A disabled renter in Bristol faces losing their home when the government’s “eviction ban” ends later this month, after they complained about issues with the property.
Phoebe Kemp, 30, has lived in a rented house in Bristol with a housemate since July 2019. In June 2020, the landlord served them a Section 21 eviction notice. Due to the suspension of evictions announced in March as part of emergency legislation preventing renters from being made homeless during the pandemic, Kemp and her housemate were not required to leave immediately.
Kemp believes that the eviction notice came as retaliation for complaining to the landlord about problems in the property, such as mould and damp in a bedroom that became so severe mushrooms were growing under the carpet.
Neither Kemp nor their housemate had missed a rent payment.
When Kemp discovered the damp in April, they alerted the landlord’s mother, who was managing the property at the time. Despite flagging the issue, it was not dealt with immediately. In June, while Kemp waited for the problem to be solved, they discovered that mushrooms that had formed under the carpet.
“I sent an email on the 21st of April say, ‘This damp is an issue and it’s getting worse’,” Kemp tells VICE News. “‘This needs to be a priority’.”
In a WhatsApp message sent to Kemp, seen by VICE News, the landlord’s mother joked that the mushrooms were a “free breakfast” that she “wouldn’t mind”.
Shortly after Kemp discovered the mushrooms, they experienced a sore throat from the damp and had to stop sleeping in their room. Since then, they have been sharing a room with their housemate or staying at their partner’s – neither of which are ideal as Kemp uses a wheelchair.
Kemp says they have spent the last two months unable to inhabit the room they pay rent for. “I've been living out of a suitcase for two months,” they say. “I really, really struggled. I remember that day I just had a complete total meltdown.”
Now, with the ban on evictions set to lift this Sunday, Kemp and their housemate could be forced to leave their home.
“In the middle of us trying to get all of this fixed, we got then served a Section 21 notice which comes into effect on the 14th of September,” says Kemp. “It very much felt like it was in retaliation for us asking for things to be repaired.”
“I deliberately didn't want to go to Environmental Health because we were worried that that would make them more likely to evict us,” they continue, “and then that happened anyway.”
Kemp’s landlord is Shabana Kausar, a women’s rights activist who works for the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea in London, according to her LinkedIn profile. VICE News contacted Kausar and her mother. They did not respond to a request for comment.
Kemp is now working with Acorn Housing Union in Bristol to fight the eviction and seek compensation for the weeks they were unable to sleep in their room. Dani Wijesinghe, a member defence coordinator for Acorn, told VICE News: “Phoebe and [their housemate’s] case is typical of the kind of thing Acorn are used to seeing: landlords failing to carry out their maintenance duties, treating tenants with utter contempt, and threatening tenants with eviction for challenging them.”
“From Sunday, however, with over 100,000 possession hearings being hurriedly pushed through the courts in a short space of time, the usual rate of evictions will swell and threaten all of these tenants with eviction simultaneously, at a time when staying in their homes is one of the most important things they can do to stay safe from COVID-19,” they continued. “We as a union, as well as standing up to resist evictions physically, are petitioning the UK Government to take action to protect our communities.”