And this is why Landlords have a bad name

29 Jul 2019

Announcement follows an investigation and police action into the notorious landlords and businessmen.

The landlord business of father and son Salvatore and Robert Lopresti is subject to an “urgent” investigation by the council’s housing enforcement team.

The announcement follows an investigation into the family ice cream and property rental businesses that resulted in a police investigation and criminal proceedings being brought against the duo.

The investigation, spanning five years, found men living in slave-like conditions under the control of Salvatore and underpayment of the minimum wage in the ice cream business. In a portfolio of almost 30 properties there has been widespread intimidation of tenants and extreme disrepair.

Labour councillor and Cabinet member for housing Paul Smith said, “Having seen and received information uncovered by the Bristol Cable, I have instructed the council’s private rented team to conduct an investigation with urgency.

“We have a range of powers to ensure that Bristolians can live in safe and appropriate housing free from harassment and slum-like conditions at the hands of rogue landlords. There is no place for slum landlords in this city or anywhere, and we are committed to tackling this issue.”

These powers include service of legal notices, application for a rent repayment order for tenants or the issue of civil penalty notices.

Using Cable and police evidence, the Crown Prosecution Service had charged Robert and Salvatore Lopresti with modern day slavery offences with a trial date set for May 2019. In addition, the Cable evidenced that workers for the Lopresti ice cream business were routinely paid as little as £2 an hour selling ice creams at council allocated sites across key locations in the city.

For reasons not publicly known, criminal charges were dropped against Robert Lopresti. The pending prosecution of Salvatore was halted at Bristol Crown Court when the judge accepted that the 75-year-old was unfit to stand trial due to dementia.

However the District Judge said of Salvatore Lopresti, “I’m sure that there is a risk that you will commit a human trafficking or slavery offence” and made a Slavery and Trafficking Risk Order banning Salvatore from a range of business activities including managing workers.

However, no moves have yet been made to rescind the council permits that allow Salvatore and Robert Lopresti to continue operating ice cream vans in some of the city’s busiest tourist hotspots.

While the near-monopoly Lopresti ice cream vans had on the pitches ended in April 2019, Salvatore continues to own the pitch at Greville Smyth Park and Robert operates pitches at the M-Shed and Bush Corner at the Harbourside. Both have council contracts to operate on these sites until 2022.

Under the rules used to award the ice cream pitches, the council has the legal ability to sever contracts where actions by the business in question “has or may cause significant harm to the reputation of the council”.

Deputy-mayor and Labour councillor Craig Cheney, who has oversight of this area, was asked whether slave-like conditions and workplace exploitation was sufficient to cause the council’s reputation harm enough to terminate the Lopresti contracts.

Councillor Cheney did not respond. A council spokesperson said: “During the tender process, the panel made very clear, unbiased decisions based on the information available at that time and the submissions put forward by the applicants.”

However, at the time of the tendering decision earlier this year the council were aware that Salvatore and Robert Lopresti had been arrested and were facing charges of Modern Day Slavery. When asked whether this information played a part in the award of the tenders the council did not respond.

Link to original article

Airbnb host fined £100,000 for letting council flat

30 Jul 2019

An Airbnb host who rented out his central London council flat to tourists has been fined £100,000 and evicted.

Council tenant Toby Harman, 37, created the fake identity “Lara” on Airbnb to rent out his studio apartment.

The flat, in Victoria, had been advertised since 2013 and received more than 300 reviews, Westminster City Council said.

Anti-fraud software had found Harman’s first name in reviews and connected the listing to him.

Harman’s bank statements showed he had been receiving payments from Airbnb for a number of years.

He had been taken to court and, after a failed appeal, evicted and ordered to pay £100,974 in unlawful profits, the Times reported.

Airbnb told BBC News the council property listing had been removed from its website earlier this year.

“We regularly remind hosts to check and follow local rules – including on subsidised housing – and we take action on issues brought to our attention,” said a spokeswoman.

“Airbnb is the only platform that works with London to limit how often hosts can share their space and we support proposals from the mayor of London for a registration system to help local authorities regulate short-term lets and ensure rules are applied equally to hosts on all platforms in the capital.”

Westminster Council said it was currently investigating at least 1,500 properties in the borough for short-term letting.

“Social housing is there to provide much-needed homes for our residents, not to generate illicit profits for dishonest tenants,” the council’s Andrew Smith said.

“It’s illegal for council tenants to sublet their homes and we carry out tenancy checks, as well as monitoring short-term letting websites for any potential illegal sublets.”

It said it would now be able to allocate the property to someone else.

“We’re also pressing government to introduce a national registration scheme to make it far easier for us to take action against anyone who breaks the rules on short-term letting,” he added.

London’s Airbnb market has quadrupled since 2015, from 20,000 to 80,000 listings.

One of the most popular areas for Airbnb listings in the country is Shoreditch, particularly the area around Brick Lane.

What about residential lets?

Arla Propertymark, the professional body representing UK lettings agents, told the BBC that people renting out their homes for days or weeks at a time is on the rise.

“We increasingly hear anecdotal evidence from our members in the big cities London, Birmingham and Manchester) about properties that have been let on tenancy agreements appearing on short-term letting sites…which is reducing the number of properties within the traditional rental market,” said Arla Propertymark’s chief executive David Cox.

One legal expert said that most private residential landlords would not allow their properties to be sub-let, almost all “well-drafted” Assured Shorthold Tenancy agreements include a provision that bans the act, which would cover listing rooms on Airbnb.

“Landlords in general are very cautious of having multiple people in properties because the implication of that is that the landlord has to have a Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licence,” she said.

There would also be concerns about whether the property was adequately insured, she added.

She said that her law firm had been involved in cases where tenants had been taken to court for breaking the rules.

Link to original article

Landlord ordered to pay £14,500 for unlicensed HMO

29 Jul 19

A buy-to-let landlord has been ordered to pay £14,500 for illegally renting out an overcrowded House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) without a licence in Evesham, Worcestershire.

The landlord was issued with four civil penalty notices by Wychavon District Council after officers found 11 people occupying the property.

It is the first time Wychavon, which did not name the landlord, has used this method of enforcement since civil penalties were introduced last year.

A number of hazards were also discovered within the property, including poor internal layout, poorly working fire alarms, no fire doors or compartmentation, while there was no working oven in the kitchen.

The council has now instructed the landlord, who was receiving just over £800 a week in rent for the unlicensed property, to fix these issues or face further punishment.

Cllr Christopher Day, the council’s executive board member for housing, health and wellbeing, commented: “Landlords like this are taking advantage of vulnerable people who have a lack of knowledge of the legislation surrounding renting in the UK.

“We hope this serves as a clear warning that we are cracking down on illegal HMOs in the area and there will be severe consequences for not abiding by the law.”

Link to original article

Letting Agent held to account by Landlords Defence

19 Jun 2019

11th June saw, for us, the first evidence of the Tenant Fee Ban (TFB) being misunderstood and a residential tenant being charged a £1000 holding deposit on a £1100 per calendar month rental starting 22nd June.

On speaking with the tenants’ representative, consulting with the agent indirectly as a secret shopper, to confirm their misunderstanding, we engaged the tenant with the local authority enforcing the TFB and then the tenant engaged directly back to the agent in question.  

Agent was fully apologetic, refunding three weeks rental of the holding deposit immediately and guided to get full education on this.

Local Councils are the enforcers and they want all the fines they can impose.  

Another one solved for a Landlord’s friend and an agent now on the watch list for the local authority.  

Please get in touch if a landlord or agent has mischarged you so we can get the situation fixed for you as soon as possible and educate them on their errors.

If you are a Landlord or agent and are unsure get in touch for support.  0208 088 0788

NLA demands councils prosecute letting agents

04 Jul 2019

Local authorities are failing in their duty to prosecute criminal letting agents, the National Landlords Association (NLA) has warned.

The NLA says a lack of enforcement is undermining efforts to improve the reputation of the private rental sector.

More than half of 20 local authorities did not prosecute a single letting agent between 2014 and 2018, according to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request made by the organisation.

The FoI request reveals that 32% of the 20 authorities contacted prosecuted three agents or fewer.

Of the 20 councils questioned, 13 had already introduced landlord licensing schemes and the NLA has identified Hammersmith and Fulham as not bothering to respond to the FoI request.

It pinpoints Liverpool City Council as the outlier in its sample of local authorities, following the council’s 13 convictions of agents between 2014 and 2018.

The NLA says letting agents play an important role as intermediaries between landlords and tenants, but accuses some agents of making ‘unauthorised alterations’ to landlords’ properties.

It says some agents also let landlords’ properties to multiple renters, creating illegal Houses in Multiple Occupation which can leave the landlord liable to significant fines or criminal charges.

“Too many local authorities [are] failing in their duty to prosecute rogue letting agents. These bad ones can really poison the relationship between landlords and tenants,” says Richard Lambert, chief executive of the NLA.

“We want to see local authorities take much firmer action.”

“While many local authorities have introduced licensing schemes to crack down on rogue landlords, they seem to be allowing letting agents to get off scot-free,” he says.

Link to original article

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