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Convicted landlords revealed

Tom Wall23/07/2015 - 07:30

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Hundreds of convicted landlords have been named
Hundreds of convicted landlords have been named

A database containing the names of hundreds of convicted private landlords has been made public for the first time following EHN’s landmark legal victory over the Ministry of Justice and Information Commissioner.

A tribunal ordered the government to release the data in April after EHN appealed on public interest grounds.

The database shows that 2,006 individuals and companies – half of whom are named - were fined nearly £3m for housing offences under the Housing Act 2004 between 2006 and 2014.

A detailed analysis of the data, which is published jointly today with the Guardian, reveals that:

  • The most prosecuted landlord in England is London-based property owner, Katia Goremsandu, who has been convicted seven times and fined a total £16,565.
  • Overall housing offence convictions have increased rapidly since the housing act came into force.
  • Prosecutions for unlicensed and substandard HMOs have gone up even faster.
  • But local authorities in 11 magistrate court areas, including Doncaster, Wigan and Corby, have carried out only one prosecution each since 2006.
  • Councils in the East London local justice areahave prosecuted 256 landlords - more than councils in 66 other local justice areas. 
  • Over 60 per cent of rogue landlords are aged over 40.

See the full database here.

Ms Goremsandu owns at least three rental properties in north London, including two large houses converted into multiple flats in Tottenham. Haringey Council estimates she is making £188,000 a year in rent and part of that comes from housing benefit.

She declines to divulge her home address to council officers or the courts. Instead she gives a PO box address in Notting Hill, west London.

A judge sitting at Wood Green Crown Court last month branded her ‘deceptive’ and upheld her conviction for failing to provide heating and ignoring requests for information.

In the witness stand she accused Haringey council ‘for persecuting her’ and complained her tenants ‘always find something to complain about’. But the judge ruled her tenants ‘were not making an unnecessary fuss’ and ordered her to disclose all her assets for sentencing in September.

This year, which is not included in the database, she was fined £20,000 for operating an unlicensed HMO.

Haringey Council said Ms Goremsandu had been prosecuted for a range of issues relating to disrepair and the poor state of properties she rents out. ‘Rogue landlords have no place in Haringey and we are committed to stamping out sub-standard housing,’ said a spokesperson.

Betsy Dillner, director of tenant rights group Generation Rent, said it was shocking Ms Goremsandu was able to continue operating as a landlord. ‘It’s clear fines are just a business expense for people like Goremsandu,’ she said.

She added that only a licensing system and a tougher sentencing regime would put landlords like Ms Goremsandu out of business.

Council with landlords licensing schemes can refuse to grant a licence to a landlord that fails a fit and proper person test, which can take into account previous convictions.

Ms Goremsandu's barrister Wayne Lewis of Access Lawyers said she felt the label of the most prosecuted landlord in England and Wales was ‘unfair’.

‘She feels had she been given more help from the council in how to deal with the repairs she wouldn’t have had all these prosecutions. They threw the book at her repeatedly and prosecuted her without delay,’ he said.

He denied Ms Goremsandu had a negative view of her tenants and said she wouldn’t reveal her home address because the council had caused her difficulties in the past by contacting the banks holding her mortgages.

‘To protect her businesses interests she has had to try and conceal her properties from the council,’ he said.

He also disputed she was earning £188,000 a year in rent from her Tottenham properties, stressing her income was not so ‘glamorous as you might think.’

The data shows that since the housing act came into force in 2006 housing offence convictions have increased rapidly, rising from 6 to 428 last year. Prosecutions for unlicensed and substandard HMOs have gone up even faster, increasing from 1 to 181 in the same period.

Ms Dillner said increased competition for homes was pushing more people into the hands of rogue landlords.

‘Since 2006, the private rented population has been getting bigger, and with rising demand the number of opportunities for unscrupulous landlords to exploit desperate tenants has grown,’ she said.

Although prosecutions were going up, she said councils were still not doing enough to catch the worst landlords.

‘Citizens Advice estimate that 740,000 homes are unsafe, so it’s clear that their activities are missing thousands of landlords, and not even acting as a deterrent,’ she said.

Stephen Battersby, CIEH vice president, who helped develop the standards in the housing act, said landlords with convictions should be disqualified from letting properties.

‘These are not minor or trivial matters - these are serious offences because housing conditions shape people’s health and wellbeing,’ he said. ‘Local authorities do what they can to avoid prosecuting so the landlords on this database must be bad.’

Harbinder Singh Athwal and Gurbaxo Kaur received the highest combined fine of £18,000 for allowing a rented flat in the Midlands fall into such disrepair the judge described it ‘Dickensian’.

Their flat in West Bromwich had a leaking roof, dangerous electrics and lacked a central heating system.  Mr Athwal and Ms Kaur ignored requests from the council to make repairs. Despite this Mr Athwal has been received housing benefit from his tenants since 2012.

Darren Cooper, the leader of Sandwell Council, said there were a minority of landlords are prepared to allow tenants to live in ‘disgraceful conditions and pocket their money every month’.

Liakath Ali received the single highest fine of £9,520 for renting out an overcrowded, dangerous property in Tower Hamlets.

A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson said: ‘Mr Ali was previously prosecuted in 2012 and 2013 under the Housing Act 2004 for a failure to comply with improvement notices with regard to housing health and safety hazards associated with fire safety, lighting, domestic hygiene, pests and refuse and crowding and space.’

The most prosecuted landlord in Wales was Brent Burton. He was convicted four times and fined a total of £3,500 for renting out cold, filthy and dangerous homes in north Wales. Despite this record Mr Burton received £2,752 in rent paid through housing benefit in 2014. 

This year, which is not included on the database, Mr Burton was prosecuted twice by Conwy County Borough Council, for failing to provide heating in one flat and for failing to clear foul waste from a flat that had been prohibited to be used for human habitation.

Mr Burton did not respond to EHN’s approaches but a man answering the phone to Graham Burton Cars Ltd, where he is a director, said Mr Burton would not be commenting.

The most prosecuted firm was Burnley based Aspire Developments, which rents hundreds of properties across Lancashire. It has been prosecuted five times and fined £8,850, more than any other firm. Yet it earned £184,287 in rent paid through housing benefit in 2013 and £179,206 in 2014. It has received £63,519 so far this year.

Former banker, Jamie Carter, who owns Aspire, said the prosecutions gave a ‘misleading’ picture of his business. ‘I probably could have dealt with one or two of those issues better than I did but none of us are perfect,’ he said.

Aspire, Mr Carter claimed, had lots of long-standing tenants and it had refurbished many properties to a high standard. ‘We are housing people that wouldn’t have anywhere else to live,’ he said.

The data also includes well-know names such as private company Serco, which was fined £5,120 for an unlicensed fire-risk bedsit in Liverpool.

James Thorburn, managing director of Serco’s home affairs business said: ‘When Serco was informed of the breach we took immediate action to remedy the situation. This breach should not have happened and therefore we pleaded guilty in court.’

The data is compiled by English and Welsh courts. The MoJ said every effort had been made to ensure that the data was accurate but warned that there was a considerable amount of missing data.

The private rented sector is now the second largest tenure in England. Around 4.1m households rent – double the number in 1996.

But just over 40 per cent of homes in the sector are substandard, with many classed as hazardous to health or non-decent. It is estimated poor housing conditions cost the NHS over £600m a year and the total cost to society may be in excess of £1.5bn.

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