A FRIEND has leapt to the defence of an American couple accused of running up thousands of pounds of rent arrears and leaving their Markington landlord facing repossession.
Helen Mercer-Jones, 32, was one of around 20 friends who helped Dan and Christina Herring move out of their £3,000 a month home after landlord Simon Everingham barricaded the drive in an attempt to force his tenants to pay money he claims they owe.
He blocked the entrance to the £1m home with a forklift truck and skips filled with rubble in an attempt to stop his tenants getting their belongings out of the house, leaving the Herrings and their friends to carry furniture across a field, over a stream and round the barricade to the waiting removal van.
Mr Everingham claims the family owe him £15,000 in rent arrears, interest on late payments and legal fees, and wants them to pay more than £80,000 to cover 25 months left on a lease signed in November 2010.
However, Christina Herring denies she owes the Everinghams any money, saying although she has had late payments in the past she has no debts outstanding.
“We have given a month’s notice, which is what is specified in the lease the Everinghams have signed,” she said.
“It’s been really tough, this isn’t how we imagined our last year in the UK.”
Mrs Mercer-Jones, who lives in Harrogate, has defended her friends.
“People are making assumptions the Herrings owe money and are fleeing the country, but that’s not true.
“I have seen the proof that Christina has paid her rent, and I have seen the tenancy contract. I asked to see proof and wouldn’t have helped if they were trying to do something wrong or illegal or unfair.”
Mrs Mercer-Jones says she has let a home to Menwith Hill workers in the past and understands the Herrings’ lease. Landlords have to use the base’s own lease, she said, which allows tenants to give only 30 days notice if they stop working in the UK and leave the country.
“I feel sorry for the Everinghams that they have lost their tenant,” she added, “but I don’t understand why they aren’t putting their energies into finding a new one.”
Mother-of-three Mrs Mercer-Jones also claims she was pushed into a hedge as she tried to carry a box of belongings from the house.
“I have massive bruises all down my back and nasty scrapes on my arms.”
Police were called the day after Simon Everingham barricaded the drive amid claims of abusive behaviour between the parties.
A spokesman confirmed police had been at the scene and spoken to both sides. They found no criminal offences had been committed and it was a civil matter between landlord and tenant.
The Herrings have lived in the five bedroom home for more than two years, and Mr Everingham claims they have plagued him with late rent payments throughout. He said he is now in mortgage arrears on the luxury home and, since a court hearing on May 6 at Harrogate County Court, faces repossession. The property includes an apartment where Mr Everingham, 54, runs his business and lives with wife Valerie, 52, and 21-year-old daughter Lucy.
Father-of-three Mr Everingham said he was forced to let out the family home and move into the apartment on site when his business selling gel insoles for shoes started struggling.
“We have had some tough financial times over the last five years with the recession so I let the house out to support my business.
“We have worked for 22 years and enjoyed many happy years here. If we lose it we will be thrown out and have nowhere to run the business from.
“It’s incredibly distressing. I am unable to sleep, my wife is working two jobs to try and make ends meet, and it is incredibly upsetting for my daughter to have this around her.”
Mr Everingham’s solicitor Linda Greenwood of Greenwood’s in Knaresborough claims she has seen “not one single shred of evidence” that Daniel Herring has orders to relocate, and without this the Herrings cannot legally end the tenancy agreement.
“They are leaving the Everinghams high and dry for two years rent, and they are laughing in Mr and Mrs Everingham’s faces.
“If these people go back to America without paying, then the Everinghams have had it.”
Both Mr Everingham and his solicitor claim the dozens of other local landlords who let to American Menwith Hill workers face the same risks.
“People are signing up for leases with Menwith Hill thinking they are secure, but they are not. Menwith Hill are not backing this lease and people need to know,” said Ms Greenwood.
“There are hundreds of other leases to American families in the area, but what safeguards do they have?” said Mr Everingham.
Menwith Hill’s RAF commander Squadron Leader Patrick Currie refused to comment on the individual case but said:
“We take our relationships with local landlords and communities very seriously. We have robust procedures in place to ensure that personnel leaving the base have settled their affairs prior to departure. It would be inappropriate to comment on this specific situation, however, as it is a civil matter.”