A local authority advised a former renter who ran up arrears to go back to the property, where she had been given notice to quit and had duly left.
The tenant is alleged to have broken her way back in to the property after the agent retrieved the key, and then changed the locks.
Eviction firm Landlord Action has now been instructed.
The landlord, Lewis Selt, from Hertfordshire, had started letting the two-bedroom property last year to the single mother in receipt of housing benefit.
He had instructed a local letting agent – which has asked not to be named – in Romford, Essex, to manage the property.
The tenant and the rent guarantor passed all referencing checks by the agency but after four to five months, payments became irregular and eventually stopped, with £2,000 of rent arrears accrued.
Selt served the tenant notice. The tenant surrendered the property and left with her belongings on the agreed date. The agent retrieved the keys from the property on the same day while carrying out his check-out report.
However, the next day the tenant along with her guarantor returned to the letting agent to ask if she could have the keys back and return to the property.
She informed them that Havering Council had said they would not rehouse her because she had voluntarily made herself homeless and that she should have remained in the property until she was evicted. When the agent refused, she claimed that the council had advised her that if the agent would not give the keys back, she should get a locksmith and break back into the property.
Robert Gordon, property manager at the agency, said: “I went to the property the next morning to ensure everything was OK but my keys no longer worked.
“I could see that furniture had been moved back into the property. In an attempt to resolve the matter, I drove straight to the local council but no one would speak to me or identify who had issued such ludicrous advice to a tenant who felt she had no choice but to break the law.”
Although he could take legal action against the tenant under a trespassing law, Selt has decided to serve a Section 21 notice and a Section 8 notice in a bid to get his property back and recover money owed as quickly as possible. It will now take approximately six to eight weeks for a judge to grant a possession order, and if the tenant still refuses to leave then bailiffs will be called.
Selt said: “Not only am I not receiving rent on my property, I’m now faced with eviction costs and yet I’m powerless to do anything about it.
“The agent has done everything possible to protect my interests but landlords and agents are facing a losing battle if local authorities are going to issue such ridiculous advice.”
Paul Shamplina, founder of Landlord Action, said this was another example of councils forcing up costs for landlords by encouraging tenants to stay put when they can’t afford the rent.
He said: “Local authorities are forcing landlords to go to court to gain possession, running up considerable costs. Landlords are losing confidence in the system and turning away from communities which rely on their private housing to bridge the gap in the chronic shortage of social housing. This advice is exacerbating the problem and something needs to be done.”
A spokesperson for Havering Borough Council this morning said: “The client reached out to staff at the Public Advice and Service Centre (PASC), where she was informed she still had a number of months in the property, as the landlord would need to follow the legal eviction process.
“The client then told staff she had handed the keys back to the Estate Agent and had put her belongings in storage. After speaking with the agents, it became clear that she had not handed back her keys, but had left them inside the property.
“Council staff later advised her to return to the property as she still had the right of occupation. The agents were also reminded that as the case had not gone through the courts, the client had the legal right to remain in the property.
“Havering Council will always do its best to support vulnerable residents from becoming homeless, and we urge both private landlords and letting agents to act responsibly and follow the correct legal procedures.”