In September, when the eviction ban ended, we held a Zoom webinar on renters’ rights, to help people understand what the end of the ban meant – and what they could to do to get help. We were joined by over 70 people, including Lyle, who reached out to us with his own story on why it’s so important to know your rights – which he shares in this blog.
I signed up to join Shelter’s renters’ rights webinar because housing is so confusing at times – and I have had experience of what it’s like when you’re stuck in a bad housing situation and you don’t know what your legal rights are.
It’s ironic, because in another way I’m also pretty knowledgeable about the law, because I’m an architect and interior designer. It gives me great pleasure when my clients go crazy over a glass cliff-hanger architectural wonder I provided them with, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. But I get equal enjoyment when I can help a friend rearrange a few simple possessions in their rented apartment in order to make it feel like a personal heaven for them.
I believe that every person is entitled to a safe and beautiful home where they can find refuge. I also know how simply and cost effectively that could be achieved if all the greed were taken out of the equation.
My own experience
I’ve had two horrific experiences with live-in landlords, so I’m aware of what so many renters are going through in the UK at the moment, especially lodgers.
At the webinar, a member of the Shelter team said that over 300 people had registered to join – which speaks for itself. People aren’t sure what to do if their landlord is trying to evict them, legally or illegally. And if you’re a lodger, you have less protection than if you had a proper tenancy agreement.
While dealing with my own situation, I got chatting to some local police officers, who said that during lockdown, problems between lodgers and landlords rose dramatically. I think owners generally take in a lodger when they cannot afford the home by themselves, but often feel unhappy about this situation so they indirectly take it out on the lodger. They feel uncomfortable with a stranger invading their space, but need them financially.
Living as a lodger
I have never had to live as a lodger before.
I have always lived on my own or with a partner in lovely homes. However, when I got the worse end of a divorce, my circumstances changed and I ended up accepting an offer from someone to rent a room in her home. I insisted on signing a lease, but I didn’t know that it was actually a lodger license, not a lease, which gave me almost zero protection.
The place was riddled with bed bugs and infestations and when I asked for the venue to be deep cleaned, I got evicted. The property owner had also contracted coronavirus (COVID-19), but didn’t comply with the Track and Trace scheme or even let me know. I was working with vulnerable people at the time, and I got suspended as I was high risk, and could not be around people that could become seriously ill if they caught coronavirus.
I had to find myself a new home quickly, and unfortunately ended up renting a room in the home of someone with an alcohol addiction. They started harassing me, but I was trapped, as I didn’t have the funds to fork out another deposit and first month’s rent for yet another home.
Looking for help, I reached out to numerous government agencies and repeated my story to lots of different people, who all sounded very interested, but then pushed me towards some other agency or person. I found it very frustrating. These are people who are employed by the government to help, but they weren’t able to help me at all.
I’m a well-educated person who’s lived quite a nice lifestyle, but I almost ended up homeless. I spent the bit of money I still had on a tent, and booked a storage unit, as I really thought I’d be on the streets. It’s crazy to think about how easily your life can change. I feel very strongly about not judging people based on where they come from or what they do, because becoming homeless can happen to anyone.
That’s when I contacted Shelter
Eventually, someone said to me ‘get in contact with Shelter’, and I thought to myself, this is the last straw, because Shelter is only there if you’re at the last stop on the street and you need a bed. But actually, they don’t provide beds at all!
I phoned the emergency helpline and spent 45 minutes on hold – but when I did get through, I spoke to two advisers, who both spent an hour listening to my story. They let me get out all my frustrations, which is exactly what someone needs in that situation.
Then they gave me the most brilliant advice and one of them wrote a formal letter to my landlord. It was the first time anyone had ever given me any help. They advised me on how to get out of the contract, and to not rent from a live-in landlord again.
If I hadn’t spoken to Shelter, I think I would have given up hope
When I got through to the helpline, and when the Shelter team members helped me, I finally understood why you wait for so long to get through on the phone. Because once you do, they will stay and help you as much as they can. Amazing!
Now I’m hoping I can be of help to Shelter, because I want the situation to change for people who feel desperate about not having a safe place to live. I strongly feel that the laws need to be changed to better protect renters who are lodgers.
Also, the public needs to be made aware of their rights if they do decide to live with a live-in landlord. That’s why the Shelter webinar was so good. It left people with a lot of information, and details of where to go on the website to get help.
If you need help with your housing situation, visit our get help page, where you can read through our online housing advice, chat to an adviser, or call our emergency helpline if you need urgent help.