by | Nov 21, 2020 | Safer Renting

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Back In August I went out on an illegal eviction, armed with our locksmith to break the tenant back in.

I couldn’t even begin to count how often I’ve done this. Its standard procedure, s6 Criminal Law Act.

In this instance the individual evicted was a single man with health problems, placed there by a charity with the assistance of a local authority. He is over 35 years old so on full benefit rate and the rent for the property is £1,000 a month. The same rate as the other 6 occupants in this illegally converted property, netting the owner a clear £7,000 a month in rental income.

Land Registry revealed no mortgage.

As you can see from the photo accompanying this piece, he wasnt renting a room per se, he was renting the illegally converted, garage…….I’ll repeat, for £1,000 a month of public money.

He wasn’t meant to. The council procurement team that had initially visited the property signed it off as a 6 bed unit. The garage came into being after the inspection had been carried out.

The visit also revealed that the same landlord also owned the property next door with similarly unauthorised conversions and with another poor soul in that garage, bringing in a further £7,000 a month, that’s £168,000 rental income, per annum, for housing ex street homeless people in unauthorised conversions and illegally evicting them when they complain.

On this visit the commonly used the ubiquitous“Lead tenant” installed by the landlords to keep an eye on the property and call him when people from the local authority turn up, was on the phone before we got to the front door and 10 minutes later two huge men arrived, glowering menacingly at myself, the 2 local authority officers and our client.

Now I cant say I was shocked by any of this. When you work every day with the most desperate people, living under the worst, most exploitative landlords, its just another day in the office but I still get angry about it.

The model for this scam and it is a scam, is to focus on the single homeless market. Those not owed much in the way of homelessness duties.

The renters have to be over 35 to ensure they get the maximum benefit rent level.

The landlords justify to all-comers that they are saints, providing accommodation for people who would be on the street if it wasn’t for them, when in reality, they are just “Tenant farming”, treating their charges as a crop to be harvested and thrown onto the street when their problems, sometimes drink, drug or mental health related, create property management issues that they have no interest in managing.

All of which is bad enough if it weren’t for the concomitant fact that local authorities and charities are so desperate for accommodation for their clients that they willingly place people in these properties with these landlords. Often without even visiting the accommodation first to see if all is in order.

Now I know some will protest at this, arguing that their organization do visit and keep a close eye on the people placed there and the way the properties are run.

I’m sure you do but too many don’t. This is a fact I will happily stand by. There are simply so many people looking to live in too few places, that not only are few questions asked when a property is offered, the people offering them are often gratefully welcomed by the council or charity.

These landlord and property management companies thrive precisely because they know that there is a desperate need for accommodation to discharge homelessness duties and just get people off the street and that as a result they exploit that need.

These people monetise homelessness and the housing crisis, driving Bentleys as a result and even, as was the case with my incident in August, being able to hire thugs to sit in a £60,000 car intimidating these same people they are receiving masses in benefit rents to house.

This is also not a small cottage industry, its huge. I’ve investigated more cases than I care to remember and they always involve hundreds of interconnected companies and individuals with properties all over the UK.

Anyone in housing enforcement sees it going on. The minute you go into these properties and start talking to the occupants about how they came by the property, you already know what the backstory is going to be and more often than not, the landlords or property management company is also known to you in other areas, under different company names.

Homelessness units and charities don’t partner up with these people because they want to, they do it because there are more homeless people than places to put them.

Warning flags hoisted by enforcement officers are often ignored and even when the reality of these “Housing providers” is acknowledged, an oft heard pragmatic refrain is “We know but its that landlord or its  the street”.

I have been training homelessness units in a certain part of the west country for the best part of 15 years and seen their most notorious rogue landlord grow into the biggest provider of accommodation for the discharge of homelessness duties for their councils.

Years ago, private landlords didn’t provide accommodation for local authorities and charities but that hasn’t been the case for a decade or so and some of the more savvy among the rogue landlord community have realised the desperate need out there and have found that the best way of avoiding pesky housing enforcement is to hide in plain sight, as a valued service provider to the homeless.

I was really heartened to read this week that Labour MP Steve McCabe’s Supported Accommodation private member’s bill is to get it’s 2nd reading on the 15th January, highlighting exactly this problem..

Obviously there have been enough of us down the years raising inconvenient truths.

Steve says:-

“My experience is that much of the non-commissioned accommodation is anything but supportive and has become a goldmine because of the ease with which owners receive government money for vulnerable people in desperate need of accommodation,”

Where I differ from Steve though is that in my experience, these are often “Commissioned” suppliers rather than “Non commissioned” and that’s what makes this problem all the more heinous.

Its not going to stop until the organisations using these people for accommodation, thoroughly vet them, not only on sign-up but regularly thereafter.

·         Checking that the property has planning permission, that it conforms to property management standards and safety.

·         Regular interviews with renters to ensure they are being treated well.

·         Background checks on the companies and directors, regularly updated to see if the property is being periodically flipped, that the company director status remains consistent, not changing names every few months.

·         That the people the renters deal with are always the same.

·         If rent is inclusive of bills, ask for assurances from the utility company, not the landlord, that the meters are registered and the bills actually paid.

·         Ask for a declaration of their property portfolio and check with other local authorities to see if they are known to them.

All things that housing enforcement types do routinely to look for signs of scams.

  by Ben Reeve Lewis

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The Cambridge House Safer Renting team present the ‘go-to’ blog on the world of the Shadow Private Rented Sector.

We monitor the world of rogue landlord and agent activity, publicise developments, circulate innovative ideas, keep readers abreast of changes in laws and regulations, raising awareness of criminal trends and scams, celebrate successful actions and interview people working in the field, connecting up anyone involved, from tenants and their advisers, to enforcement officers, lawyers and journalists.

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