Agent claiming to be unaware property was HMO, loses appeal over £20k fine

A lettings agent that claimed that it was unaware a property was a house in multiple occupation (HMO) has lost its appeal over a £20,000 fine.

In January this year Altavon property management ltd and the landlord of the property, Adrian Simion, 30, had been found guilty at Luton Magistrates court of a series of management regulations breaches relating to the safety and running of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).

Neither defendant had attended the initial hearing and had both been convicted in their absence. Altavon was fined £20,000 and Simion was fined £7,000.

Altavon appealed against both conviction and sentence, but this was dismissed at the Crown Court.

Luton Council reported that Recorder Bridge had stated that anyone taking money for renting properties must comply with the law.

He also said that whilst Altavon had made requests to inspect the property, when these were deflected by the occupants, the company made inadequate attempts to exercise their responsibilities and insist upon access.

As for Altavon’s claim that they were unaware that it was an HMO as they had let it out to a single person, Recorder Bridge found that this was no excuse as it was their responsibility, as agents, to be aware of what was going on at the property.

The appeal was dismissed and the fine remained in place. Luton’s application for costs of £932.07 was granted in full.

Patrick Odling-Smee, Director of Housing at Luton Council, said: “We are delighted the Recorder has upheld the original decision and dismissed the appeal. This was a significant case for the council. Not only was the accommodation being run as an unlicensed HMO, with all the attendant safety concerns, but in this instance there were particular concerns around the vulnerability of tenants.

“The findings of the appeal court send out a strong message to everyone that, together with our partners, we will do all we can to uphold the law and protect anyone who is exploited when it is not adhered to. The old adage that, to be ignorant of the law is no defence, has been justifiably proven to be the case in this instance.”

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Bristol housing charity tops list of UK’s most-prosecuted landlords

Charity set up to house homeless among landlords convicted of making money from substandard properties but still letting homes to tenants, research finds

A Bristol-based charity that receives thousands of pounds in housing benefit to accommodate vulnerable people has topped a list of the UK’s most-prosecuted landlords compiled.

Alternative Housing, which was established to provide accommodation for homeless people with addiction problems, has been convicted of housing offences six times over the past two years, after letting properties with problems including overflowing raw sewage.

The company, which is registered with the Charity Commission, was fined a total of nearly £40,000. Over the same period it received £321,000 in housing benefit.

The landlord is one of 61 that have been convicted of multiple housing offences over the past two years, yet are still offering homes to tenants.

In one case Alternative Housing was successfully prosecuted for providing bedsits with broken cookers and drains, and without hot water or heating. Other landlords were convicted for providing cold, substandard or unlicensed homes.

The list was compiled after freedom of information requests to councils in England and Wales. Data from the three-quarters of councils that responded revealed that 651 landlords were convicted of housing offences between January 2015 and December 2016. They were fined a total of just £3m – an average of about £4,600 per conviction.

Many of the landlords on the list continue to operate in the private rental market, which has doubled in size since 2000 and now includes many families unable to afford homes as a result of rising house prices.

The list includes two other landlords with six convictions each: Plymouth landlord John Mayer and Adrian Charles Terry, who has appeared on BBC1’s Homes Under the Hammer.

Mayer let out a string of unlicensed bedsits across the city, some of which were so cold council officers reported that his tenants had to wear coats indoors. He had four convictions for operating unlicensed houses in multiple occupation and two convictions for failing to comply with improvement notices and was fined a total of £22,000.

In November, Terry pleaded guilty to multiple licensing and Housing Act offences at Wirral magistrates’ court, none of which related to the condition of his properties. He has been convicted six times, all for failing to license properties. A firm he founded, ADR Property Management, which is no longer trading, has five convictions for the same offences. He was fined a total of £150 for the offences, with his firm fined the same amount. The company received more than £22,000 in housing benefit payments over the same period.

Wirral council’s housing cabinet member, George Davies, said Terry’s record was “quite appalling” and claimed he had been working against the council’s efforts to raise standards in the sector.

Terry, who has no previous convictions, described the prosecution as “ridiculous” and blamed his staff for missing the deadline to register the firm’s properties with the council. “Due to staff negligence the applications didn’t go in on time and they fined me,” he said, adding that the convictions came in just one court case and his record “looked worse than it is” because the council had charged him and his firm with the same offences.

Alternative Housing was prosecuted three times in 2015 after housing officers raided a string of its bedsits in some of Bristol’s most deprived neighbourhoods. They found that an electricity meter had been hotwired and sewage was overflowing in the backyard of one small terraced house converted into four bedrooms.

In 2016 the charity faced three more cases when council officials discovered it was still putting some of its tenants at risk. A bucket was being used to collect kitchen waste water and there was no gas for hot water or heating in the same house in St Pauls. There were also missing smoke detectors, damp in the bedrooms and insufficient cooking facilities for the tenants.

One of the charity’s tenants, Jorge Rias, was found dead in his room in the property in 2016. The Colombian lay undiscovered for up to four weeks.

Bristol council’s housing cabinet member, Paul Smith, described Alternative Housing as a “bogus charity” which had done “appalling things” to vulnerable people. “There is nothing charitable about what they were doing. They were using charitable status as a cover for commercial activity,” he said.

He added: “In Bristol a large percentage of the private rented sector is looking for young professionals. Those landlords that do take people on benefits have a huge captive market. What we might have once called slum landlords are able to come in and mop people up on benefits because there is not enough affordable homes.”

The charity has only one trustee and director, Ghulam Mohammed, who is not contactable at the address filed with the Charity Commission. The charity’s office in Bristol appears to have closed. On Tuesday, a judge at Bristol crown court dismissed an appeal by Alternative Housing, upholding six offences relating to the house in St Pauls after the charity failed to attend the hearing.

Kevin de Haan QC said he was “frankly very surprised” that a charity set up to manage property on behalf of very vulnerable people had allowed premises to get into this “very, very poor condition”.

The Charity Commission opened a compliance case against Alternative Housing last year and refused to comment on the case. However, a spokesman said: “The commission takes very seriously its duty to maintain public trust and confidence in charities and takes robust action against those who abuse charitable status or who fail to comply with their legal duties.”

The list reveals that nearly 60% of councils have not prosecuted any landlords in the past two years. This includes some with large rental sectors such as Redbridge in east London and Croydon in south London. Redbridge said there were prosecutions in the pipeline. “During the time period referred to we did not bring any landlord prosecutions, which was in part due to resourcing issues and also due to the long lead-in time to prosecutions,” it said. Croydon said it preferred to issue landlords with notices. “They deliver faster results for tenants, and in the small number of cases where landlords do not comply we do the work ourselves and bill them for it,” it said.

This month councils were given the power to impose civil penalties of up to £30,000 on rogue landlords without going to court. In the autumn councils will be able to apply to ban the worst landlords and housing officers will be able to consult a national database of rogue landlords.

The most convicted landlords

Ghulam Mohammed

The only remaining registered director and trustee of Bristol’s Alternative Housing is the elusive Mohammed. The bright red shop in the deprived east of the city where Alternative Housing once offered housing and additional advice now lies deserted.

The family living in the nearby residential address where Mohammed registered the charity know nothing of him. After the convictions built up for the charity last year, Bristol council ruled that Mohammed was not a fit and proper person to manage licenseable rental property.

However, his charity, which is under investigation by the Charity Commission, continues to receive nearly £2,000 a month in housing benefit.

Adrian Terry

Property investor specialist Terry started off purchasing properties for himself and in 2003 he founded ADR Property Group. The firm sourced and managed properties in the north-west on behalf of investors keen to pick up bargains.

Terry used his appearances on BBC1’s Homes Under the Hammer to win new clients. The firm built up a property portfolio of 300 rentals but was wound up at the end of last year.

He now runs a property company, Indigo Invest, but has not appeared on TV since the convictions. Terry said: “I’ve been on Homes Under the Hammer six times. They only like to put you on five or six times. They keep repeating the episodes and we get business from that.”

John Mayer

Despite not being registered with his local council, Mayer let homes to 30 tenants in Plymouth. Housing officers who inspected his homes reported that he had failed to install adequate heating in the houses in multiple occupation – with some tenants wearing coats indoors and others sleeping on the sofa rather than the bedroom because they could not afford to keep more than one room warm.

The biggest fine

Over 2015 and 2016 the biggest financial penalty imposed on a landlord was £162,000. The huge fine was slapped on London landlord Abbas Rasul and his companies, who broke 22 separate housing regulations when he turned a four-bedroom flat in a street of multimillion-pound properties near Hyde Park into 14 bedsits sharing one kitchen. A local councillor branded the property “illegal and unsafe”.

Rasul charged 18 tenants – who were mainly migrant workers understood to be mostly employed in West End hotels – an average of £800 a month for the rooms in the Georgian grade II-listed property next door to the Dutch embassy, bringing in more than £14,000 a month.

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North East sees almost 6,300 rogue landlord complaints in three years

Close to 6,300 private renters in the North East of England lodged formal complaints to their local council about their landlord between 2014 and 2016, it has been revealed.

A freedom of information request submitted to the Tyne and Wear authorities by local property campaigner Ajay Jagota shows that the five councils received a total of 6,297 complaints about the condition of their privately rented properties or the behaviour of their landlord during the three-year period.

Some 2,075 complaints were received in 2016, which although an increase of 3.4% from the 2,007 recorded in 2014, was actually a fall from the 2,215 complaints issued in 2015.

“To put these figures into context, every day in every local authority in Tyne and Wear at least one person complains about the condition of their rented home– yet only one rogue landlord has been convicted in three years,” said Jagota, the founder of KIS, a sales and letting firm.

Despite the high number of formal complaints, separate research shows that just one council – Sunderland – has brought a successful prosecution against a rogue landlord in the corresponding period.

The highest number of complaints was received in Newcastle, where complaints rose steadily from 1007 in 2014 to 1127 in 2016 – a rise of 8%.

Sunderland by contrast saw complaints fall from 509 in 2014 to 290 last year, Gateshead and North Tyneside both saw complaint numbers fall from 2014 to 2015 but rising again in 2016, leaving them 7% and 4% below 2014 levels.

South Tyneside council refused to supply the information, claiming although is holds the information it would take an officer 18 hours to retrieve it, what the authority describes as “substantial effort and disproportionate exercise of trawling”. The decision has been appealed.

“As both a resident of and business owner in South Tyneside I find their decision to refuse our request extraordinary,” said Jagota. “How can you admit that you hold some information but at the same time claim you don’t know where it is?”

With a general election under way, all the main political parties are making a pitch to voters who rent, but Jagota, who is also the head of replacement insurance solution Dlighted, an alternative to tenancy deposit schemes, fears that the proposed policies “are just tinkering around the edges when more profound reform is needed”.

He added: “It’s critical for all good operators in the private rented sector that the rogues are brought to task and the only way that can happen is that the local authority executes the powers invested in them and ensure they take action when complaints are made.”

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Landlord fined £6,000 for not having HMO licenses

A landlord has been fined for not licensing 12 buy-to-let properties in the North Ormesby area of Middlesbrough.

John Bradley, 39, was the first landlord to be brought to court for not signing up to the scheme since Middlesbrough Council introduced compulsory £580 licences for those who rent out property in the local area in a bid to crackdown on rogue landlords.

But while Bradley admitted to the offences relating to the 12 unlicensed houses, the prosecution, brought by the council, apparently caused difficulties for district judge Kristina Harrison, as they were no guidelines to sentence those who break the rules.

The landlord, who claims that annually he clears only a few hundred pounds profit in rental income on each property, was eventually fined £500 for each property – £6,000 in total – and ordered him to pay £1,000 in costs.

He has also been ordered by the district judge to purchase a licence for each property within two months or he could face even bigger fines. In addition, he also owes late payment fees of £100 per property taking the total amount he owes the council to more than £8,000.

Cath Cunningham, for the council, told Teesside Magistrates’ Court: “Selective licencing was consulted upon and agreed by the council, and puts the onus on the landlord to be aware and deal with the problems in North Ormesby , including anti-social behaviour.

“The idea is to uplift the area.”

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