Times have certainly changed
I woke up on Friday morning, 2nd February and realised that it was my anniversary, 28 Years of dealing with rogue landlords.
Back in 1990 the average day for a freshly minted TRO was spent dealing with harassment and illegal eviction as you would expect but the landlords were different then. There were a lot less of them for a start and they tended to only have one or two properties.
This was also during a horrendous period where mortgage interest rates were through the roof, about 15% if my memory serves me and many moved in with relatives to rent out their properties in an attempt to keep hold of their home and fell into the trap of all amateur landlords, not knowing the first thing about landlord/tenant law.
I dealt with stabbings, guns being pulled on tenants and one memorable occasion when a landlord went to a property with his henchmen, tried to cut a tenants throat and sever his girlfriend’s ear after they complained to me.
Luckily they broke free and ran before the job could be completed.
One incident that impressed me with its single-mindedness was the Deptford landlord who waited until his tenant was visiting family in the North and then bricked up the windows and sunk a steel wheelie bin in a hole he had dug in front of the front door and filled it with concrete so it couldn’t be moved.
Now THAT’S what you call an illegal eviction. Even I laughed but being a TRO in 2018 is a different ballgame entirely.
How different things are now
For a start the number of landlords these days has grown exponentially, which inevitably means a percentage growth in rogue operators. Plus the PRS has so much money passing through it that it has inevitably attracted organised criminal activity.
The days of ‘Big Ron’, a lone man on a mission, has morphed into Romanian and Bulgarian gangs, people trafficking, fraud, cannabis farms and massively overcrowded death traps, all using the PRS as their money spinner. Not to mention reckless investors snapping up more buy to lets than they can handle and having no cash reserves to deal with piddling inconsequential annoyances like repairs, fire safety or possession orders.
The growth in rogue landlords and agents and the complexity of their operations has not been met with a concomitant growth in TROs or other enforcement officers though, quite the opposite in fact. There are more of them and less of us than at any time I can recall since I started.
Brent Council takes on a Rogue Landlord
So I was pleased to see a news story reported last week of Brent council in North London winning a landmark decision in successfully winning a court case allowing them to take action under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 to pursue landlords found guilty of criminal breaches of environmental health and safety regulations.
Its one of those stories that most would simply glance over to get to the news that Arsenal have been saved by Mesut Ozil signing a new deal for the next few years (Punches the air in triumph) without realising that in housing enforcement world it is potentially as important as being told you’ve just been left £1 million in a will.
Its all about the money
As I said above, the reason there is so much criminal activity in the PRS these days is because of the money that can be made.
Being a rogue landlord or agent is only ever about the money and so often its virtually risk-free, given how few enforcement bods there are, operating on £3 and a luncheon voucher, using laws and procedures so fiendishly complex and open to challenge that it is only the odd time that the penalty really stings.
Threatening legal letters have no impact
The 21st Century rogue operator will laugh off warning letters or threats from planning enforcement. They can even bear the odd substantial fine, after all, they can always fold up their company before paying up and with the widespread use of aliases, even their names don’t get besmirched.
But now this key decision by the courts.
Brent’s lawyer, Edmund Robb of Prospect Law correctly said:-
“This ruling opens the door for local authorities to go after these slum landlords who are earning hundreds of thousands of pounds on each house”.
A landmark case
Brent’s case involved legal action against landlords who crammed 31 people into a property licensed for 7. Before decent readers gasp you need to understand that I walk into such properties all the time.
So common have they become, you grow to expect it rather than be surprised. It isn’t an isolated case by any means and is why I see the importance of this decision.
The Brent landlord is looking at POCA confiscation application for around £112,000. A bit more of a wake-up call than a warning letter from council tax don’t you think?
My enthusiasm is tinged with reservations, however. Up until now even when successfully being awarded financial penalties councils don’t have the best track record when it comes to actually chasing the money. Partly down to resources again but, it has to be said, a cultural blind-spot in many councils.
Even the most dogged of enforcement officers, who after 28 years I still count myself to be, has no experience of the legal process of recovering the money. That would be dealt with by an officer in an entirely different department, with a pile of other orders in their inbox and no inbuilt passion to see justice done against rogue landlords.
Success like this needs CEO backing
Enforcement officers can huff and puff all they like but to make it work needs chief executives to announce the POCA route as a corporate commitment. Newham’s flagship enforcement practices got to be that way because the Mayor Newham backed and promoted it.
I would really hate for the facility to use POCA to be just consigned as another tool in the box that goes rusty through non-use and call on all chief execs and Mayors who might read this to get behind your people and make POCA claims AND Recovery of the money, a corporate commitment.
Chucking out the usual templated press release saying
“We are sending a clear message”…
”Won’t tolerate this sort of thing”
When a successful prosecution has been achieved means nothing whatsoever if you don’t secure the money.