A council housing chief has issued a plea to the landlords of a quadriplegic man who faces eviction from his specially adapted home of 25 years.
Green councillor David Gibson, who co-chairs Brighton and Hove City Council’s Housing Committee, spoke out as officials were understood to be weighing up tougher measures to deal with the crisis.
Harvey Cowe lives in a house where the council has spent more than £200,000 making special adaptions because he has been paralysed from the neck down since a car crash in 1984.
But Mr Cowe and his wife have barricaded themselves inside their home after their landlord died and his children, who inherited the property, sent in bailiffs.
Councillor Gibson said: “I am disheartened that the owners tried to evict a severely disabled man from his family home of 25 years.
“They say they need a quick sale to pay tax bills yet, when they were offered a market valuation rate, they continue with the eviction. Why?
“The council has gone to great lengths to provide loan support so the Cowe family can buy the disabled adapted home.
“This gives the owners what they want – a quick sale – and makes good use of a scarce fully adapted property.
“I appeal to them to call of the threat of sending the bailiffs back in and agree to meet with the family to finalise the sale.”
It has been suggested that officials look at whether the council could use compulsory purchase powers to buy the property from Anna and Dean Lashmar.
Even if the council is ultimately unsuccessful, it could start a process that lasts several months and possibly well over a year, blighting the property and significantly denting its potential value.
The Lashmars inherited a portfolio of about 12 properties from their father David Lashmar and are understood to be selling the Cowes’ Brittany Road home so that they can pay their inheritance tax bill.
It has also been suggested that officials review the ownership of the special adaptations. Recovery action could create cost – and price – implications for the sellers and any purchasers if the Lashmars continue to turn down the Cowes’ offer.
Mr Cowe, 62, and his wife Sheree, 55, are at a loss to understand why the chance to buy the house has been taken from them.
They offer the quick sale that the Lashmars have said that they want, with no chain and at a price that was agreed.
But instead of going ahead with the sale, the Lashmars sent bailiffs to the property moments after a possession hearing went their way in the county court.
The bailiffs were reported to have drilled the locks despite having no power to force entry, prompting the possibility of a complaint to police about criminal damage and harassment.
The bailiffs said that they would return with police – but Sussex Police and the council are understood to be looking at how their public sector equality duty would affect their next steps.
Councillor Gibson also said: “I’m incredibly disappointed that the court has not exercised its discretion to put a halt on the bailiffs, giving more time for the Cowe family to proceed with the purchase of the property with help from the council.
“If they had, this might have enabled them to remain in the home they’ve lived in for the past 25 years.
“Mr Cowe has serious disabilities. We have previously provided significant adaptations to the property to enable the family to continue living there.
“The possession order was served in April. It was suspended for three months. During this time, due to the exceptional circumstances we worked extremely quickly to help put in place an arrangement to enable the family to purchase the property.
“We agreed a loan to assist the family with the purchase based on a valuation and we made our loan offer known to all the parties.
“We worked very closely with the family to make sure they had the resources to purchase the property and also make sure that the loan repayments would be affordable for them.
“It is very unusual for a council to use its powers in this way. But we believe our actions were appropriate in this instance given the needs of this household and the circumstances.
“We made sure everything was in place for the proposed purchase by the Cowe family well before the court hearing on Tuesday 9 August.
“The arrangement we put in place to facilitate the family’s purchase would have enabled a quick sale. It would also have given the landlord a chain-free buyer.
“With this in mind, it is clear that whatever reasons the landlord may have had for choosing to reject the proposed purchase and enforce the eviction had nothing to do with the speed of the council’s work to support the Cowe family with the purchase.
“Ultimately, the legal situation is that this is a private matter between two parties. We have no powers to overturn or appeal against the court order.
“But I think it’s exceptionally sad that the landlord is insisting on pushing ahead with an immediate eviction of a severely disabled man and his family.
“The family are living in fear of the bailiffs and, at this time, I appeal to the landlord not to send the bailiffs in for at least a month and reconsider their decision and try to negotiate a sale to the family.
“We are now working flat out in line with our statutory duties to find alternative temporary accommodation that is suitable for the family’s needs.”
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