Pemberstone has issued the first round of eviction notices to neighbours in our estate. Seventy-one year old Linda Elsworth and the Readman family were among those to receive an order to leave.
In echoes of November 2017 – when residents found out about development plans via an impersonal leaflet – this life-changing news came in the form of a letter pushed through their letter boxes. The letter was from the managing agent, Watsons, on behalf of Pemberstone, who – even after all these years – still refuse to engage with us directly.
“Dear Mrs Elsworth”, Linda’s letter begins, offering a polite and benign opening to correspondence that was anything but. “Regretfully, we are writing to inform you”, it continues: that your property is “deteriorating”, and even though there “is no evidence of immediate danger of structural failure” … “the Landlord has now made a decision to bring the tenancy of your property to an end”. This letter is “giving you 4 months’ notice that your tenancy will end on 01st December 2021”.
“Regretfully” is an interesting choice of word here, as it means a feeling of sadness, repentance or disappointment. If Pemberstone has felt this at all over the last few years, eviction and demolition are funny ways to show it. If they “regret” that the conditions of the houses have deteriorated, why have they not adequately maintained them for decades? Why not undertake refurbishment now, and prevent them from deteriorating further? Perhaps Pemberstone “regret” that they are evicting a pensioner whose closest friends are her neighbours? To solve this emotional wrangle I recommend: don’t do it. Don’t force the community out. Work with the residents and Leeds City Council to refurbish these historic and well-loved homes. It’s a clear way to prevent feelings of sadness and repentance. And the best bit yet: this advice comes free! Lord knows how much Watsons, the lawyers, and Blue Marble have already cost Pemberstone to defend the indefensible.
Another curious word in this eviction notice is “ex gratia”. Pemberstone is apparently offering an “ex gratia” financial incentive to sweeten the eviction (well, to those who meet certain conditions – more on that in a moment). Know what that word means? Nope, I didn’t either. Luckily google is on hand to translate the language of the upper classes…
Ahhh, I see.
To incentivise a quick and quiet move, Pemberstone are offering a small pot of money to assist with relocation costs – like a rent deposit or an advance on rental fees. This money is “ex gratia”, which means it is, apparently, a favour.
Well, a “favour” of sorts.
Firstly, it is not a “favour” freely given. Residents have to apply for the “goodwill” payment, and might be denied it if they have not “complied with the terms of their tenancy”, and if they are not up to date in rent. “Complied with the terms of tenancy” sounds benign enough but – as anyone who has ever tried to get their own deposit back from a private landlord will know – the smallest scuff (or even a fictional stain) can forfeit you from the most basic of entitlements.
Secondly, it’s a “favour” with boundaries. Departing residents are not to be trusted with the money, oh no. According to the letter, “if part of the payment is intended to be used as a rent deposit… the Landlord will arrange for this amount to be paid directly to your new landlord or their agent”. Like previous government policies on housing benefits, perhaps Pemberstone prefer to give directly to another landlord because they are worried about what low-income people might do with their own money. Perhaps Pemberstone want to emphasise that this payment is literally only for future rent, and is not some form of compensation for destroying lives and a community (ex gratia also means free from legal obligation or liability, after all).
Whatever the case, it’s a hollow offer that might actually put residents in a worse situation than they’re currently in.
If Linda, Cindy and John accept this measly assistance, they’ll not only be pulled away from this close-knit community of friends and neighbours, they also risk undermining possibilities for individual and collective help from Leeds City Council. At the very least, taking Pemberstone’s help to move elsewhere would negate a family’s priority status for Leeds City Council help. Also, family-size rented houses are like gold dust in the area, and have prices to match. Pemberstone’s “gift” of a few months’ rent will quickly be negated after families start paying market rate rents themselves (often 50% more costly than their current affordable tenancies). Rock and hard place spring to mind.
It’s hard to know what to do next. Pemberstone have made it clear in statements to the media that they will be moving forward with eviction notices across the wider estate in the “near future”. Cindy, John, Linda, and the whole community have reached out again to Leeds City Council, pleading for help.
In the face of this devastating letter, the threat of evictions ruining yet another Christmas, and the measly “favour” being offered to expedite our exit, there’s only one thing left to say (in a language they apparently understand):
Watch recent ITV Calendar News coverage of Linda and Cindy talking about their shock at receiving the eviction letter: “We need a miracle”.