Tag Archives: Bristol Civil and Family Justice Centre

TODAY IN COURT: STORMIN’ STORMS IT!

Ecstatic scenes today as Reverend “The Cutter” Rees and his council of useless halfwits who can’t organise opening hours for a laundry badly LOST the first, second and third rounds of the trial of century! The case, which was moved to Bristol Magistrates Court due to flooding at the jerry built Labour-PFI funded Civil Justice Centre, got off to a bad start for Rees and then – Ho! Ho! – got even WORSE!

Rees’s scumbag housing lawyer Robin “Arsehole” Denford – who makes his living getting the poor of the city thrown on to the street by the courts  – set a losing tone for the day when he slimed up to Stormin’ Norman prior to the case begging for an ADJOURNMENT because he needed “MORE TIME“.

Of course he did. Six months to sort out a SIMPLE CONSENSUS on what hours a residential laundry facility is going to be open for is clearly not enough time for Bristol City Council’s management and legal imbeciles is it? Steve was having none of this adjournment crap, however, and told Denford in no uncertain terms to get his SORRY LITTLE ARSE in the court and in front of the judge. ROUND ONE to Norman.

Once in court, Denford marshalled his amazing legal argument that the Housing Act that governs Steve’s tenancy wasn’t at all relevant to a case about, er, Steve’s tenancy and the case should be struck out immediately. Alas, the judge wasn’t having any of this strike out crap and REJECTED the council’s nonsensical argument, leaving Rees’s council’s only defence in tatters at a stroke!  ROUND TWO to Norman.

To finish off a bad day for the Rees and his BENT COUNCIL that thinks it can do what it likes to who it likes, the judge, having seen Steve’s evidence and listened to his straightforward legal argument, instructed Denford to fuck off out of her court and sort out a NEGOTIATED SETTLEMENT with the residents in the next two weeks. If not, she would set a TRIAL DATE.

A full trial would be especially interesting as witnesses could include the two ridiculous Avonmouth Labour councillors – Don “Lenin” Alexander and Jo “Stupid Hippy” Sergeant – housing officer Andrew Jester who was happy to restore the laundry’s old opening hours and Jester’s MYSTERY BOSS who overrode that sensible decision and forced the case to court.

Getting this mystery boss into open court would be something of a coup for Steve. As it would be one of the rare occasions a resident of the city could get up, close and very, very personal with a senior city council boss and EXPOSE them to close CROSS EXAMINATION at length. ROUND THREE to Norman.

Questions for this arsehole money-wasting boss could include: why don’t you think THE LAW applies to you? Why are you deliberately WASTING PUBLIC MONEY on inane court cases? Why do you treat your tenants with ABSOLUTE CONTEMPT? Why does someone quite as obviously THICK and USELESS as you think they know best? Do you regularly MISDIRECT the public money and resources you’re responsible for into pursuing SAD LITTLE VENDETTAS against local residents who assert their legal rights? What’s the success rate like with your sad little vendettas? How did you ever think you would get away with this shit?

Bring on ROUND FOUR! Although, sadly, we suspect that – what with one of Rees’s pampered little senior bosses who must be protected at all costs potentially getting exposed to public cross examination and ridicule on their performance and conduct – a settlement will be miraculously reached in the next two weeks.

That or the Reverend’s legal department is getting St John’s Chambers, Queen Square on speed dial – while housing bosses jump up down screaming in the background – to provide an overpriced public schoolboy barrister at a huge cost to us to take on Stormin’ Norman and impose their will on Antona Court’s laundry.

In the real world, heads would roll for this. However, in the Reverend Rees’s amazing city council world of the stupid we can just look forward to paying for the next self-inflicted fiasco can’t we?

NORMAN vs REES: TRIAL OF THE CENTURY

The TRIAL OF THE CENTURY begins tomorrow when Steve “Stormin'” Norman gets the time and money wasters of Bristol City Council’s housing and legal departments in to court to demand reinstatement of his home, Antona Court’s laundry hours.

The contracted hours of this laundry for paying customers were altered without discussion or consultation by the council six months ago. This is mainly because – as we know from Grenfell Tower – council’s think they can do what the fuck they like to council tenants who they hold in CONTEMPT and treat like SUBHUMANS with no legal rights and no say over the housing conditions imposed on them by callous council scum.

Curiously, the council’s legal team are going to court to argue that the new laundry hours should REMAIN. This is despite Andrew Jester, a housing officer in the Estates Department, writing to Steve on 8 June and saying he “was happy for the laundry hours to be returned to what they used to be and instructed that this be done but have been overruled on this.”

Overruled by who? And why would this NAMELESS senior boss at Bristol City Council rather spend money on a POINTLESS and EXPENSIVE court case than negotiate with their tenants? No doubt next week this same unaccountable management tosspot will be bleating about austerity and having no money?

The council, apparently, will be claiming in court that they are NOT SUBJECT to Sections 103 and 105 of the Housing Act, laws that directly govern their management of their housing and tenants. It’ll certainly be interesting to find out why Bristol City Council thinks the law of the land doesn’t apply to them won’t it?

Although, also in their defence – submitted late and therefore liable to be struck out – the council go on to say, “in light of the disclosure of objections from other residents … They will seek the view of the whole block and then review the current (ie. new) laundry times.”

What’s the fucking point of all this then? It all kicks off at 12.15pm tomorrow. Not to be missed!

PROPERTY-MANAGEMENT COMPANIES, MY ARSE! SLUM LANDLORDS MORE LIKE …

You’re in the boozer and someone you don’t know proposes a business idea to you.

“Hey mate, a dicky bird told me you got an empty garage. You know it could be broken into by squatters or vandals and you wouldn’t want that, would you? I’ll tell you what, my security company can protect your property. Pay me a fee for protection and I’ll fill your garage with people who need somewhere to live. I’ll call them ‘property-guardians’ and they’ll pay me rent. If the garage gets any leaks or if the door gets broken off then my handy-man Jim’ll fix it for a fee which you pay me. Whaddya say? A win-win for both of us, and and everything’s sweet!”

If someone suggested this across a pub table you would just laugh (or punch them) in their face. “You take over my property, charge me for the privilege and then extort rent from others staying there? Hahaha. You’re a fucking Del Boy taking the piss.”

But this is exactly the business model used by over forty companies, operating across the UK as ‘Property-Management’ enterprises. Ironically the brain-child of some ‘entrepreneurial squatters’ in Amsterdam, Property-Management companies and their ilk have become as common as flies on shit in contemporary, austerity-ridden Britain.

After the economic crash of 2008, property prices fell – leaving empty offices, factories and warehouses all over the UK. In Bristol it was estimated that half the city-centre office space was ‘To Let’ in 2010. As the recession continued the Tories came to power and began a brutal set of cuts to local government budgets that led many councils to close down fire stations, police stations, elderly people’s homes and council offices to save money. Any attempts to build social housing were halted, and some councils (like Bristol) even began to sell their own social-housing stock off to raise money. This process continues today.

As well as this, the Tories also attacked welfare benefits, reducing them or even forcing people off them altogether. As wages stagnated or fell, particularly for the young, rents began to rise as the demand for housing grew, while middle-class kids with ‘Trustafarian’ inheritances gentrified the inner-cities.

This triple whammy of high rents, no available social housing and plenty of empty buildings should be the perfect environment for ‘squatting’, an immediate and traditional solution to a housing crisis for the less well off. After World War 2, and once again in the 1960-70s, working class people took over empty buildings to solve their housing problems.

However, in 1994 and 2001 the law was tightened up, making ‘squatting’ more difficult and in 2012, thanks to the Tories (again) – squatting in residential buildings became a criminal offence subject to arrest, fine and imprisonment. This meant that empty commercial properties became the only remaining possibility for the homeless, creating the perfect environment for a new swarm of parasites to emerge from the neo-liberal swamp…‘Property-Management’ companies.

IT’S A FUCKING SCAM

These cheapskate corporations offer ‘security solutions’ for big property owners, providing ‘guardians’ to protect ‘vulnerable empty properties’ from ‘squatters’. But this is complete bollocks. Instead, their business model is based on taking over privately or public owned buildings and letting them out to people desperate for accommodation at a lower rent.

Costs are minimal, run through a single office, a website and a maintenance worker or two to do (or not do) minor repairs. With no normal business liabilities like rent, mortgages, insurance, loans or maintenance and on average twenty ‘property-guardians’ paying rent to them in each building, they can just rake it in. Add to this ‘cash cow’ the fees levied on the real owners for ‘security services’ and repairs, the stage is set for MASSIVE profits!

However, vital to the entire con was to get round tenancy laws – which after a long series of protests and legal battles in the 20th Century provided tenants with environmental and health & safety regulations, and also protections against illegal evictions, threats and extortionate rent increases. So ‘Property-Management’ companies hired lawyers to find loopholes in the web of laws protecting tenants. Central to this tactic was to never mention the three terms, tenant, landlord or rent in any contract. Instead the tenant became a ‘property-guardian’, the landlord became ‘the property management company’ and rent became a ‘fee’. On top of this, the tenancy agreement mutated into a ‘licence’.

LICENSED TYRANNY

The typical property-guardian ‘licence’ issued by a property-management company is an interesting document indeed. You’d expect a ‘security company’ hiring ‘security guards’ to have contracts with their employees that clearly stated their duties in the building, such as – clear guidelines on their power to deal with intruders, how to interact with police, fire and ambulance services etc etc. Instead, what you do find on the front page is ‘This is not a tenancy’, followed by pages of weird and wonderful ‘rules’ aimed at getting round tenancy law, interspersed with illegal threats of fines and evictions for not following them. In order to keep the so-called property-guardians isolated from the outside and from each other the following ‘rules’ are common:

    • The Guardian will not hold meetings, parties or other similar gatherings in the property
  • The Guardian will not permit any other person (other than other Guardians) to stay overnight in the property
  • The Guardian will not display any sign, poster, document or sticker without property-management company’s consent
  • The Guardian will not attempt to contact the owner of the property
  • The Guardian will not speak to the media about the owner, the property-management company or the property
  • If the Guardian becomes aware that anyone else is doing something prohibited by this clause, the guardian will inform the property-management company immediately he Guardian will notify the property-management company if they cease to be employed
  • The Guardian will not seek to claim housing benefit, job-seekers allowance or any related benefit without the prior consent of the property-management company

Apart from sounding like regulations issued by a crazed fascist-dictator, these rules are in place to prevent Guardians from organising by creating a climate of fear, to isolate and ‘gag’ them and to hinder contact with a local authority who might uncover the shit conditions they’re living in. In Bristol, property management company Camelot used its gagging clauses to threaten tenants with eviction if they spoke to the local council or their political representatives! It was also these draconian rules which allowed Camelot to get away with putting Guardians in Bristol City Council properties without licences for Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) for several years. HMO’s are there to ensure residential properties meet certain health and safety standards, particularly in relation to fire. It seems many property-management companies like Camelot (and City Councils) ignore HMO’s to save money whilst putting the Guardians at risk.

Not satisfied with flouting laws which are there to protect tenants, property-management company ‘licences’ are also full of extra penalties and ‘administration’ fees which along with the ‘damage security payment’ (the deposit in other words), add up to hundreds of pounds of extra costs for the ‘Property-Guardian’.

In the final paragraph of the endless pages of loopholes and threats in the ‘licence’ come the two statements which give the whole game away:

  • It is hereby expressly acknowledged by all parties that the Guardian has NO security responsibility as defined in the Private Security Industry Act 2001
  • The Guardian expressly acknowledges that they only have the powers of an ordinary citizen and they will not assume the powers of security officers or the police or any governmental authority

So the ‘Property-Guardian’ is NOT there for security purposes and has no powers as such. So despite all the pseudo-legal flannel in the licence it’s fairly obvious the Property-Guardian is actually just a tenant paying rent to a landlord. The disguise these companies use to hide this obvious relationship is compounded by the use of corporate legal devices to protect them from legal challenges and compensation claims by tenants.

SLUM LANDLORDS (ON SOMEONE ELSE’S PROPERTY)

Camelot has used (at least) four different companies to run their ‘property-management’ operations in the UK. Typically, this involves creating asset-less corporate entities in the frontline of dealing with ‘property-guardians’, and to protect the owners and core business from claims if, say, a building burned down, killing and injuring the residents. It was precisely this kind of slum landlordism that the tenancy laws were brought in to deal with in the 1960s and 70s and which these companies are flouting.

Property-management companies profit from the numerous empty local authority buildings – particularly elderly peoples’ homes and to a lesser extent schools, fire/police stations and public offices, all produced by austerity. In Bristol, Somerset and Gloucester in 2017 there are more than 40 local council owned properties ‘run’ by property-management companies, bringing in millions of pounds of rent from ‘Guardians’. Like leeches sucking blood from an injured animal they have exploited ‘cuts’ to local government spending and the concurrent housing crisis. And they have done all this whilst unbelievably harping on in the media that they are some kind of charity ‘helping the homeless’ out of the goodness of their hearts!

***

However, on Friday 24th February 2017 a groundbreaking legal judgement was made in Bristol County Court, where Guardians were established for the first time as tenants and NOT licensees by the judge ruling on a dispute between two aggrieved guardians and Property-Management Company Camelot. This a massive victory.

The BRISTOLIAN says:
Paul Smith (BCC Housing) must now DISMISS ALL Property-Guardian companies from their contracts with Bristol City Council AND FIRE THE BCC OFFICIALS like Chris Woods and Rupert ‘Spunkface’ Orett who signed them up in the first place. He must ALSO DEFEND ALL TENANTS (as Guardians are NOW ESTABLISHED IN COURT to be) on YOUR PROPERTY, allowing them to FORM CICs or self-managing collectives wherever possible and if this is their wish, or rehouse them if not. Furthermore, we call on BCC to introduce a CITY WIDE RENT-CAP on the runaway private sector, START A MASSIVE REGENERATIVE SOCIAL HOUSING PROJECT, and REPOSSESS all BCC properties
leased to Property Management Companies

SCAM-A-LOT IN COURT: “A device not a scam”?

Paul LLoyd: his job title doesn’t always describe what he does?

Fascinating day at the BRISTOL CIVIL AND FAMILY JUSTICE CENTRE today as Scam-a-Lot, Bristol City Council’s partner and dodgy property guardian company at the centre of multiple housing scandals in the city, ineptly tried to prove the tenants of various Bristol City Council properties under their control weren’t tenants at all.

Scam-a-Lot’s barrister, Elizabeth Fitzgerald’s, opening gambit was to explain to the poor judge, Euan Ambrose, that Scam-a-Lot in Bristol is not one company but two entirely separate ones! The first, CAMELOT PROPERTY MANAGEMENT LTD, apparently had a deal with Bristol City Council to protect and secure various empty properties for them for a fee and had the right of possession to the building.

The second company, CAMELOT GUARDIAN MANAGEMENT LTD, meanwhile, had an arrangement with various licensees, including the defendant, to occupy the building in exchange for a licence fee. This company, however, had no authorised possession of the building.

Scam-a-Lot’s barrister then explained that the legal status of the defendant as either a tenant or a licensee was a matter that sat entirely with CAMELOT GUARDIAN MANAGEMENT LTD. So regardless of the outcome of the case, their other company Camelot Property Management Ltd had the right to IMMEDIATE POSSESSION of the building without the tenant/licensee defendant as this company had no legal or contractual obligation to them.

The visibly bemused judge explained that he thought he had turned up in his court to rule on the fairly NARROW POINT of whether the defendant was a licensee or a tenant and wondered aloud whether Camelot’s baroque internal management arrangements were relevant to the case? He appeared no less bemused when Camelot’s brief helpfully explained to him that these arrangements were “A DEVICE BUT NOT A SCAM“!

Rather neatly setting the tone for the first witness Paul Lloyd who described himself as the Regional DIrector of Camelot Property Management Ltd. Although he did later admit that job titles “DON’T ALWAYS DESCRIBE WHAT WE DO“!

Under cross-examination Paul identified various personnel who had signed documents and correspondence to licensees as being employed by CAMELOT PROPERTY MANAGEMENT LTD, which slightly contradicted Scam-a-Lot’s QC’s earlier claim that licensees were managed by ANOTHER COMPANY altogether.

LLoyd was also slightly vague about THE SOURCE of documents regarding the defendant he had presented to the court. Many of which had different content and different dates to the documents apparently handed to the defendant by Scam-a-Lot over the years, which the defendant had separately presented to the court.

“My documents may have come off the system,” explained LLoyd. “Or they may have come from a file. I can’t remember. It was a long a time ago.”

“It was only six months ago,” the judge politely interjected.

“Did you retrieve the documents yourself?” the defendant’s barrister enquired.

“Possibly some of them. I may have asked others to retrieve some of them. I travel a lot,” a flummoxed Lloyd explained. “The intern gave me the emails.”

Indeed, these mysterious documents might have fallen out of Lloyd’s BACKSIDE during a particularly unpleasant LARGE SHIT for all the sense we could make of where he managed to obtain an entirely different set of documents to the ones given to the defendant by Scam-a-Lot over the years.

This FIASCO over documents reached peak farce with the cross examination of Lloyd by the defendant’s barrister about the defendant’s TERMS AND CONDITIONS document that he was given by Scam-a-Lot in 2014.

Scam-a-Lot’s document presented to the court by Lloyd was dated 2016 and contained a different set of terms and conditions to the defendant’s document dated 2014. Why could this be?

Who knows? Because Scam-a-Lot’s barrister leapt up when this question was raised and quickly shoved yet another document under Judge Euan’s nose. “These are the correct terms and conditions,” she announced.

“I see,” said Euan. “And are they different to the one’s the defendant has?”

“Yes,” she replied, “but only the frontsheet.”

So that’s all right then. As Judge Euan pondered THREE different documents purporting to be the defendant’s terms and conditions as a licensee with Scam-a-Lo set before him.

What strange webs Scam-a-Lot weave.

The case was adjourned until 8 February (possibly while Judge Euan recovers from his migraine).

FORCED ADOPTION: NOT IN MY NAME

A small film about a small protest about a big issue at Bristol Civil and Family Justice Centre two weeks ago:

There will be another protest this Monday 21 July at 10.30am at Bristol Civil and Family Justice Centre, 2 Redcliff Street. All welcome. Say no to forced adoption.

Further information: For the first time, leading social workers, barristers, a High Court judge and families torn apart by the process, talk about the subject of forced adoption.

Exposure – Don’t Take My Child: https://www.itv.com/itvplayer/exposure/series-25/episode-1-exposure-don-t-take-my-child