Thursday, December 6, 2012

Tort Notices

Some, but apparently not all, residents at Castell House were served TORT notices on 9th November. Such a notice in the context of Housing is usually served "when there are uncollected goods and/or possessions that have been left or abandoned in premises by a tenant or lessee" under the Torts (Interference with Goods) Act 1977.

In this case it refers to the possessions tenants and leaseholders are keeping on the balconies outside their flats, and residents were given 14 days to remove them. The 'Tort' is a tool landlords can use to give them the power to remove items situated in communal areas such as corridors and staircases that are likely to represent an obstacle or trip hazard, such as on a walkway which is a fire exit from the building.

Since the items in this particular case are not "uncollected", "left" or "abandoned", it's a rather ambiguous way of asking residents to keep the communal areas around their homes clean, tidy, and free from obstruction, and is therefore open to misinterpretation.

Some residents in Cremer House have now been issued with the same letter and 'Tort Notice'. When a Castell House resident, who has a couple of plant pots (plastic) outside her door, called the number provided (the Tenancy Team) she was told it was a blanket letter and to ignore it.

Another resident who called has plants and a bit of wooden furniture outside and was told the same thing. It was only when she questioned further that she was told they knew she had flower pots and wooden furniture that were in contravention of the notice and that she must remove them. Had she not pressed the matter further she might have disregarded the notice and then found her items removed. She removed the wooden furniture, but left her vegetable and flower garden, which is all in non-flamable containers. She has had washing machines, furniture and fridges delivered, and been visited by friends with baby buggies and wheelchairs, with no access problems whatsoever, so didn't consider them as 'obstacles'. She was later called by Customer Services who told her the flower pots would not be removed.

As we reported previously, only about 10 people attended the Fire Safety meeting called by Lewisham Homes on 6th March. We also referred in that post (which we urge you to read again) to the guidance issued in 2011 by the Local Government Group regarding Fire Safety in purpose-built blocks of flats, in which a 'managed use' policy might permit residents to place pot plants and door mats outside their front doors.

After a walkabout with the Fire Safety Officer in March, the TRA suggested that the Fire Safety team print up and distribute a leaflet that explained exactly what is and what is not permitted, with guidelines as to widths and heights of permitted items. This never happened. So residents are not sure what they're allowed to store outside, and neither, it appears, are Customer Services or the Tenancy Team.

We don't know if any personal items have been removed by Lewisham Homes as a result of any resident's non-compliance with the Tort Notice, but if Lewisham Homes wants to continue their stated policy of "managed use" (to avoid a "zero tolerance" policy) they might do better to circulate a leaflet that clearly spells out the issue first (or even a poster in the stairwells), rather than issuing a legal notice that threatens to remove "unwanted" items – when most of the items in question are very much "wanted".

UPDATE 11 December: Some Frankham House residents have also received the Tort.

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