Housing

Pensioner couple receives four no-fault eviction notices in single year: 'They're inhumane'

Shelter has warned renters over the age of 55 face a no-fault eviction every 16 minutes. Pensioner couple Alan and Lee Harries told The Big Issue the insecurity of renting has affected their health and seen them move home several times

Lee and Alan Harries have received several Section 21 notices

Lee and Alan Harries say they have received five Section 21 notices in the years since the Tories said they would scrap them in 2019. Image: Supplied

A pensioner couple have revealed they have received four Section 21 eviction notices in the space of a year as the wait goes on for the Renters Reform Bill to scrap them.

Lee and Alan Harries, from Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, claim they have been forced to move almost once per year since they lost their home in 2014 when Alan was forced to retire due to health issues.

Their tumultuous time in the private rented sector has seen the pair, aged 65 and 66 respectively, receive five Section 21 notices, which allow landlords to evict tenants without giving a reason, since the Tories said they would scrap them in 2019.

That includes four notices issued over two properties this year. Shelter recently found over-55s in England face a no-fault eviction every 16 minutes.

Lee, who is unable to work due to complex PTSD and other mental health issues and is cared for by Alan, said the eviction notices are “inhumane”.

“I think Section 21s are disgusting. They’re inhumane,” said Lee. “The reason you have to rent privately is because you can’t buy a home. Obviously when we lost our home where we lived for 16 years that was the start of the tragedy. 

“The lack of security has made us both ill. There’s just no stability at all and it actually affects everything. It affects your appetite, your sleep.”

Alan Harries received several Section 21 eviction notices
Alan Harries said he was taken ill recently after receiving notice of a Section 21 eviction. Image: Supplied

Life with the insecurity of renting has been the reality for the pair for the last nine years after IT consultant Alan was forced to give up work.

They opted to move to Dorset for the “slower pace of life”, according to Lee.

The reality has been a hellish tour around the county’s rental market.

First the pair had problems with neighbours in a high-rise in Portland for six months, before moving to a “brand-new, really nice” house in Weymouth, where they stayed for three and a half years. That was when they first experienced a no-fault eviction after being given two months’ notice to leave because the owner was selling the property.

From there, it was another year and a half in a flat in the Dorset town before the pair took issue with a rent increase and decided the condition of the flat wasn’t worth the extra cash.

“The carpets were like 40 years old and everything was ancient,” said Lee.

Alan added:  “They decided they were going to put the rent up to something absolutely ridiculous. It was going up £55 a month. They hadn’t maintained it for years and it got to the point where all the tiles in the bathroom just started popping off the wall. Literally, over about a week. The bathroom was unusable.”

In another house in Weymouth, Lee and Alan found out they had moved into a property where energy was paid on prepayment meters – the trouble is one didn’t work and the other had existing debts from a previous tenant.

Lee and Alan Harries' roof leak
A roof leak at one of the rental properties where Lee and Alan Harries lived. Image: Supplied

By autumn there had been a roof leak and the property was full of black mould, they said. 

“The place was absolutely riddled with it and the smell, it was affecting your breathing,” said Lee. “In Alan’s room there was a wardrobe and he had things on a shelf that actually had mushrooms growing on them. It was absolutely disgusting.

“I was starting to get a lot of anxiety problems because we were moving so much and never settling.”

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The next stop was to Poundbury in Dorchester – the town famous for being King Charles’ testbed for his big ideas on housing.

But the pair didn’t feel like they got the royal treatment. After problems with more leaks and a faulty boiler and dishwasher, Lee and Alan received another no-fault eviction notice but this time more had six months’ notice to find a new place due to Covid eviction restrictions.

Alan said: “We had six months of the original tenancy and then we had a little bit of peace and then we got a Section 21 again.”

mould Lee and Alan Harries
Mould has become a big issue for both social and private renters and the Harries’ experience has been no exception. Image: Supplied

But rising rents and demand for properties meant the pair had “nowhere to go” so they ended up moving back to the high-rise in Portland where their renting journey began.

They fared no better. This time they received another Section 21 eviction notice because the landlord looked to sell the property.

Now the pair live in a house in the village of Osmington, also in Dorset, but are facing the prospect of another Section 21 eviction.

The pair claim they had to pay six months’ rent upfront but are struggling to meet the £1,150 a month cost. 

Lee said: “We’re here now in an absolute hovel. It’s ridiculously expensive. We pay £1,150 a month. Because my housing benefit gets capped, Alan has to pay the difference from his pension.”

Lee Harries received several Section 21 eviction notices
Lee Harries said many of the rented properties where he and his partner Alan have lived have been “filthy” and beset with problems. Image: Supplied

Despite moving in to the property in March, the pair have had three Section 21 notices, meaning they have received four since the start of 2023.

The first was issued two months into the tenancy – a Section 21 notice is not valid if received in the first four months of the tenancy. A second was rejected because it had an incorrect date for the pair to leave. Now they have received a third, they said.

Now the pair claim they are stuck in a stand-off with the landlord and it is taking a toll on their health.

Lee said: “Because they said they wanted to renovate the place, they want us out. Why didn’t they renovate it before we moved in? Because, my god, it needs it.

“Alan got so ill I ended up having to call an ambulance. I can’t cope on my own and he ended up in hospital for three days with a bad bladder infection. This is what has done to us, I was so, so scared. Alan’s always been my carer and he’s just recovering now. I’ve had a breakdown and I’m suffering with horrendous anxiety and migraines because of all of this.

“They also said they are not going to do anymore maintenance so we’re living here in a hovel. We’re paying and they won’t do any more to fix anything else.”

Alan and Lee Harries mould growing on belongings
In one of the places the pair rented, Alan discovered mould growing on some of his belongings. Image: Supplied

While the problems around renting are often associated with the young, older renters are not immune from sky-high rents and losing their homes.

Recent research from Shelter found tenants aged over 55 years or older are being hit with a no-fault eviction every 16 minutes.

The housing charity’s poll, conducted by YouGov, found nearly three in 10 older renters – around 400,000 people – are also living in fear of eviction.

The insecurity of the private rental market is affecting more older renters. Nearly one fifth of adult private renters in England are now aged over 55 with the number of older tenants rising by almost a third in the past decade. 

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Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Older renters may already be retired or planning for retirement at this point in their lives. They shouldn’t have knots in their stomachs, constantly afraid that their landlord is going to kick them out of their home for no reason. 

“We hear from hundreds of over-55s who have worked for decades in search of safety and security later in life. It’s a disgrace that so many are being stripped of a stable home by the gross injustice of Section 21 no-fault evictions.  

“Instead of forcing older renters to pay over the odds for often shoddy rentals that leave them sick with worry, the government must keep its word, and get the Renters Reform Bill over the line. Tenants are tired of waiting for a system that makes private renting safe and fair for all.”

The Big Issue has launched the End Housing Insecurity Now campaign to urge Rishi Sunak to protect nine million low-income private renters.

The campaign is demanding that the Renters Reform Bill is brought into law, local housing allowance rates are unfrozen and universal credit is reformed.

We’re calling on the prime minister to make sure everyone can afford to stay in their homes and pay for the essentials. Will you join us and sign the petition?

Lee Harries contacted The Big Issue to tell his story of private renting and facing an eviction. Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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