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Landlord Ordered To Pay Compensation For Burning Tenants’ Possessions

A Wrexham buy to let landlord has been ordered to pay £12,000 in compensation after burning his tenant’s possessions when she fell behind with the rent.

Rogue buy to let landlord Tyrone Holmes, of Kensington Grove, in Box Lane, Wrexham, pleaded guilty to the charge of criminal damage levied on him at Mold Crown Court.

52-year-old Holmes had hired men to clear the flat that his tenant had been renting. They got rid of household furniture, clothing and electrical items.

Tennant Lydia Russell was shocked to return home to the flat, situated in Green Road, Brymbo, to find all of her possessions were gone. She received a text from her landlord that stated that her belongings had been removed from the flat.

Ms Russell had been residing in the property for six months but in recent times had fallen into rent arrears.

Holmes had instructed workmen to remove the possessions from the property. The jury at Mold Crown Court was told that when Ms Russell’s sister went to confront the landlord at his house ‘three big lads’ were standing outside near a white van and a flatbed truck.

The sister also saw two men burning items in the back garden. It appeared as though the items had been removed from the rented property. While serious rent arrears can be lawful grounds for eviction it does not justify the destructive and spiteful behavior exhibited by the rogue landlord in this case.

Prosecuting barrister Brett Williamson said: ‘Some of her property was dumped on the pavement outside and some of it was taken away. As a result, criminal damage was caused and she [the tenant] never saw some of her possessions again.’

Holmes plead guilty to the charges and the Judge Niclas Parry ordered the landlord to pay the compensation owed to Ms Russell by 31 October.

Source: Residential Landlord

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Harrow Council Leader Speaks Out About Landlord Rogues

The leader of Harrow Council has spoken out again against irresponsible buy to let investment landlords following another inappropriate property discovered by enforcement officers.

Enforcers came across a second poorly maintained property, noting a ‘sea of mattresses’ and makeshift bunkbeds at the two-bedroom house in Wealdstone. It was thought that the home could house as many as 18 people, including children. However, the landlord claimed that everything was as it should be with the house.

The property was an unlicensed house in multiple occupation (HMO) and had no smoke detectors, faulty electrics, and was covered in mould. This led to the leader of Harrow Council reiterating his pledge to weed out irresponsible landlords from the sector. Rogue landlords can pose a danger to tenants’ lives by letting out unsafe and worrying properties. They also pose a danger to the sector in general, with the action of a small minority of landlords bringing the buy to let market in general into disrepute.

Councillor Graham Henson, leader of Harrow Council, said: ‘What kind of monster would profit from housing children in filthy and dangerous conditions like these? What if these faulty electrics caught fire? Or the rotten ceilings collapsed? It’s a nightmare that belongs in the Victorian era, not today. It keeps me awake at night, worrying about illegal HMOs like these and the criminals that rent them out.’

He asserted: ‘We will never, ever stop uncovering properties like these and punishing those responsible.’

In a particularly worrying turn of events, enforcement officers were forced to make a swift escape as the bathroom floor began to fall from underneath them.

Councillor Henson insisted that formal action will be taken against the landlord and an emergency order has been put in place. An emergency order will prevent anyone from living in the house until it is made safe for human habitation.

Source: Residential Landlord

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Rogue landlords making millions out of housing benefits

Highly organised gangs of rogue landlords are making millions every year out of the housing benefit system by enticing desperate local authorities to place single homeless people in micro-flats in shoddily converted and dangerous former family homes.

Three-bed houses, where the maximum weekly housing benefit for flat-sharers is under £100 a person, are being converted into as many as six tiny self-contained studios – as little as 10 sq m in size. Each then qualifies for housing benefit of £181 a week, enabling a landlord to squeeze £56,000 a year in rent from a property on London’s fringes, all paid from public funds. The £56,000 compares with the typical £6,200 annual rent on a three-bed council house.

A previously unpublished government report into a £700,000 project to tackle the scam, released this week under freedom of information laws, shows that councils are struggling to contain the spread of the “lockdown” model, which has taken hold in at least 12 London boroughs since 2015.

It warns of “well organised but unscrupulous landlords” profiting despite some councils – including Hackney, Bexley and Greenwich – launching prosecutions, raids and prohibition orders.

“Given available resources and the potential number of ‘rogue landlord’ properties, regulatory activity on its own would not solve the problem as long as the market was so heavily weighted to favour the supplier and the housing benefit rules allowed for high payments on such small conversions,” says the report. “Investors typically buy a three-bedroom house and convert it into six rooms, each with basic cooking facilities, in order to claim the maximum housing benefit rate.

“The lettings model was also being actively promoted as an investment opportunity amongst both existing landlords and, possibly, more widely. This has contributed to the strong growth of conversions using the model,” it says.

The report – obtained by local housing campaigner, Jon Knowles, after he appealed to the Information Commissioner – reveals “lockdown landlords” are exploiting planning loopholes created by the Conservative-led government in 2010.

“The basic premise […] was to convert houses into a large number of very small ‘self-contained’ units, each containing basic cooking facilities, but to also have a shared kitchen so as to be able to claim, for planning permission purposes, that the house was a house in multiple occupation and fell within permitted development rules,” it says.

Councils can apply to place restrictions on these rights but the report says only one councils in the project has managed to do so.

The converted flats, frequently approved by the landlord’s own private building control firms and electricians, are offered to homelessness services across the capital in need of rentals.

“The landlords often target local authority services which are looking for units when they accept either a full, or interim, homelessness duty for an individual. The landlords are aware that such individuals will be entitled to housing benefit, and are also aware how difficult it is for such services to locate suitable units,” it states.

Services from different areas regularly compete for the same properties, which can lead to “uncoordinated placements and clashes between the residents”. One incident resulted in a stabbing, and a woman living in one of these flats has been assaulted by other tenants. Checks by planning and environmental health officers are rarely carried out because homeless services are under such pressure to find rooms immediately.

“It was recognised that, with the shortage of units and the frequent emergency need for placements, the priority would often be to just get a person into some accommodation for the night.”

Housing inspectors found the micro-flats were often in very poor condition with inadequate fire safety provision and dangerously overloaded electrics and plumbing systems.

Neighbours complained of anti-social behaviour and feeling unsafe when there were influxes of often single men, with substance abuse and mental health problems .

Councils are reluctant to take a hard line because they fear it could make people homeless: “There were clear concerns about the model becoming too widespread and it was felt that changes did need to be made in order to contain its growth. However, it was accepted that these could not be wholly retrospective otherwise it would create a spike in homelessness.”

Lambeth council, whose officers coordinated the research project, says landlords using the model were still operating in the capital and that family houses were being divided up into micro-flats all the time.

“They are always being created to meet the demand for the lack of social and affordable housing,” it says.

Knowles fought to get the report released after he discovered a string of “lockdown properties” in his neighbourhood of Hanworth, west London. “I simply could not believe that you would be allowed to cram six bedsits into a former two-bed home,” he says.

Retired builder Gary Warren found himself sofa-surfing because he could not afford a deposit on a flat in west London. He thought his luck had changed when he found a letting company that accepted people over 35 and claiming benefits.

“I stayed with a few friends and then I found out about this company that rents flats out without a deposit if you are on benefits,” he says.

A letting agent showed him what they called a flat in Hanworth but it was actually a tiny room measuring just 10 sq m, including the toilet. He took it because he “had no deposit to put down on a private flat”.

Gary, who is 63, pays £980 for his room, which is mostly covered by his housing benefit.

The people in the four other flats are charged the same, which potentially earns the company £3,920 a month in rent.

“The length of my bed is the width of the room. I’ve got a wardrobe and fridge. So I have about 10ft by 3ft of space – it’s a corridor,” he says. “There’s no room for a chair, so I lay down all day. I don’t see anyone, so I don’t get any stimulation – I’m just stuck in this room.”

Water pours down the walls when it rains because the flat roof above him leaks. It got so bad over Christmas that the council moved him to a B&B as the room was uninhabitable. But Gary – who has had a stroke and is in the early stages of dementia – has carried on paying the rent because he needs somewhere to live. “It is robbery,” he says. “They are ripping off the council. Why are they letting it go on?”

Source: The Guardian

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Government to tell rogue landlords: ‘shape up or ship out’

A package of measures to crack down on rogue landlords, including a tougher licensing regime for house shares and a minimum size for bedrooms, has been announced by the government.

Alok Sharma, the housing minister, said “far too many” tenants were being exploited by unscrupulous landlords, who would now have to “shape up or ship out”.

The measures come after the government was accused of undermining efforts to protect private sector tenants by curtailing the powers of local authorities to introduce landlord licensing schemes. Figures published two months ago under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that most councils had failed to secure a single landlord prosecution.

Meanwhile, in an interview with the Independent, the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, said at the next election his party would scrap laws that allowed landlords to evict tenants under so-called no-fault evictions.

Ministers are to seek approval from parliament to widen the criteria for landlords in England, who need to secure a licence when renting out a “house in multiple occupation” (HMO). There are about 500,000 HMOs in England, and national mandatory licensing applies only to properties that are three or more storeys high.

This is to be changed so that many flats and one- and two-storey properties would be subject to licensing, provided they are occupied by at least five people from two or more households. The move will affect about 160,000 houses.

Rules have also been proposed that would set minimum size requirements for bedrooms in HMOs to prevent overcrowding. Rooms used for sleeping by one adult would have to be no smaller than 6.51 sq metres (70 sq ft), and those slept in by two adults would have to be no smaller than 10.22 sq metres. Rooms slept in by children aged 10 or younger would have to be at least 4.64 sq metres in size.

As part of the licensing requirements, councils will be able to make sure only rooms meeting the standard are used for sleeping.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said there would also be new rules to help people “fed up” with living near shoddily maintained properties without proper bins and rubbish dumped everywhere. Ministers intend to introduce a mandatory condition in HMO licences requiring landlords to comply with local council rules on refuse and recycling.

The government has set out details of criminal offences, which would automatically ban someone from being a landlord. From April, an individual convicted of offences including burglary and stalking can be added to the database of rogue landlords and barred from renting out properties.

Sharma said: “Through a raft of new powers, we are giving councils the further tools they need to crack down on these rogue landlords and kick them out of the business for good.”

This month, however, Newham council in London – which has arguably led the way in tackling bad landlords, with 331 prosecuted as of last October – accused the government of standing in the way of councils that were trying to protect their tenants.

In 2013, Newham became the first council in the country to introduce borough-wide licensing, requiring all landlords to licence all properties offered for private rent. However, in 2015 the government introduced legislation requiring ministerial permission to introduce such schemes, while the Newham scheme renewal a few weeks ago had conditions placed upon it – one part of the borough was excluded – and was also delayed unnecessarily, resulting in a gap of two to three months between the end of the old scheme and the start of the new one, according to the council.

Sir Robin Wales, mayor of Newham, has called on the government to “remove this bureaucratic and anti-democratic piece of legislation, and let councils get on and introduce the right schemes to protect their private sector tenants from rogue landlords”.

Source: The Guardian