The managing director of a letting agency and the Landlord of a two-bedroom flat where an unbelievable 32 people were found to be living have been fined, along with the agency itself.
Altogether they have been ordered to pay a remarkably low £30,000. However, as this was a criminal prosecution in court rather than civil financial penalties it is normal for the fines to be lower because the offenders have now all gained criminal records.
Said Phil Turtle, compliance consultant at landlord licensing and defence, “Many decent landlords would be surprised these people didn’t get a custodial sentence. It is precisely because of this type of stupidity by dishonest landlords and agents, that decent landlords are unfortunately all being branded as Rogue Landlords by councils and the press.”
Environmental health officers from Tower Hamlets council in London raided the flat in Whitechapel after a tip-off that it was being used as an illegal and dangerously overcrowded house in multiple occupation.
In addition to the flat containing 33 people, who spoke little to no English, the officers discovered another containing nine people, including two ten-year-old children.
The freeholder, Maqbool Khan, pleaded guilty to numerous housing breaches and was sentenced at Thames Magistrates Court.
Mohammed Abul Miah, director of managing agent A.R.S Properties, did not attend court but the case was proven against him in his absence.
John Biggs, Mayor of Tower Hamlets, said: “The conditions that these tenants were living in were totally unacceptable.
“Too often we see the most vulnerable and disadvantaged in our society being taken advantage of by rogue landlords and it is right that the courts have sent a strong message that this will not be tolerated.
“The victims were people who had come to London from overseas in the hope of a better future, only to find themselves in overcrowded and unsafe housing.”
The council understands that the property was being used to house people on a nightly basis with occupants handing over cash for a bed space.
They were found sleeping in bunk beds and on mattresses strewn across the floor. Officers found an infestation of cockroaches and defective drainage.
The flats were not only unclean and significantly overcrowded, but they also failed to meet basic fire safety standards, leaving those asleep at risk of being unable to escape in the event of an emergency.
The council team was accompanied on the raid by the police and officers from other partner agencies.
Five people were arrested for immigration offences and others were referred for onward assistance.
The penalties issued against the defendants in this case were as follows:
Maqbool Khan (Landlord):
Fine – £22,500
Costs – £1,701.73
Fine – £1,650 (plus victim surcharge)
Costs – £1,701.73
Sums to be paid within 28 days
Mohammed Abul Miah (director of agents ARS Properties):
Fine – £1,650 (plus victim surcharge)
Costs – £1,701.73
Sums to be paid within 28 days – collection order made
Some older estate agents may end up retiring when mandatory examinations and qualifications are introduced as there will be no ‘free pass’ whatever experience they have.
The announcement came from Lord Richard Best, chair of the Regulation of Property Agents Working Group.
He told the Council of Licensed Conveyancers conference this morning that a “new era” of estate agency industry regulation – which he expects to become law within two years – will not allow so-called ‘grand-fathering‘ under which older agents would not have to undergo qualification examinations.
Lord Best said many older agents knew everything about the industry – but others “may be absolutely hopeless.”
“They could be completely out of date on legislation and regulation” he continued.
He said good experienced agents should find a difficulty in passing the exam – details of the exam are still being finalised; but if older agents prefer to retire “that’s a price to be paid.”
Lord Best reiterated the ROPA recommendations that there would be mandatory qualifications and a code of conduct – the latter being tougher than that which exists now through trade organisations like The Property Ombudsman.
There would be two key phrases that would be “vital” to the industry, said Lord Best: every agent would have to be “a licensed agent” and a member of “a regulated body.”
He said there would be no exceptions.
Best said that all government ministers, trade bodies, political parties and consumer groups were in favour; legislation is likely to be completed within two years.
“Regulation will happen and will fundamentally alter the property world” he claimed.
Link to original article here
15 July 2019 Case summary by Phil Turtle, Landlord Licensing and Defence.
A rent-to-rent company fined £12,025 including costs by way of Rent Repayment Order in addition to £5,000 Civil Penalty Fine for failing to Licence the property which had become an HMO through sub-letting via a rent-to-rent company.
The Landlord and owner of the leasehold flat (Mr E.) had let the flat through a letting agency to a Company (which looks to be a rent-to-rent operator) on a 12 month contract using an AST incorrectly (AST’s are for people, not companies.)
The rent-to-rent company then let a room each to four tenants using licences.
The rent-to-rent company had already been fined £5,000 by Greenwich Council for failing to have an HMO licence.
It seems the property was also the subject of a prohibition order in relation to the creating of an inner bedroom by the rent-to-rent company which had been declared a HHSRS Category 1 Hazard – one presumes because being an “inner room” it had neither windows not direct light and ventilation.
In this case, neither the landlord owner not the letting agent were found against as neither of them collected the rent from the tenants.
You can read the full First Tier Tribunal decision (if you like wading through legal stuff) here
24 Oct 2019
The Property Ombudsman has expelled three lettings agencies from its scheme because of unpaid awards to landlord clients.
The first is Kingsman Property Limited (trading as Kingsman Property) in Essex, which owes a landlord £14,921.23.
A landlord made a complaint to The Property Ombudsman after claiming that the agent failed to pass on rent owed to him, which had been paid by the tenant. The landlord entered into a Guaranteed Rental Income Scheme with Kingsman Property which was meant to ensure that the landlord received the rent every month.
The agency also confirmed that it would obtain an HMO licence.
The landlord received the rent for a period of eight months, but Kingsman Property then stopped paying the rent, resulting in the landlord dis-instructing them. At the time, the agent owed the landlord more than £12,000 in rent.
By the time the landlord brought the matter to TPO the agency had gone into administration, therefore it was highly unlikely that any award that was made would be recovered, but the landlord asked TPO to proceed anyway.
The Ombudsman concluded that several aspects of the service that Kingsman Property had provided fell considerably short of the standard of service expected under TPO’s Codes of Practice, and made an award of £14,921.23, which included the rent that had not been paid (£12,421.23), the deposit (£1,000) as well as an award (£1,500) for the avoidable aggravation and distress caused.
Kingsman Property failed to pay the award and the Ombudsman referred the agent to the scheme’s independent Compliance Committee, which ruled the firm should be expelled.
The second case involves Kent agency Chambers Estates Kent Ltd, (trading as Chambers Estates) which has been expelled from TPO.
A complaint was brought by a landlord who said Chambers Estates owed him three months’ rent which had been paid by the tenant but not passed on.
The statements provided showed that rent was collected by the agent but not paid over to the landlord. The agency agreement was clear that monies should be paid over within a month of receipt.
The agent did not respond to the original complaint submitted by the landlord nor a subsequent letter sent by a solicitor. The Ombudsman supported the complaint and awarded the landlord £2,376 for rent income due and a further £400 for connected aggravation and complaint handling failures.
Chambers Estates failed to pay the award. Chambers Estates is not currently registered with a redress scheme, which is a requirement of every sales and letting agent in order to trade legally. Trading Standards have been informed of the expulsion.
Chambers is also not in a Client Money Protection scheme, also a legal requirement, and does not have any professional memberships. But TPO says the agent does still have properties listed with OnTheMarket, although these are outdated.
A landlord made a complaint to The Property Ombudsman after claiming that the agent failed to pass on the last month’s rent and failed to compensate him for a new cooker which was missing at the end of the tenancy.
The landlord was also dissatisfied that when he raised the issue with Assetgrove Prime, as the employee he had been dealing with stopped responding, the agent denied that the tenancy was anything to do with them and said it should be directed towards the employee who actually worked for another agency.
The absence of an inventory meant the issue with the cooker was difficult to prove, however, it was clear that the landlord was owed 25 days rent.
Despite the agent protesting that an employee of another agency was sharing their office and therefore only given a temporary email address, Assetgrove Prime’s actions in allowing this led to a Tenancy Agreement being entered into between the landlord and the agent, and a sub-tenancy between the agent and sub-tenants.
As such, the Ombudsman was satisfied that the liability for any issues arising as result of the tenancy lay with the Assetgrove Prime. The Ombudsman made an award of £1,820.50, which included the rent owed and £300 compensation.
Assetgrove Prime failed to pay the award.
Link to original article
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
28 May 2019
The head of the Property Redress Scheme is urging agents to prepare for yet more regulation and legislation changes likely to be introduced over the rest of 2019.
Sean Hooker – head of redress at the PRS – says: “With so much change and with the increasing risk of being fined or even closed down, agents will need to ensure they have all their ducks in a row. The market is changing and the consumer is becoming more aware of their rights.”
And he adds: “Ultimately the majority of property professionals will comply, make the necessary changes and will embrace the new landscape as part of a trusted and safe sector, providing quality services to their customers.
Hooker says a string of measures have already been introduced this year, including the (Homes) Fitness for Human Habitation Act in March, the mandatory Client Money Protection scheme membership in April and next week’s upcoming ban on letting agent fees to tenants and cap on security and holding deposits.
But there’s more to come – and although Hooker’s comments were made ahead of this week’s political developments at Westminster, these measures are likely to go ahead even if there is a change of Prime Minister.
In the PRS annual report, Hooker predicts that the government will:
- introduce specific reforms on leasehold later this year, and ban leases on houses;
- implement a provision in the Estate Agency Act 1979 to ensure all estate agents will require mandatory qualifications, and extend this to letting agents and property managers;
- introduce regulation to the sector and a code of conduct to govern property professionals;
- ask the industry to adopt voluntary transparency relating to estate agents referral fees received for recommending other commercial services, otherwise they will look to ban these;
- look at bringing in other changes to the home buying process;
- introduce mandatory electrical safety checks on all rental properties and extend the requirement for CO monitors in every property, not only those with solid fuel burners;
- set up a Housing Complaint Resolution Service, where a consumer can direct their complaint and it will direct them to the appropriate scheme. There will be a common complaints code and increased cooperation and data sharing amongst the schemes;
- introduce landlord redress to bring landlords in line with agents;
- set up a New Build Homes Ombudsman for consumers of new, off plan and refurbished buildings. “Again this will be a challenge and there are currently no timescales” says Hooker.
Link to original article