Shocking pictures show dangerous ‘nightmare’ house rented out to young family

The council has taken action to require the landlord to carry out a schedule of works to complete to make the property safe.

Shocking pictures show the awful conditions of a “nightmare” house which was rented out to a family with young children.

The property had no hot water or heating, live electric sockets hanging off the walls and a broken front door which can’t be locked.

It also has no working smoke alarms.

Nottingham City Council’s Safer Housing team served an emergency prohibition order on the property in Nottingham earlier this week, where a family including three children aged two, four and six were living in the dangerous conditions.

The council has taken action to require the landlord to carry out a schedule of works to complete to make the property safe.

It has called on the national government to step up its protection of families in private rented properties.

A joint investigation by The Guardian and ITV News has this week shone a spotlight on the extent of the problem of rogue landlords renting out unsafe properties to tenants.

Councillor Toby Neal said: “This is a nightmare property. It’s sheer luck that one or all of the tenants weren’t killed.

“I’m proud that our safer housing team has been able to intervene to get this family out of an incredibly dangerous situation.

“Our new selective licensing scheme, which we petitioned the Government to introduce, gives us further powers to step in and protect tenants.

“In Nottingham, 15,000 landlords now need a licence to operate – which crucially can be revoked if they are putting tenants at risk.

“We call on the Government to overhaul the current legislation and give all local councils the powers and resources they need to protect tenants.

“This landlord will now go to the top of the list to be dealt with by our selective licensing team. As well as being eligible for penalties of £30,000, it’s extremely unlikely that someone who has let out a property in this kind of condition will be given a licence to manage properties in the future.”

Nottingham prosecuted 11 landlords between 2016 and 2018, leading to fines of £68,000.

Since April 1, 2018, the council’s safer housing team has taken emergency action to protect tenants in nine dangerous properties, as well as serving seven civil penalties for offences under the Housing Act.

Nottingham became only the third area in the UK to introduce (from August 1, 2018) a selective licensing scheme, after the council went to court to gain the powers needed to protect tenants.

Selective licensing now covers 90 percent of the private rental properties in Nottingham:

  • 15,000 landlords now need a licence to operate – which can be revoked if they are putting tenants at risk.
  • Landlords pay a licence fee of between £480 – £780 every five years.
  • The income from the scheme can only be used to administer it.
  • Tenants can claim rent back from landlords who have failed to either licence their property, or to keep it in a decent condition.
  • Failure to apply for a licence means landlords are eligible for penalties of £30,000.

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Banned but still in business: The rogue landlords exploiting weaknesses in the law

Landlords who have been deemed unfit to rent out their properties continue to operate by exploiting weaknesses in the law.

An investigation by ITV News and the Guardian has found landlords continue to collect rent – often from the taxpayer in the form of housing benefit – despite failing “fit and proper” tests which were introduced to improve protection for tenants.

The findings raise questions about both the effectiveness of the legislation and the ability of councils to enforce it.

On his LinkedIn page he claims to have built a property portfolio worth £30 million.

He has done so at the expense of his tenants, who often end up living in sub-standard accommodation.

Since 2014 McGowan has been convicted six times for breaches of the Housing Act. Last year he was fined more than £100,000 for property offences.

In September 2015, in Brent, North London, the council decided McGowan was not “fit and proper” to hold a licence to be a landlord but he’s still in business. And he’s not alone.

Daud Hussein used to be one of Bernard McGowan’s tenants.

In 2015, McGowan tried to evict him by removing his electricity meter, which is a criminal offence.

When that didn’t work McGowan changed the locks of the property that Hussein rented from him.

In May 2015, Hussein returned home having spent 10 days at St Mary’s Hospital in Paddington to find himself locked-out.

His belongings had been removed.

“I called Mr McGowan. I said I’m outside my property, I’m homeless,” Hussein told ITV News. “He laughed at me.”

Hussein later took McGowan to court and won damages but the council decided not to prosecute.

Hussein believes McGowan views the fines he pays for bad behaviour as a cost of doing business.

“It’s like a parking fine for him. It’s doesn’t matter,” he said.

Many of McGowan’s tenants are vulnerable.

Erskine Clarke was sleeping rough before the local authority housed him with Bernard McGowan.

Just under £200 a week in housing benefit secured Clarke a room in a shared house in Harlesden with mould, a faulty boiler and a leaky toilet.

Clarke told us that requests for repairs to be carried out were ignored.

“There was a coldness in the house,” Erskine told ITV News. “[The problem with the boiler] was going on for two years. It kept cutting out. No hot water, no central heating. I suffer with arthritis as well.”

Clarke still lives at the property but has a new landlord who is doing the house up.

Unsurprisingly, he feels angry about the way McGowan treated him.

“He doesn’t care. I think all he cares about is what money he makes. As long as he gets paid, he’s fine,” Clarke insisted.

“Why does the government just let people do this?”

ITV News and The Guardian submitted freedom of information requests to 349 local authorities in England and Wales with responsibility for the private rented sector.

The survey revealed:

502 The number of landlords who collectively committed 752 offences under the Housing Act in 2017.
£2.7m The amount they were fined, an average of just under £3,600 per offence.

Many of the landlords, like McGowan, were repeat offenders, with 123 convicted of multiple offences in the same year.

In 2006 the government introduced the licensing of landlords.

The legislation was designed to get offenders to clean up their act.

The idea was councils would use the licensing schemes to improve the safety and management of properties and deal with anti-social behaviour.

Licensing is only mandatory for larger ‘Houses of Multiple Occupancy’ (HMO), although councils can apply to extend the schemes to cover all rented property in the borough if they choose.

If a landlord is found renting out a property that requires a licence without one, they can be prosecuted.

Licences can also be revoked. Under the legislation a landlord must be considered “fit and proper” to hold a licence.

You would think that losing a licence would cause a landlord problems but in McGowan’s case he has been able to continue renting out his property, legally, by letting it via an approved agent.

Convicted landlords and repeat offenders still renting out properties

Unfortunately, McGowan’s agents appear to be as negligent as he is.

Two agents manage 10 properties that McGowan owns at the Artisan Mews development on the Harrow Road in London.

The vast majority of tenants we spoke to there complain that repairs still aren’t being fixed.

Jacky Peacock runs Advice4Renters, a charity which helps tenants better understand their rights.

She argues the rollout of the licensing scheme was “flawed” and, as a result, it has failed to eradicate bad behaviour.

“We see licences being issued, even when a landlord has had previous convictions, so cannot reasonably be deemed to be a ‘fit and proper’ person as the law requires – and even if he is prevented from holding a licence in one area, there’s a good chance he will be operating somewhere else,” she said.

Approximately 1.5 million people in the UK rent out property.

The government calculates there are 10,500 “rogue landlords” in England alone but Peacock believes “amateur” landlords are as big a problem.

“I would say 20% of private landlords don’t know what they are doing and don’t want to know because they can make a bigger profit,” she said.

“There is a much larger percentage of amateur landlords who may not be going out of their way to screw the tenant for every last penny…but [by not understanding] what their responsibilities are can still be very damaging for tenants.”

Tenants have rights but, our investigation found, often don’t know what they are and, even if they do, are reluctant to complain too loudly.

They fear eviction and the loss of their deposits.

They are right to be worried. Landlords have the right to evict a tenant for no reason by issuing a Section 21 order.

In a statement, the government told us that it is reforming the private rented sector to make it “fairer for all” and that “landlords should be in no doubt that they have a responsibility to provide a decent home or face the consequences”.

It says that, in addition to the licensing scheme, it has given local authorities the power to issue civil penalties and impose banning orders on “the minority of landlords who exploit tenants”.

We invited Bernard McGowan to contribute to our report several times but he refused.

When we confronted him he appeared to suggest that any wrong-doing was “historic”.

In a statement, Brent Council told ITV News: “We are appalled by the way [Bernard] McGowan consistently failed to meet standards, which resulted in our two convictions against him…Brent is one of the leading councils in the country for its crackdown on rogue landlords.”

Prime Minster Theresa May has repeatedly said one of her government’s priorities is fixing Britain’s housing market.

Home ownership is in steep decline – we are increasingly a nation of renters.

Approximately 11.5 million people live in rented accommodation.

The rent they pay, the rent the taxpayer pays on their behalf, mostly ends up in the pockets of private landlords.

In a well-regulated market, you would expect bad landlords to go out of business.

In Britain’s rental market, McGowan is proof that you can be an appalling landlord and become extremely rich.

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RLA responds to Thurrock additional licensing consultation

Thurrock Council is proposing to introduce an additional licensing shceme in the areas of Aveley and Uplands, Belhus, Chadwell St Mary, Grays Thurrock, Grays Riverside, Little Thurrock Blackshots, Ockendon, Stifford Clays, Tilbury Riverside and Thurrock Park, Tilbury St Chads, and West Thurrock and South Stifford.

If the scheme is approved, landlords with property in these areas will have to pay for a licence in order to rent out the property lawfully.

In the RLA’s response to the consultation on these plans, which you can read here we have outlined the main reasons why we are opposed to the introduction of Additional Licensing in the areas of Grays Thurrock, Belhus, Chadwell St Mary & Stifford Clays.

Additional Cost

In the RLA’s response to this consultation, we have expressed concern that schemes such as this ‘do little’ but ‘alienate’ law abiding landlords, because they are left often having to pay for expensive licences, will criminal landlords continue to operate ‘below the radar’.

The response also outlines the RLA’s concern that if additional licensing was introduced in Thurrock, it would put pressure on non-selective licence areas. There is also little evidence that licensing schemes improve housing standards. The focus of staff becomes the processing and issue of licences, while prosecutions centre on whether a property is licensed or not, rather than improving management standards and property conditions.

Enforce existing powers

In our response, we also reiterate that councils should fully use the enforcement powers already granted to them by the Housing and Planning Act 2016, ranging from civil penalties, rent repayment orders, banning orders and the introduction of a database for rogue landlords and letting agents, rather than rely on Licensing Schemes to regulate landlords in addition to these powers.

What is additional HMO licensing?

Additional licensing applies to Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO), which are not subject to mandatory licensing, but which are of a description designation for HMO licensing by the local authority.

A local authority may either designate a whole of their area or only part of their area as being subject to additional HMO licensing, for a specific type of HMO or all HMOs not subject to mandatory licensing.

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Landlord and managing agent fined £22,000 for unlicensed HMO

Kuppusami Selvarajan and his agent S3A Management Limited must pay sum which includes fines and costs and will also have to return rent to eight tenants.

The landlord and managing agent of a property in North London have been fined nearly £22,000 between them for operating it as an unlicensed HMO at which inspectors found tenants living in Dickensian conditions.

Both Kuppusami Selvarajan and his agent S3A Management Limited pleaded guilty to charges of operating an unlicensed HMO in Tufnell Park (pictured, above) after local Environmental Health Officers found eight unrelated people living at the property last year.

Tipped off by one of the tenants, they found multiple broken items including a bedroom window without glass, no working fire detection system or fire blanket in the kitchen and a dangerously cracked plug socket in the lounge.

HMO PROSECUTION 

Following a prosecution by the London Borough of Islington, Mr Selvarajan was fined £8,500 and S3A Management £7,650. These fines, along with the council’s legal costs of £5,773 mean they must now pay a total of £21,923.

At the hearing, District Court Judge Rimmer said: “Regarding the lack of HMO licence, the landlord enjoyed ongoing receipt of likely inflated rent, all the while making no checks as to whether a property which they have clearly anticipated may be let as an HMO”.

As well as the fines, the tenants are now able to reclaim the rent they paid to live at the address via Rent Repayment Orders.

“Everyone has the right to safe, genuinely affordable housing and Islington will not tolerate dodgy operators taking advantage of people’s desperate need for a home,” says Islington Councillor Diarmaid Ward, Executive Member for Housing and Development.

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Bradford Council team ensures that rented homes come up to standard

ANYONE who has ever rented a house will know will know how vital it is for it to be safe and in good condition.

Most landlords are responsible people, providing good, safe accommodation. Yet, across the country, many tenants in private housing suffer problems such as damp and mould, inadequate heating and ventilation, overcrowding and disrepair, which can affect their health, safety and quality of life.

Bradford Council’s housing standards team receive around 1500 requests every year to inspect homes about which that tenants have concerns. Fire safety, inadequate kitchen or bathroom facilities and unsafe gas and electrical fixtures are also key areas that can warrant attention.

Officers from the team inspect properties and contact landlords to make sure they address any problems. As well as reacting to tenants complaints, the team is proactive, carrying out checks focusing on an area or type of property based on risk.

Recently, the Council received funding from the Government’s department of Housing, Communities and Local Government to target accommodation above shops.

“We focus upon the main arterial routes into the city,” says housing standards manager Liam Jowett, “We know from experience that this type of accommodation is high risk for fire safety. We give advice and take action where necessary.”

Routes covered to date include Manchester Road, Leeds Road, part of Great Horton Road, Manningham Lane and Carlisle Road.

“We assess for 29 hazards including fire safety, damp and mould and excess cold” adds Liam. “We look at the defects and assess how serious a hazard it is. If there are concerns we advise what is needed to remedy a situation,” says Liam.

If no action is taken, the Council can enforce using its statutory powers, many contained within the Housing Act 2004.

In the year 2017/18 the team received 1581 service requests, with 794 enforcement notices served. In that period there were nine prosecutions, with a further three since April 1 this year.

In April two landlords, one in Bradford, the other in Keighley were prosecuted and fined. The Bradford landlord was fined in excess of £6500 for failing to comply with an improvement notice. Defects at the house, in Girlington, included rotten window frames, a mouse infestation, a lack of working smoke alarms, electrical defects and penetrating damp.

The landlord in Keighley failed to manage his property, which contained six flats, and was fined a similar amount . He continually failed to manage the property allowing his tenants to live in flats which were not covered by a working fire alarm system, allowed a prohibited bedroomed to be used and did not attend to other repairs.

“We approach the landlord and give them to opportunity to put things right,” says Julie Rhodes, the department’s principal operations manager. “We find that a lot of properties do come up to standard.”

Those who do not comply can now be subject to a recently introduced Civil Penalty Notice (CPN), which can carry a hefty fine.

“We have an agreed framework across all five West Yorkshire authorities, with a maximum £30,000 fine,” says Julie.

The lowest level of CPN that can be charged is £2000, which equates to low culpability and low harm and includes legal costs. Since CPNs were introduced the Council has issued four final notices with five more pending.

The Council is working hard to alert landlords as to an important change within the privately rented housing sector. Previously, certain Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) – three storey properties rented out by at least five people who form more than two households but share facilities like the bathroom and kitchen – required a licence from the local authority.

From October, the rules will apply both to these and to any home, however many storeys, that is occupied by at least five people who form more than two households and who share facilities. Affected landlords must apply for a licence to lawfully continue renting out the property.

“Officers have been carrying out a survey , trying to identify properties that need a licence so we can advise the landlords,” says Liam. “We are trying to raise awareness and have been putting information on social media and on our Stay Connected bulletin service. We’ve also written out to all our HMO landlords.”

Says Julie: “A good quality private rented sector is a priority, locally and nationally. We will always encourage tenants to approach their landlord first with any concerns but will use our enforcement powers when we need to”.

She adds: “We want to do more proactive work such as the accommodation above shops initiative so that we can target the properties that are highest risk.”

Councillor Alex Ross-Shaw, portfolio holder for Regeneration, Planning and Transport, said: “We take the safety of homes extremely seriously and will not hesitate to take action where we find evidence that landlords are not ensuring their properties are safe and meeting the proper standards.

“It is vitally important landlords register HMO properties to ensure they meet the required standards.

“If you own a property occupied by five or more tenants making two or more households, please get in touch with our housing team so they can help you comply with the new law. There are no excuses for unsafe or substandard accommodation.”

One sector of accommodation that has improved markedly over the years is student accommodation. “There is a lot more purpose-built student housing,” says Liam, “Students are now more demanding and landlords have to keep in line with their requirements.”

The University of Bradford works closely with Unipol, a charity which helps students find the best housing they can to raise standards in privately rented homes.

“Unipol has a code of practice,” says Liam, “It will direct students to certain landlords who abide by it.”

For further information people can call Bradford Council’s Housing Standards team on 01274 434520 or visit bradford.gov.uk/housing

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