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Action for Housing highlights ‘shameful’ eviction case

Pic: Johnny Bugeja

Action for Housing has highlighted a “shameful and serious” incident in which a landlord “took the law into his own hands” and tried to evict a young family without first securing a court order.

According to Action for Housing, the landlord hired a security firm and turned up at the property along with two police officers to enforce the eviction.

But the mother, who was alone in the flat with her baby at the time, contacted Action for Housing, which despatched a committee member to the property and called a lawyer to halt the eviction.

The case puts a spotlight on the precarious situation that some tenants renting in the private sector sometimes find themselves in, particularly when their personal circumstances change overnight.

The woman in question lives in the property with her partner and their child. Due to a change in circumstances – she was on a zero-hour contract that gave no maternity benefits, he was temporarily unemployed - they had defaulted on a number of monthly rent payments.

But instead of going through the courts to secure an eviction notice as is normal procedure, Action for Housing said the landlord had employed a security firm to pressure the family into leaving the property.

To add to the confusion of the situation, the attempted eviction was conducted in the presence of two police officers who failed to establish whether a court had ordered the couple to vacate the property.

In the absence of such an order, the attempt to evict the couple was unlawful.

Action for Housing did not name the landlord or the security company, making it hard to verify the account it made public yesterday, or seek reaction.

However, the group has a solid track-record of championing the rights of tenants over decades and there is no reason to doubt its version of events.

“Had we not intervened this vulnerable family would have been evicted there and then and would have been rendered homeless,” said Henry Pinna, the group’s spokesman.

“We are unstinting in our struggle to assist tenants who experience housing problems, but we do so within the remit of the law.”

“In this case the landlord could have followed the legal route and taken these tenants to court for non-payment of rent, and we would have respected the verdict of the judge whatever this might have been.”

“What was totally unacceptable was for this landlord to have taken the law into his own hands and employ the services of a security firm whose owner intimidated and harassed the tenant to force her to leave the flat, and this in the presence of two police officers.”

As a result of the incident, Action for Housing wrote to the Commissioner of the Royal Gibraltar Police, Ian McGrail, to express its concern about the way the RGP officers had handled the incident.

Mr McGrail met with the group and explained there had been an oversight by the officers, who had acted in good faith on the information provided to them by the security firm but had failed to confirm whether an eviction order issued by the courts was in force.

According to the group, the Commissioner also noted that a police sergeant had later appeared on the scene and advised that the security firm was not empowered to proceed with the eviction without a court order.

“As a consequence of this shameful and serious incident we alert tenants that they cannot be evicted through acts of harassment or by being locked out of their premises,” Mr Pinna said.

“They can only be evicted on the strength of a court order.”

“We shall continue to remain vigilant to ensure there is no repetition of this kind of deplorable incident.”

“Should this happen again we shall name and shame both the landlord and the security firm employed to carry out any illegal or uncivil action to evict or harass tenants.”

According to Action for Housing, lawyers for the landlord in this case have now advised they will be seeking an eviction order from the courts.

Action for Housing is working to help the couple find alternative accommodation.