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Firm ‘sublet flat to employee’s boyfriend while tenant was stranded abroad’

A housing association “illegally evicted” a man who was stranded abroad due to Covid and then sublet the property to a staff member’s boyfriend, the High Court has heard.

Filippe Scalora claims he was evicted from his one-bedroom flat in Chelsea, west London, by Clarion Housing Association while trapped in Australia in 2020, despite having a lifelong assured tenancy agreement on the property due to a health condition.

The 43-year-old alleges that when he returned in 2022, he found someone else living in his flat and using his belongings.

His lawyers told a court in London on Thursday that a then-Clarion employee had moved her boyfriend into the property and “clearly forged” emails to suggest Mr Scalora had ended his tenancy voluntarily.

Mr Scalora, who has since lived in a studio flat and a hotel, is taking legal action against Clarion Homes to get a court order declaring the move illegal and for damages totalling around £1.1 million.

Clarion denies the allegations, claiming the emails were genuine and sent by Mr Scalora, who was “complicit” with the employee over what happened.

SanMari Martins, for Mr Scalora, said: “That experience was one that no one should have to endure.

“What has happened here is terrible.”

The court was told that Mr Scalora travelled to India for a holiday in December 2019, leaving his belongings at the London property, which he “still considers his home”.

He informed Clarion he would be travelling for an extended period in line with his tenancy agreement, but was trapped in Australia in February 2020 when Covid lockdown measures were implemented.

It is claimed that a Clarion employee, Alecia Miller – who no longer works for the company – told Mr Scalora the company would need access to the property for gas inspections while he was away, and he sent her a set of keys.

Ms Martins said Ms Miller “falsely” told Mr Scalora that the local council, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, wished to accommodate another tenant in the property while he was away, and needed to remove his belongings as a result.

Mr Scalora claims he was promised by Ms Miller that he would be rehomed once he returned to the UK. A new tenant, Cyril Brown, then moved in.

When Mr Scalora returned to his home in April 2022, he found his opened mail in the kitchen and Mr Brown using his belongings, including a mattress, towels, cutlery and a computer.

He alerted Clarion and was told the company’s records “did not reflect the details” given to him by Ms Miller, the court was told.

It is alleged that Ms Miller had “tampered” with emails to suggest Mr Scalora had voluntarily ended his tenancy, with the messages described as “clearly forged” and “highly suspicious”.

In written submissions, Ms Martins said staff members at Clarion claimed in interviews that “it was not unheard of staff members, as employed by Clarion, misusing their position for subletting purposes”.

“The defendant (Clarion) cannot assert, on the law, that the claimant had surrendered unequivocally, or even vaguely, that the claimant (Mr Scalora) took steps to terminate his tenancy,” she added.

Ms Martins told the court a possession order had been sought by Clarion against Mr Brown, which was granted on February 6, but Mr Scalora does not want to return to the property even if he wins his case.

Michelle Caney, for Clarion, said in written arguments that any “allegedly deceitful conduct” by Ms Miller “was not authorised” by the company.

She also said Mr Brown paid Mr Scalora £400 for a washing machine, which showed “a connection” between the pair which had previously been denied.

She said: “The claimant ended his tenancy by giving the defendant at least one calendar month’s written notice in accordance with his tenancy.

“Consequently, there can be no claim for unlawful eviction and the matter ends there.

“For the avoidance of doubt, insofar as the claimant relies on allegedly deceitful conduct by Ms Miller, this was not authorised by the defendant and was not within her actual or ostensible authority.

“On the contrary, it would seem that the claimant was complicit with Ms Miller.

“The fact that the claimant was out of the country for over two years, paid no rent to the defendant and travelled to various countries between December 2019 and April 2022 speaks for itself.”

The trial before Judge Jonathan Simpkiss is due to conclude on Tuesday, with a judgment expected at a later date.