Landlords from hell on Channel four

I have just seen Jon Snow’s Dispatches program on landlords from hell and I have to say that it makes very depressing watching.

  • Tenants forced out of properties without due process because the landlord wants a rent increase,
  • families with young children being moved into substandard and dangerous houses,
  • illegal immigrants living in garden sheds.

Hats off to Jon Snow and Channel Four for making the program, we need more of this sort of thing to bring the problem kicking and screaming out into the daylight.  However we all know what the answer is.

More housesMore houses need to be built.  A lot more houses.

The program said that there was a shortage of around a million houses, the biggest housing crisis since the second world war, but house building is at an all time low.

With an increasing population (the article from the Smith Institute I reviewed last week estimated that the population is due to increase by 30% in the next 25 years) it is imperative that something be done and quickly, but whether it will or not is anyones guess.  The writer of the Pickles letter rather thought that new housing was going to be reduced as a result of the housing benefit cuts.

We need more housesLegislation can only do so much

Jon Snow’s program just shows the limitations of legislation.  We have laws prohibiting ALL the problems the program found.

However if Local Authorities do not have the manpower or the funding to prosecute, then the criminal landlords are just going to laugh and carry on regardless.

Particularly if, even when there is a successful prosecution, the fines awarded are so pathetically low.

Tenants rights

Tenants have the right to bring civil claims against their landlords for compensation, for example for breach of the repairing covenants and also for personal injury if the disrepair affects their health (as it did the daughter in one of the properties featured in the program).

We need more housesHowever, if there is nowhere for them to go if they get evicted, and/or if their landlords are known to be violent, are tenants going to go to court to enforce their legal rights?  What do you think?

If tenants are two a penny and housing is in short supply, will they risk getting a reputation as a ‘stroppy tenant’ by making complaints?

In his recent article on this blog recently, RLA Chairman Alan Ward suggested that we needed more educated tenants who would challenge landlords thus forcing them to raise their standards.  But this won’t work if there is an oversupply of tenants and an undersupply of rented properties for them to live in.

We need more housesThere has been much criticism in the past of the landlords register suggested by Julie Rugg in her report a few years ago, but it would have helped local authorities keep track of landlords and assist in prosecutions.

The regulation of letting agents recommended in her report is also LONG over due.

Charity landlords

Finally, landlords as a charity.  I trust the Charities Commission are now going to investigate the charitable status of the firm mentioned in the program, the Meridian Foundation.

It might also be a good idea to check up on similar firms too.  Charities get quite a few financial advantages and I am not happy at the prospect of this sort of landlord getting the benefit of them.

Buffer

Important note. If you are reading an old post, remember that the law may have changed since it was written.




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Page 1 of 11

22 Responses to Landlords from hell on Channel four

  1. This is obviously a subject close to my heart and I agree with everything you say.

    I would also add that it is for the council’s TROs like me to prosecute the worst offenders, the violent ones that people are too scared to take on themselves but we are so inundated with allegations of violent harassment and illegal eviction and so understaffed all we can do is put sticking plasters on things and move on to the next case in the queue.

    A lock gets changed, we kick the door in and re-instate or get an injunction. Follow up work in the shape of prosecutions? no time or resources. The result of government cuts in public services.

    Believe it or not I actually agree with what the RLA said about Rugg, that too much regulation of landlords would deter people from investing in property and look for easier options. But I heartily support calls to licence and regulate letting agents. They are supposed to be the housing professionals, the ones providing a service and advice to landlords who dont want to have to learn housing law just to rent a property. That should be the agent’s job.

    Yes there are good agents out there but also literally thousands of rubbish opportunists giving the whole rental industry a bad name. I dont see that regualting and licencing agents would deter investment in the industry, only those sharks already in operation and the industry could well do without their investment

  2. I too saw the program, but do not agree with all the conclusions.

    Firstly the register of landlords does not cure the problem. Though I did not see any interview with any council staff saying they could not find the landlords of these properties (nearly all of whom they were paying Housing Benefit on!), it was very evident that these people could be found. As you say in the article we don’t need more regulation to cure these problems we need more enforcement. Sorry having a new systems that says landlords and agents have to follow the existing laws, would not really help. If these people are willing to so flagrantly break the law currently, why should they follow another law requiring them to be registered?

    I accept that local authority resources are tight but this is not really the real issue. Ben you say you did not have time to do more than the minimum, but might this have not encouraged landlords to feel they could get away with it? A few serious prosecutions may be more effective in “encouraging” reluctant landlords to stay on track.

    The program caused me to wonder if the proceeds of crime could be used in some of these circumstances (where there are criminal offences not just civil ones).

    The comment about available housing is key. If you could flood the rental market with good quality properties tenants would not go to the poor properties as they would have choice. It is rare for a tenant to “choose” a rotten property or a rogue landlord.

    I would like to see councils be much more creative on licensing and use of management orders. Meridian would not be happy if they lost their portfolio under a management order, particularly if co-ordinated across many local authorities but that may need a change in working habits to work more closely (depends on the councils involved as they may or may not already have a working together relationship).

    As I see it local authorities have a fair degree of freedom to introduce licensing schemes following the abolition of CLG approval. Consultation etc is still needed but a scheme correctly crafted would be supported by good local landlords (they could even have a system of not needing licensing if the rules were written that way) and this would take unfair competition (not spending money on repairs and management) from the good landlords. Those who need licensing would then have to pay all the licensing costs and the local authority would not have to fund the scheme. Sorry but we need some inspired changes and leadership on this, the current system is clearly not working.

    Lastly a major contributor to this problem is LHA. This mad system ENCOURAGES landlords with the very worst properties to let to LHA claimants as they get more for the property than they could on the open markets (30 percentile for worst property). What a stupid system!

  3. Some good points there David. And I do agree that propeer prosecutions would help to send a message out but not very far. Back in the 1990s I had a different tactic. I didnt advise landlords, wouldnt negotiate, just prosecute but the level of fines that were awarded for even serious offences were a joke. 1 landlord who used a gun on a woman and her kids got a £400 fine. What sort of message does that send?

    A few month’s back Bristol got a whopping £23,000 penalty against one of their violennt landlords but that is so so rare. If courts imposed more penalties at that level it would discourage rogue landlords.

    Also the worst offenders, who I would still prosecute, are the type who already have a string of other offences so dont give a toss.

    I take on board your comments about Manchester knowing that company and its directors but it isnt simply a matter of finding the perpetrators, but gathering sufficent evidence to prosecute that will stand up. Ask any copper how hard it is to get sufficent evidence in any case. It is in the evidence gathering and putting together of a case that the time and resources are eaten up.

    A few months back, in a 3 week period my co TRO and I were in court 13 times seeking injunctions for re-entry on illegal evictions. Even if we had 5 TROs we wouldnt have been able to prosecute that amount of cases

  4. Thanks Ben

    I have no problem with not always prosecuting, quite the reverse. Indeed my very suggestion of being more selective in the targeting was all about not putting more burdens on the good landlords (who may then leave the market, cause a lack of supply, drive up rents and attract more undesirable landlords). It is about targeting the local authorities limited resources where it can most effectively be used, not waste their time when it is not needed. Look at how busy many local authorities were with mandatory licensing. Many of the properties that they were processing applications on were not significantly changed by being licensed. The good landlords applied, clogged up the system for little benefit, and there was no resource to target the real culprits.

    I agree with the ridiculous penalties, but I don’t see that registering landlords would make any difference to that (the point about knowing the Manchester culprits).

    The fact that the penalties are so low is part of the thought behind using other legislation like the Proceeds of Crime. From memory Liverpool and at least one other have successfully used this for unlicensed HMOs. Since you could go back to 2006 in recovery of rent the landlord would be hit much much harder. These people are often more criminal and landlord and should be treated as such.

    Local Authorities have a range of tools to use. on the surface there are plenty to use in this case. The councils could through licensing and management orders take over the properties, however, I know from discussion with one local authority that they are reluctant to use a management order on a large landlord as they are not convinced they could do a better job of managing them (their words not mine)!

    I simply don’t think we need more legislation, for goodness sake much of the legislation we have is not complied with and so writing more seems a waste of time (how many EPC enforcement cases do we see?) What we do need is for something to be done differently as clearly the current system is failing.

  5. I’m more into the civil claims for damages angle here, but that’s because I’m in the legal profession myself!!!!!

    In the borough where I used to work my old firm was very close to the local TRO in that borough and he would routinely send us illegaly evicted tenants for us to injunct and claim against once initial sternly worded letters had been doled out so that he could get on with dishing out housing advice rather than spending time in Court. Ben, maybe it would take the strain off you and your fellow TROs if it was routine to give advice and do the sharply worded letters but then refer out to solicitors afterwards?

    I appreciate there may not be many L&T solicitors who do legal aid about but a few five-figure damages claims should surely send the right sort of message that if you Rachmanise your tenants, you’ll pay.

    Another possibility would be some sort of website whereby people can upload names, addresses, photographs, and telephone numbers of landlords who have been convicted of illegally evicting tenants, and/or had judgement against them in civil court for same. Together with case reference numbers, of course, to prevent libel actions!!!!

    There’s nothing like the threat of public humiliation to keep folks in line.

  6. Well this programme did not surprise me in the least as I have been involved for over 30 years in representing tenant’s interests. What was a shock however was an organisation behaving like this which was a registered charity? I am sure the charity commissioners will have their attention drawn to this and investigate it.

    I have seen the comments by TRO’s about this on this site and I wholly support what they do. However not all Local Authorities are pro-active as a lot depends on the attitude of the legal department. AS far as I am aware my own local authority have only ever brought one prosecution under the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 and they did not recover all their costs which resulted in them adopting the attitude that it was not cost effective to take these types of prosecutions. The people who work as TROs/Homelessness Prevention are very good but nothing happens once it gets to the legal department. Frustration to say the least.

    Whilst I was in legal practice I specialised in housing law for over 30 years and still do some legal community based advice in this area. I now do academic work on housing issues having recently in 2010 produced a paper on the tenancy deposit scheme which was soon out of date following the Court of Appeals decisions.

    As was rightly identified is that tenants do have the right to bring a claim under s11 PTA 1985 for the disrepair but with the insecurity of ASTs and the likelihood of a retaliatory evictions (something else I will be examine in depth academically very soon) then it is difficult for tenants to have the courage to take action knowing that it is likely that they will be evicted using the s21 procedure.

    Clearly if the tenancy is an Assured Tenancy the position would be different. However that leads me to another point and that is about taking most of housing outside the scope of legal aid. This will be a disaster for tenants in this situation

    Assuming a landlord had grounds to pursue tenants for rent arrears or some other ground for possession a good tactic of course is to counterclaim for the disrepair. The legal aid cuts appear to mean that legal aid would be available to defend possession claims but as counterclaim are a separate claim under Part 20 it appears that legal aid will not be available for them so in a lot of ways the availability of legal aid in possession proceedings but not the counterclaim will just be a nonsense.

    Imagine a world where one legal representative has to deal with the possession under legal aid and defends by way of set off and another firm, or maybe the same firm, has to deal with the disrepair claim separately by way of non win no fee. Clearly there could be issues on costs if dealt with by the same firm dependent on levels of arrears etc. It may be that spate representation would be required and then orders to consolidate. What a nightmare!

    As I understand breaches of quiet enjoyment will no longer be in scope especially in relation to damages. A lot of the behaviour that was seen clearly was a breach of this. Whilst doing this type of work we would deal with an average of at least one case a week and on many other occasions there could be several applications to the court for injunctions and a claim for damages in a week and out of hours as well.

    Just think of the scenario where breach of quiet enjoyment is no longer in scope this is a just a recipe for disaster.

    Anyhow I just wanted to sound off a little on this.

    Ron

  7. All any TRO wants is a local solicitor who:-
    is cogniscent with landlord/tennat law.
    legally aidable.
    prepared to drop everything for an emergency.
    Prepared to talk to the TRO on a one – one basis without carping on about authorisation letters………we are, after all working on the same case.

    That would make my life so much easier. I used to have that relationship with Matt Blake of Cunningham Blake and we made a terrific team, getting things sorted in hours between us. I have yet to find a replacement.I could probably give a local solicitor about £100,000 worth of work a year if they would just come on board and work with us.

    @David, I dont disagree. Too much regulation would deter investement, I have said this again and again. The problem is the present legislation, which Monseiur Shapps and Shelter claim is adequate isnt. Rogue landlords dotn get whacked anywhere near enough, and I will not waste my time persuing someone who has beaten their tenant up, only to get a paltry fine. I will report them to the HSE for not having gas safe certificates and the tax office for not paying tax on the rental income…..lateral thinking.

    Having said that I recently phoned the tax office to bubble a landlord with 50 properties, is a people trafficker, money launderer and has a complaint against them that I registered with the aerious crime Agency (SOCA) who I have never heard back from, and possibly a murderer in a very publicly high profile case that you WILL have heard of(Obviously I cant go into that bit just yet) , with several AKAs only to have them tell me their system doesnt allow them to log complaints against multiple alias’s. To quote a character on the excellent Radio 4 series “Down the Line”….’What is Point?’

    I am well versed in all the various routes that can be used but these offences are largely criminal and therefore the standarad of evidence is ‘Beyond all reasonable doubt’.

    I once trained 43 coppers in landlord and tenant law and joked that it was so hard to get enough evidence to do a prosecution that i was no wonder that the police fitted people up from time to time. There was a moments horrifed silence and then a guffaw of recosgnition at the frustration of it all

  8. Thank you all for your comments. Ron, your research sounds interesting. Please keep me informed! I would be happy to write about or publish any interesting findings you come up with.

    Retaliatory eviction is a difficult problem – if you make it impossible (which is what the tenants organisations are calling for) then there is the problem of deterring landlords and investment in the PRS – or so the story goes.

  9. Tessa, if you want you can throw the name of the firm I work for on there for this kind of thing (once I’ve discussed it with our head honcho) – note new e-mail address also.

    I for one am always up for thrashing some little hoogstratens.

    As regards retaliatory evictions, the sorts of landlords who do that sort of caper also cut other corners, like not licencing HMOs or not protecting deposits. Both of which can nobble any attempt at serving a s. 21 notice…

  10. I really understand Ben’s comments. Thats what I used to do. Been out at 1am in the morning getting orders served or access sorted and on an undertaking to issue that day. Very tiring but worth the effort to protect some of the most vulerable in society. Sound like you and I have a lot in common Ben.

    Ron

  11. I concure with what jS says about retaliatory evictions they tend not to comply with anything. Where I live had a ‘seaside landlady mentality’ which means that these things do happen along the lines outlined. However you come accross those who know a few things where they do protect the deposit but just breach everything else in sight! I’ve always been willing to take these things on.

    Of course I acknowledge that there are good landlords who provide high quality accomdation but the ones that advisers or lawyers come across tend to be in the category where they were not good. At times criminals have used their ill gotten gain to become involved in the letting busainess.

    Two bad examples of extremes is that one tenant had complained about a staircase. She was 8 months pregnant. She returned home to find the staircase had been removed and there was access by a ladder to her floor. The landlords reaction is that as she had complained he thought she did not want the staircase there!

    Another example was where the Council had served a notice for repairs to the rear wall. Whilst the tenants were in bed the landlord attended with workman and used a bulldozer to remove the rear wall –l/l said theres no wall now that needs reparing.

    Both cases referred to the Council but no prosecution. Outrageous. Sorry this is a subject I could tell so many stories about and gets me angry that people are treated like this and yet the government just does not want any regulation and takes steps to make tenants more vulnerable from the BAD landlords.

    Ron

  12. Ron your work sounds very interesting and I would love to hear more too. Keep in touch.

    You also open a different can of worms over the relaitonship between TROs and their legal teams. I have 2 distinct perspectives on this.

    As a TRO since 1990 I can say that my experience is that we have to do all the neogotiation work, the injunctions, the PACE interviews, trancribe the tapes into Section 9 statements, serve the summons. Legal just do the representation on the day.

    Speaking as a trainer who works with countless people who do my job in other authorites, everytime I mention their legal department, eyes go to heaven and shoulders slump.

    I think think there is a gap between the frontliners like me, who are trying to do the job, get a result, and the legal teams who have an eye on making sure the council doesnt get sued for vexatious litigation. This causes a rift betwee us.

  13. The relationship between the Frontliners and their legal dept sounds like a good blog post topic Ben. Maybe we can work on that later.

    The examples you give Ron are so depressing, it seems outrageous that nothing seems to be being done about it. Usual story about the poor and disadvantaged getting the worst of it.

    Still at least Channel four are on the case. Would be nice if they could do a follow up program later.

  14. @JS. Yeah retaliatory eviction is the main threat. A tenant can come in with loads of valid complaints but if they try to action them, get justice, the landlord just serves a S21. they lose their home for it.

    @Tessa, Yes indeedy. A subject for future thought. TROs and housing advisers cant do the full prosecution without the backing of the legal department who always err on the side of being risk averse.

    @Ron. I love the idea of the landlord removing a wall to remove the problem LOL there is a perverse genius in that. I once had a landlord brick all the windows of his tenants house and then fill a communal steel wheelie bin with concrete and sink it into a pre-dug hole in the porch so he couldnt get back in. When he called the cops they said they would arrest him if he tried to remove it because it would be criminal damage as he didnt own the bin haha

    One of my favourite authors, the late, great Kurt Vonnegiut once said that sometimes an idea can be so insane that the only sane reposne is to laugh

  15. Ben – the point was, though, that if landlords cut corners on repairs they’ll be likely to cut corners on deposit protection and thus a retaliatory s. 21 can be nobbled?

    I also have now watched the programme and am even more determined that there should be a site where people can name and shame criminal landlords, together with reports of the Court proceedings at which they were convicted of / found liable for illegally evicting a tenant.

  16. Also, Ron, apologies to double post, but I ran into one case where the landlord harassed tenants out their property and the Council’s TRO (the Council responsible’s name and the identity of the TRO are omitted to avoid libel actions, save that they’re in Surrey) said there was nothing that could be done. This was because the landlord made his money repaving roads and had done every road in the town before quitting and going into property, and he had an arrangement with the Council that they would refer him homeless persons. So they didn’t want to upset the applecart.

    I’ve posted about this before, I know, but I think it bears repeating.

    This does make you wonder – are Councils sometimes deliberately soft on rogue landlords because they don’t want to upset other applecarts?

  17. You say “in his recent article on this blog recently, RLA Chairman Alan Ward suggested that we needed more educated tenants who would challenge landlords thus forcing them to raise their standards. ”

    I am such a tenant who has been treated ABOMINABLY by a crooked landlord, including blatant criminal offences. I cannot afford to get him to court for the endless harassment, though I am still hoping to get him to the Small Claims court for the disrepair. I have of course been given serial S21 possession notices for complaining (after a gas leak; and the following year he again refused to do the gas safety certificate!).

    So educated tenants haven’t got a snowball’s chance without money or legal aid. And the landlords just get away with it. Without accessible legal help against these crooks, tenants like me just keep getting trampled. Any offers of assistance welcome!

  18. AC I heard today that the government are re-instating legal aid for harassment and illegal evcition. Not read it myself but if it is true Hooorah!!!!!!

    As for Gas safe. You need to report your landlord to the Health and safety executive. They can be reluctant to prosecute but when they do the fines are impressive. Push your case.

    People die because of carbon monoxide poisoning, not having gas certs is unforgiveable

  19. Ben – thanks, I will be looking out for that reinstatement of legal aid for harassment etc. But it will be too little too late. As for legal aid: I have fought off 2 retaliatory evictions so far, and am awaiting a hearing for a third, after the landlord tried and failed to use the accelerated eviction procedure. I have had appalling and blatantly incorrect advice from 2 of 3 legal aid paralegals and have had to teach myself how to put together a defence in terms of housing law. Most tenants won’t have a clue hen a (para)legal adviser doesn’t know what they’re talking about (or just can’t be bothered).

    I did contact the Health and Safety Exec after the landlord refused (in writing!) to respond to my THIRD request for the gas safety certificate. The matter is then regarded by the authorities as ‘solved’.

    The point for me as a tenant concerns the fact that I’m not getting what I paid for (safe premises), have had to spend many stressful days fighting for my rights and have had to appear in court 4 times already because the landlord simply turned around and issued a S21 possession notice.

    Retaliatory evictions should be illegal. Decent legal aid-funded help for victims of these landlords should be EASILY available.
    It’s all round unforgivable!

  20. Re Landlords from Hell. Landlord seems to be a dirty word and we constantly receive a “bashing” and I’m fed up with it! They should do a prog’ about tenants from hell as that “would” be entertaining as some of the tenants I’ve had to deal with have been absolute lunatics! Also, because one of my properties has stood empty for two weeks it has been broken into and had all the copper plumbing ripped out! P.S. I’m all for squatters being kicked out, about time too!! There are too many do-gooders wrecking this country! I’m sorry but I prefer to tell it like it is!!

  21. No need to apologise for airing your views Peter. Its too many people thinking the same that causes the problems. Differing views keeps us balanced.

    There have been quite a few tenant from hell programmes. I think what is unusual about the Dispatches one is it is one of the first on Lanldords. Loads of people I met expressed shock at the programme because they didnt know it went on but for people in my end of housing it is just day to day stuff. Too common to bother raising an eyebrow over.

    Having lunatic tenants must be very frustrating but it goes with the territory. If you were a dairy farmer it would be pointless to get angry when the cows shit on the floor haha

    The problem with the proposed criminalisation of squatters is that it isnt really an attack on squatters but trespass generally, like a stealth attack on a different target. There have always been adequate laws in place to oik squatters out but the law would criminalise protests where people occupy land, such as the old Greenham Common protest of the 1980s.

    Much as I dislike tree protestors, particularly those stripey tights the women wear, I wouldnt argue with their right as citizens to protest in a time honoured fashion and that is the real target of the proposed Act, not a bunch of crusties occupying a derelict buidling




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About the post author:

Tessa Shepperson

Tessa is a lawyer specialising in residential landlord and tenant law. She runs the Landlord Law website (now in its 12th year) and is a director of Easy Law Training Ltd and Your Law Store. Tessa also sits on the Property Redress Scheme Council. When not working she enjoys reading, cooking and messing around on the computer. You can also find her on Google



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