25 July 2012

City Hostel Residents Refuse to Go

Yesterday came breaking news that the Art Roch Hostel in the Grassmarket has been shut down as the building's owners have gone into administration. The sudden closure of their home is a serious blow for the hostel's long-term residents.  Fears it will be difficult to find alternative accommodation have led to the residents staging a sit-in as they protest their right to remain.  24 hours is a staggeringly short notice period but do the protesters have a leg to stand on?  EHAP ponders the situation from a housing advice perspective.

The sudden closure has arisen because the hostel building's owners have gone into administration. EHAP housing advisers deal with similar situations all the time with private tenants who suddenly discover that their landlord's property is being repossessed by a lender. Thankfully in these situations, although there is rarely a long term solution allowing the tenant to stay in their home, the courts usually grant a period of around 4 weeks for the tenant to find alternative accommodation.

Yesterday the hostel residents were given only 24 hours to move out. According to the Evening News they are mostly foreign workers from countries including Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, some of whom have been living in the hostel for more than a year.

Long-term hostel accommodation is a popular option for migrant workers staying in Edinburgh because it is cheap, considered safe and a good way to meet other people in similar circumstances. Most importantly, it is also temporary - there are no binding lease agreements. All this, in the context of a shortage of private rented accommodation with stiff competition from students and locals for prime central rentals, usually contrives to make long term hostel accommodation such as that provided at the Art Roch an excellent choice for many short to medium term visitors to the city. However in this situation the benefit of opting for temporary accommodation has been turned on its head.

The laws around housing and security of tenure (the rights of the residents to reside in their accommodation) are complex. Both the type of tenancy and whether or not there is a formal written or verbal tenancy agreement will impact on the rights of residents. In this particular situation the Art Roch hostel residents may either be classed as tenants or non-tenant occupiers. In fact the situation might even vary from one resident to another depending on the terms of their stay at the hostel.

Common law tenants and occupiers should normally receive reasonable notice to quit and if they chose to remain should be issued with a court order before being evicted. The Rent (Scotland) Act 1984 generally prohibits eviction without court proceedings. However, to complicate matters, some types of occupier are excluded from the statutory prohibition on eviction without court proceedings and they include occupying holiday accommodation for the purposes of a holiday (a holiday let). Without detailed information from the hostel residents it is impossible to know exactly which, if any, legal remedies apply to them.

The one comfort for the residents staging the sit-in is that even should the landlord lawfully be able to repossess the accommodation without a court order they must not use violence against the occupier, or violence to enter the premises while the occupier is inside - for example they cannot lawfully break down the door.  In circumstances like the Art Roch hostel sit-in where residents are always on the premises it will be necessary to apply to the courts for a possession order. However this is only a brief reprieve as it is very likely that such a request would be granted.

The hostel residents have refused to go because they fear being unable to find alternative accommodation - the Edinburgh Festival is due to start in 2 weeks time bringing a massive influx of visitors to the city. Temporary accommodation from the Council may also be refused to them due to their immigration status. Except in limited circumstances individuals subject to immigration control (most people from countries outside the European Economic Area) are not eligible for homelessness assistance from local authorities.  But even with the likelihood of limited options being available it is still worthwhile for the hostel residents to seek advice.  Independent advice agencies like EHAP can advise in situations like this and provide a referral to legal representation if necessary.

Clearly the situation at the Art Roch hostel has been poorly handled by the owners, and has come at an unfortunate time for the residents, and we wish the residents well in finding satisfactory solutions to their current situation. Any Edinburgh resident affected by similar issues can contact Edinburgh Housing Advice Partnership (EHAP) on 0845 302 4607 to find out where to get help.


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