that Fahra had ended the agreement without a group discussion. “I think she’s quite naive in terms of renting,” says Bristow, speaking to Novara Media over the phone.

Thankfully, the landlord offered Bristow and Sigrid a new tenancy agreement, provided they could find two replacement housemates, which they did. Things quickly fell apart.

On 19 August, Odell sent over the new tenancy agreement for the four to sign. Later the same day, however, he called Sigrid to say the deal was off. He refused to explain why.

Speaking to Novara Media on the phone, Odell described the renters’ account as “a complete pack of lies”, adding: “Plain and simply, they abused and destroyed my property. They’ve not paid rent, they’ve lied to me.”

Asked by Novara Media what these lies were, Odell declined to elaborate. He threatened to sue Novara Media if he found inaccuracies in its reporting and hung up. According to Bristow, the rent has been paid on time and in full, with no damage to the property beyond usual wear and tear. Odell has claimed two-thirds (£1,771.64) of the group’s deposit.

After Odell’s eleventh-hour change of heart on the contract, Bristow had to take a week off work to find somewhere else to live. He’s now paying £1,069.70 a month for a small room in Brixton, compared to £850 for a much larger space in Harrow.

He added it was “very tough” having to separate from Sigrid, with whom he’s lived for over five years and is “one of the closest things I have to family over here” (Bristow moved to the UK from New Zealand in 2015), describing his “blinding anger” at the injustice of the UK housing system.

While technically Bristow and Sigrid could have fought Odell in the courts, the risks of a legal battle seemed overwhelming. They felt they had little choice but to leave by the end of the notice period.

Stay and fight?

Legal experts who spoke to Novara Media said Bristow and Sigrid could have stayed and awaited a formal eviction notice from the landlord.

While this might have bought them more time, the pair would have still been on the hook for the whole house’s rent – and would have struggled to find others to move into the two unfurnished bedrooms with the threat of eviction looming. “We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place,” says Bristow.

Worse still, he says he feared being illegally evicted had he and Sigrid gone down the legal route: “If I come home, is he going to have changed the locks?”

Bristow’s fear is not unjustified: there were more than 8,000 instances of landlords illegally evicting or harassing renters last year.

It didn’t help that Bristow, like the vast majority of private renters in the UK, lacked the support of a union. “I didn’t really know huge amounts about tenants’ unions, though I do see them on Instagram occasionally,” he says.

The ranks of renters unions have swelled across the UK in recent years, particularly since the pandemic; members routinely educate one another on their rights and organise eviction resistance.

53,000 evictions.

England and Wales are two of the most landlord-friendly countries in Europe, something renters feel most acutely when it comes to evictions. Under section 21 of England’s Housing Act (or section 173 of the Renting Homes (Wales) Act), landlords can evict renters regardless of whether they’ve signed a contract, for no reason whatsoever.

As well as enabling renters to maximise their existing rights, housing campaigners are also pushing for the end of Section 21 or “no-fault” evictions – a move even the Tories agree is necessary.

Yet the government has dragged its heels on scrapping Section 21: almost 53,000 households have received a Section 21 eviction notice since Theresa May first pledged to ban them in 2019. Campaigners hope the renters reform bill currently making its way through parliament will put an end to the saga.

Siobhan Donnachie, a spokesperson for the London Renters Union, told Novara Media in a statement: “Tenants in England and Wales face some of the most insecure tenancies in Europe.

“Landlords have too much power over our lives and renters live with the constant anxiety of knowing we could be forced out of our home for no reason after only six months because of a ‘no-fault’ eviction or a massive rent hike. It’s unfair that we cannot plan for the future or put down roots in our communities because we do not know where we will be living in a few months.

“It has been over four years since the government promised to abolish “no-fault” eviction and bring renters security. We cannot wait any longer. The government must bring in the Renters Reform Bill and control rents to ensure that everyone has a safe and secure place they can call home.”

In a statement shared with Novara Media, chief executive of Shelter Polly Neate echoed this sentiment: “For too long broken private renting has left tenants at the mercy of their landlords, living in constant fear that they could be kicked out of their home for no reason.

“Under-regulation combined with complicated rules can leave people with little understanding of what their rights as a tenant actually are, while the current climate of high demand and extortionate rents has meant that all too often, tenants lose out.

“The first step in tackling the power imbalance between tenants and landlords is to increase tenants’ rights through the Renters (Reform) Bill. Making the bill law must urgently be prioritised when parliament resumes.”

*Names have been changed.

Update, 18 September 2023: This article was updated to include the fact that under Welsh housing law, joint tenants must act together to end their tenancy.

Rivkah Brown is a commissioning editor and reporter at Novara Media.

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