Rogue Landlord awareness is spreading
Legislation continues to move against rogue landlords and we seem daily inundated by new TV series on the latest crop that even I, as an occasional rent-a-gob in such programmes am getting bored with, turning down more invites than I accept these days.
Eight years ago Shelter first coined the phrase “Rogue landlord”.
I wrote a piece for the Guardian at the time saying I didn’t think it was helpful and was too wishy-washy and ill-defined as a term. You can read it here.
Shelter contacted me and said they were using it as a flag around which to rally awareness and in that respect, I happily eat my hat.
Private Rented Sector (PRS) properties are becoming more worrying
The term seems to have taken over from “Rachmanism” as the go-to phrase for people everywhere but while awareness has been spreading amongst public and journalist alike, I’ve been diving deeper into this world in my enforcement activities and news from the front is not good.
Whereas my previous beef was that the phrase was too all-encompassing, catching poor buggers who just broke a law they didn’t know was there, I have found, in the preceding years that it doesn’t go far enough in reflecting the systematic and organised criminal use of the private rented sector for nefarious purposes. Purposes that you only see when you tackle poor properties in a multi-agency way.
One of the more worrying trends is the way that PRS properties are used to house exploited victims of people trafficking and human slavery.
People trafficking and the PRS
I have first-hand experience of this. I am for the next two years, working in a specially funded project looking into this very issue.
These poor unfortunates don’t own homes, they aren’t in social housing and they aren’t placed in squats, as this draws the attention of the authorities. So the only place they can go is the PRS.
Sometimes this is with the knowledge and connivance of the landlord and agent and sometimes the landlord is unaware of such use.
Back in 2003 the Palermo Protocol was adopted across the world and is enshrined in UK law under the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
Human trafficking is defined in part, as:-
“The recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”
National Crime Agency is helping
These crimes are investigated and dealt with by the National Crime Agency who also do their best to raise awareness wherever they can.
They have created a procedure called the National Referral Mechanism (NRM) through which people who think they may have found signs can pass their information over for investigation.
So what are those signs, that people in my kind of job will see?
Typically we will go into a property looking for standard breaches of HMO licensing, overcrowding and conditions, as well as allegations of harassment and threats of eviction. No changes there and business as usual – but its what we find these days that is more unusual and alarming.
Overcrowding has always been a mainstay but often you find that all of the occupants are from the same ethnic community, sharing language and background. They also have the same agent/landlord.
The evidence is startling
We have interpreter facilities in the form of phone services so we can talk to these people but more often than not, they don’t want to talk to us. Many grab their coats and disappear the minute we arrive.
When you go back a couple of days later they have either all gone or had several replacements. The properties are like constantly revolving safe houses and attempts to deal with them using the Housing Acts or enforcement notices are a bit like flies on a horse’s bum, a minor inconvenience to the horse.
Let us clarify ‘illegal immigrant’
The inexperienced may think that these residents are all illegal immigrants but first lets clear up that terminology. You can’t be an illegal person. More accurately such people would be “Undocumented migrants”.
Secondly, you have to understand how trafficking works as defined by the Palermo Protocol.
An exploited person doesn’t have to be brought to a host country as an undocumented migrant, they don’t even have to be dragged against their will. They could be willing to come, have paid their fare and have all their resident paperwork in place. It is what happens to them when they’re brought here that is the defining point.
And here’s just one example I have witnessed
I was talking to a Chinese lady in one property, a 2 bed flat with 32 Chinese folks stacked up in bunk beds. She explained to me that she came to the UK when a gang paid her fare and made arrangements. They told her that she would have work and accommodation when she got here.
She wasn’t told how much she would owe the gang or what work she would be put to, which turned out to be in the sex trade and cannabis production. Given her imposed employment she wasn’t about to approach the authorities for assistance once she realised what she had gotten into.
Two days later
The flat was completely empty when we returned to meet the landlord who genuinely had no idea what his property was being used for and was understandably mortified.
These situations are commonplace
This situation is seen a lot by housing enforcement types in London.
However, but I was reading the latest report of the end of year summary for the NRM, published in March 2018 and there is a big disparity in referrals from local authorities. Single figures being the most common, although the vast majority are reports of trafficked children, so my assumption is that these referrals may come from social workers more used to child protection than housing enforcement bods.
The bigger picture
More difficult is building a picture of how widespread it is. My outline above is anecdotal but what is needed is reliable data. There is such data available but it is only compiled from prosecutions carried out by the NCA and it is acknowledged that much of the problem is hidden – as you would expect.
Figures for people trafficked for organ harvesting are very thin on the ground because it’s so hard to grab the data.
Despite the sterling efforts of the NCA to raise awareness among housing professionals, with whom I spend my days, the message is patchy.
Although I’ve been out on countless raids with the Police and UKBA down the years, I didn’t know where to report these signs until recently.
National Crime Agency – Do your bit!
So whether you are a landlord, an agent, a housing worker, or just a concerned neighbour, if you have any suspicions, go here to the National Crime Agency
As I said near the start, the term Rogue Landlord is nowhere near appropriate for these kinds of activity and my lot, TROs, EHO, planning enforcement, Building control etc, walk into these set-ups all the time.