Published: 06:00, 17 September 2020
| Updated: 08:06, 19 September 2020
More than a dozen families face losing their homes after receiving "bombshell" emails ordering them to move out.
Those affected have been living in former Army houses at the old Howe Barracks site in Canterbury for two years, renting from the Ministry of Defence.
But agents acting for the department have advised them to start looking for somewhere else to live.
It came as a bolt out of the blue to the families, who say they fear being made homeless or having to move away from the area because they cannot afford private rents.
The 13 properties affected are currently leased to the Ministry of Defence from Annington Homes and sub-let.
But the MoD now wants to end the leases and hand them back to the company, along with a further six which are already empty.
One of those affected is mum-of-two Michelle Lampert-Lloyd, who lives with her husband Jamie in Pilckem Close.
"It's come as a bombshell and huge shock for us," she said.
"I let out a scream and started to cry when I saw the email. When we took on the tenancy we were given the impression it was a long-term let and even had to pay a year's rent up front, which we had to borrow.
"My husband is a driving instructor and has only just got back to work and I am studying at Christ Church University.
"We just could not afford to rent in the private sector and I'm frightened that homelessness is a real possibility for us."
Also anxious about their future are Gayle Shearwood and her postman husband Mark, who have a two-year-old and live in Albuhera Square.
"We're very worried," she said. "There is nothing we could afford in the private sector and that won't change.
"Surely, the best thing to do would be for Annington to keep us here and lease the properties to the city council."
Victor and his partner Roselle, who have two young children and work from home in Aisne Drive, are very worried.
"We are very settled and happy here," he said.
"This is completely unexpected. We couldn't believe it and like the other tenants, we can't afford the private rental market."
Most homes on the barracks site previously housed military families.
But following the closure of the Army base in 2015, the MoD has handed back hundreds of the properties to owner Annington.
The majority of these have since been leased to Redbridge Council, which has moved its tenants down from London.
Those still leased by the MoD - including the 19 it wants to give back in March 2021 - have been sub-let to private tenants.
It is not yet clear what Annington will do with the properties when they are returned but the company says it was not informed by the MoD of its decision to end the tenancies.
A spokesman said: "While Annington is the freeholder of the properties concerned, the decision to terminate these tenancies is the MoD’s alone, and we were not consulted on it beforehand. We are engaging with the MoD to understand their background to these notices being issued and to support the tenants affected."
The MoD says it has given tenants six months to find alternative accommodation, as opposed to the legal minimum of two months.
A spokesman explained: "The MOD has a responsibility to house military families as part of their terms and conditions of employment and is not a civilian residential landlord.
"We do elect to rent properties to civilians on a short-term basis rather than keeping properties vacant, particularly if there are uncertainties over future demand levels.
"As part of our responsibility to manage our estate effectively, any extra and vacant properties can be let on a short-term basis, with tenants made aware of the notice period before they move in.
"We will work with our partners to try to identify alternative accommodation in the area for those directly affected."
She added that the homes must be returned to Annington in "vacant possession".
The plight of the residents has been taken on by Labour city councillor Dave Wilson who says it is outrageous the families face being turfed out of their homes.
"It's a brutal way to carry on and has heaped enormous stress on these tenants," he said.
"I don't care what the legal notice is - this is people's lives we are talking about and they can't just be kicked out.
"They have very few options, if any, if they lose their homes and the MoD needs to think again.
"We will be pressing the department to give them more time and look at ways as a council that we can keep the families in these homes, where they have now been settled for two years.
"But my fear is that Annington has another agenda for these old homes, which involves the capital value of the site."
Canterbury MP Rosie Duffield has also stepped in to try and help the tenants and plans to raise the issue with the Government.
"I am hugely concerned about such a large number of families being left with their housing futures uncertain, " she said.
"I will be raising this directly with the Minister responsible and hoping that the Ministry of Defence will take their duty of care towards these tenants seriously.
"I am very hopeful that Canterbury City Council can be proactive in housing families well before anyone is at the point of ending up homeless.
"With such huge sums of money being spent by our local council leaders in recent years on speculative commercial investments, now more than ever the public need sensible investment in sustainable and solid council home purchases and builds."