Portsmouth landlord ‘threatened with an iron bar’ urges tenants to settle disputes with mediation
Experienced landlord Alwin Oliver has rented homes for decades and has seen his fair share of disputes with tenants.
In that time he has been ‘threatened with an iron bar’ and ‘seen the whites of a bailiff’s eyes’ twice in evicting problematic people.
He’s taken about 10 tenants to court for repossession out of the 40 or so he wanted out.
Alwin, who runs Flats In Southsea Ltd and is vice-chair of the Portsmouth & District Property Landlords Association, told The News there are ‘no winners’ in such situations.
By the time cases get to court, arrears and legal costs have built up, and the relationship between tenant and landlord is in disrepair.
It comes as The News and The Bureau of Investigative Journalism revealed how tenants were being evicted at court in the pandemic.
The Ministry of Justice introduced a national pilot mediation service costing £130,000 in set-up costs – but the Bureau found just eight cases were heard in five months. Fewer than half of the cases resulted in a settlement, and the pilot will end this month.
Costly court action is why Alwin has been the driving force behind an alternative and, crucially, local pilot scheme to bring both parties together for independent mediation before things get out of hand.
The pilot, run by Portsmouth Mediation Service, has seen the training of 16 landlords - arming them with a ‘restorative toolkit’ to deploy.
Alwin, who has provided homes for rough sleepers, said tenants causing anti-social behaviour are unlikely to go for mediation.
But others, who may be behind on their rent, may do so. And Alwin hopes this will reduce the need for repossession court action.
He said: ‘It’s early days - we’ve got one or two people we’re engaging with and I’ve got one on a payment plan that I would have otherwise had to repossess.
‘The arrears have been worked away. It’s only four weeks and he’s stuck to it.
‘I would say on average that landlords would lose £3,000 or £4,000 if you had to go all the way and get full repossession. We got to him at about £1,000.’
The scheme has a link in with the private housing at Portsmouth City Council.
Tenants who contact the team and mention they are behind on rent can be referred to the mediation service.
But Alwin also wants a formal link with Portsmouth’s possession court to scoop up cases early.
‘What we don’t have is direct referrals from the courts,’ he said. ‘When we get the problem early we get it resolved.’
For Alwin getting both sides into mediation is about stopping the loss of income for landlords.
‘It’s much, much cheaper,’ he said. ‘It’s a very cost-effective way of a stop loss.
‘In mediation you’re not making any money, you’re only stopping a loss. The aim is to stop the loss early.’
Mediation is carried out by trained workers from Portsmouth Mediation Service, who are independent to either side.
Steve Rolls, service manager at Portsmouth Mediation Service, is a passionate advocate of approaching disputes in a way to resolve them and leave intact a working relationship - known as a restorative approach.
His team already works with families, police, schools, universities, colleges and businesses in a bid to make Portsmouth a restorative city.
He said: ‘If we can build a restorative culture we can stop all the stuff that ends up at the solicitor’s door.’
Steve is keen disputes are caught ‘early doors’ – and this is starting to work between tenants and landlords.
Steve said: ‘I’m really hoping with (the PDLPA) we can really trailblaze something with landlords in Portsmouth and it will become a component of a good quality landlord in Portsmouth.’
He added: ‘We’ve started to train PDLPA members in a half day in the restorative process which would help them build good relationships with their tenants.’
Around 13 per cent of households assessed as being at risk of homelessness in Portsmouth in the year to March 2021 were at risk due to private tenancies ending.
Some 220 households – around 11 per cent – faced homelessness as friends and family were no longer willing or able to house them.
Portsmouth North MP Penny Mordaunt said mediation is the ‘best route’ for resolving issues between landlords and tenants.
She said: ‘Everything has been in limbo during Covid and I know this has been tough on some landlords.
‘Many landlords want to do the right thing by tenants, especially those in hardship. That is why mediation is the best route.
‘It is best for everyone if we can keep people with a roof over their head while they get back on their feet, including for the taxpayer.
‘There will be a lot of cases built up, and not just on the residential side, but on business properties too and that is why intervention prior to court is something I’ve been keen to promote.’