Man Threatened with Eviction Because He is Eritrean

Housing Association says he has to leave because of expiry of deal with charity

Members of Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth supporting the man outside Wandsworth County CourtMembers of Housing Action Southwark and Lambeth supporting the man outside Wandsworth County Court

February 24, 2023

A man is battling to keep his home after his landlord sent him an eviction letter saying his flat was no longer for Eritreans. Housing association, Optivo, sent Yusef (not his real name) a letter telling him his property in Wandsworth was “no longer used for the Eritrean Community” in March last year.

Opitvo, now known as Southern Housing, has previously said it was trying to explain to Yusef that an agreement with a charity to house Eritreans in the property had expired. The housing association apologised for the wording of the letter in a statement posted on Twitter in December 2022. But it has refused to backtrack on its eviction of Yusef from his home of seven years.

He is now taking his battle to stay in the property to the courts and may go on to fight the eviction on race discrimination grounds. Yusef’s first victory came at Wandsworth County Court on 6 February when a judge set aside a legal order that would have forced him to leave his flat immediately.

It means Yusef can continue living in his flat for the time being. He was represented in court voluntarily by barrister Nick Bano.

Yusef, who is too embarrassed by the situation to give his real name, said: “It’s really stressful. Without housing I can’t do anything: I can’t work, I can’t cook. I’ll lose all my life. I feel bad. It’s not right how they are treating me.

“When they accepted me, I was Eritrean. And now they are saying that because I am Eritrean they are evicting me. What is the difference between before and now? I feel stressed by Optivo. I’m suffering at this time.”

Yusef’s nightmare began in Spring last year when he received an eviction notice from Optivo ordering him to leave his home. The letter, dated March 10 2022, said he would face court action and have to pay associated costs if he didn’t quit the property by an expiry date on the notice.

The letter read: “Enclosed is a Section 21 Notice, along with a full rent statement: current gas and electrical certificate for the property.

“We’re serving this as this is a supported housing property and it is reserved for supported housing with professional support in place for the tenant and you do not meet the criteria. This property is no longer used for the Eritrean Community.

“If you don’t leave your property by the expiry date on the notice, our next step will be to apply to court for possession of your property. You’ll have to pay court costs.”

The letter that was sent to Yusuf
The letter that was sent to Yusuf

Nine months later in December 2022, Southern Housing released a statement apologising for the wording of the letter after housing support group Housing Action Lambeth and Southwark [HASL] wrote about Yusef’s case on Twitter.

Southern Housing’s statement read: “We’re sorry that the wording used in the covering letter for the Section 21 Notice has caused confusion.

“The member of staff was trying to explain that we previously had a nomination agreement for this property with charity ‘Eritrean Community UK’, but that this was no longer the case. The wording didn’t make this clear and we apologise for the misunderstanding this has caused.”

HASL is calling on Southern Housing to rehouse Yusef in social housing locally in Wandsworth. As of February 9, over 230 people have written a letter to the housing association expressing concerns with Yusef’s case.

Elizabeth Wyatt from HASL said: “Receiving a section 21 eviction notice is devastating enough for any tenant, but being told you are being evicted because of your nationality is even more sickening.”

Southern Housing added that it was continuing to offer support to Yusef “to find suitable accommodation that meets his needs.” As of February 3, HASL said the last communication Yusef had received from the housing association was a letter reminding him of the possession order hearing on February 6.

Southern Housing added that it was “unable to comment further while court proceedings are active.”

Robert Firth - Local Democracy Reporter