A Brixton trader famous for his dedication to the community he serves has been locked out of his Railton Road launderette by Lambeth council, costing him many thousands of pounds.
Dorrell Bravo – known to one and all as Bravo – has suffered a succession of financial blows as a result of actions by the council.
His troubles with the council began in early 2014 after Tumbles’ then premises were redeveloped for housing. The council agreed to lease Tumbles new premises on Railton Road. But they were it a bad state and, says Bravo, the agreement was that the council would grant planning permission for a launderette there if he sorted out the building.
Then began a catalogue of confusion and blunders that is still continuing and which saw Bravo locked out of his business by bailiffs at 5am one morning.
He got possession of the building in December 2014. Work on it took six months and cost £37,000.
One of the changes that Bravo made was to build a small shed to house dry-cleaning machines. Permission for this was sought from the council and agreed by it in writing, he says.
Only after the shed was built did the council tell him that one of his neighbours was a cancer sufferer and that the machines could not be used because of the effect their emissions might have on her.
Requests for more information from Bravo, his architect and solicitor went unanswered. Instead, he says: “They have given us hurdles to jump for four years. Every time we think we are going to get through to opening again, we get knocked back.
One hurdle was a letter Bravo received in 2017, telling him that he was being investigated by the council planning department for putting up the shed he had received written permission to erect from the council in 2015.
Another was objections from the council to equipment set up by Bravo and his brother, a qualified engineer, to use recycled rainwater in the launderette. Tumbles would have cut its water bill from £300 to £80 a months.
But the council objected and Bravo was another £2,800 out of pocket. Eventually a council inspector actually visited the premises and said the scheme was OK. But it was yet another six-month delay for Bravo’s dream – and all the time he was losing money by not being able to trade from the Railton Road premises.
It was about this time that the council – through its agent Lambert Smith Hampton, a large property company, told Bravo to stop paying rent while he was being “investigated”. Bravo put aside money to cover his rent against the time that he might be allowed back.
That day was 3 January this year – more than four years after he was first given possession of the building. But Bravo’s troubles were only to worsen. “By the end of January we were closed again,” he says.
With no prior warning from the council, bailiffs arrived to evict Bravo. They told him it was because he owed rent to Lambeth council.
A few days later the bailiffs were back at 5am, again without notice. They placed an external lock on the premises. Bravo could not get in to retrieve customers’ clothes and bedding and eventually had to pay them a total of £3,800 in compensation.
He was told that the council needed £14,000 immediately to allow Bravo back in. He had put aside £10,000, believing that this would cover all unpaid rent – even though he had not been able to use the building. Bravo says it took his solicitor – an experienced practitioner who is familiar with his case and used to dealing with local authorities – a full week to find someone at the council who knew anything about the case.
The council then told Bravo that he would have to sign a new lease with his rent doubled.
“We’re not making big money,” says Bravo. ”We provide a service for the community. We’re not doing anything wrong. The council should be supporting us instead of knocking us.
The council should remember, he says, that “we were paying rent until you stopped us”.
In April, Bravo took the council to court and was told that the council would lift the ban on him entering the premises – as long as he paid the £14,000. He has paid £7,000 and was looking for the rest by the end of the month. The court case has cost him about £10,000 in legal fees.
A Lambeth council spokesman said: “The council, including local councillors, are working closely with Mr Bravo to help get his dry cleaning and laundrette business back up and running.
“It is important that any fumes and smells emanating from business premises are properly managed so they don’t adversely affect neighbours and the wider neighbourhood.
“We hope that once this issue, and others in relation to the property, are addressed we will be able to agree a new lease that will put this business on a firm footing for the future.”