In 2021 Tenants are Still at the Mercy of their Landlord
As part of our work profiling the voices of tenants in the Private Rented Sector (PRS), Katarina tells a story of mistreatment, disrespect, and lack of compassion from landlords who know the power they have over her
24 May 2021
Rose Bernstein and Katarina*
I started to rent with this couple back in 2013. It was an informal agreement because we knew each other – when I came to the UK in the 1990s I lived in the house with them for 4 years and looked after their child. At that time I established myself in the UK, I worked in media and in private childcare. I have dual nationalities, once of which is British.
I left them and worked in a nursery for a while, but childcare is very draining so I found an office job in media. After that I lived in Covent Garden for five years. I was supposed to marry a French judge and live in Mayotte, a French island in the Indian Ocean. But my life turned out different and I got stuck with these people.
They were people in high society. He liked me – he was an aristocrat. She was not but she always tried to be perfect and indulged in constant lies. She was looking down on me. But the guy said, ‘If you need anything come back and we would help you – we are family’.
In 2013 I arranged to rent a flat above their kitchen. I said to the guy ‘Can I get your bank details so I can do a direct debit?’, and he suddenly said ‘No! Cash!’ A year later they invited me for dinner and they said ‘If anyone calls you from HMRC to check on the tax we are supposed to pay for the rent tell them you are not paying rent.’
In 2016 I was made redundant with severe burn out. It took me a long time to realise what it really was, and Brexit made it harder for me as a British dual national to get a job. They were evading tax so I couldn’t go to the job centre for benefits for the rent or I would harm them. I paid the rent but as a result I have high debt – I had to borrow the money to pay them. When I couldn’t push it through any longer I went to them and asked for a letter for the job centre saying I was paying rent but they got freaked out and said ‘No! You have to say you stay for free. We don’t want the money if they find out we are not paying tax’.
After that they said ‘We will give you 6months rent free and then we will revise it’. What can you do, I said ‘OK’.
In summer they went away on holiday and the shower broke. They don’t repair anything unless it really breaks – that shower was there for 20 years. When they got back she threw me out. She was shouting at me, saying I am not a decent person, saying ‘Have you found a job? Have you found a job? Get out of the flat, go back to your country’.
Before I knew it I had this court paper saying ‘You are being evicted, you are owing money’. They put in a claim and I am the defendant. It went to the county court. The woman wrote a statement that was all lies saying I have problems with authority. Problems with authority!
The court hearing for the housing was early this year, and the judge said I have to move out in two weeks. The problem is the court does not look at the tax evasion and the housing together. They are different sets of laws. They accuse me of not paying rent but they don’t ask why. I thought I would get justice but it is all about money. Within 20 minutes they came up with a verdict.
I put a homeless application in with the council, and I wrote a letter to my local MP, the Mayor of London and the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Housing in the House of Lords asking them to amend the laws. I am waiting for them to come back to me.
Coming from a different cultural background you are not aware of certain unwritten rules. But now looking back I think these people exploited me, they looked at me and thought, ‘She’s nice, we can do whatever’. They called themselves millionaires and saw themselves as above the law.
The priority now is to get out of that environment because I feel completely paranoid. If they are downstairs in the kitchen I can’t do anything. At the moment I feel I am worth nothing. That is what you get if you are good to people.
Each tenant deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. The system as it is is pretty fragmented. It does not interlink all areas of conflict e.g. housing and fiscal laws. A distressing moment for all people evicted including myself is the very fact that there is a lack of compassion, respect. One can feel pretty isolated and/or rather further marginalised.
But I am so relieved I don’t need to live with those lies any more. They have no conscience. They treat people like objects.
I have decided to stay in London and turn my life around. Eventually I would like to set up a cultural institution in this country for people to learn languages because it will help to reduce racism and increase tolerance for other cultures.