by | Aug 30, 2020 | Safer Renting

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Shelter first coined the term “Rogue landlord” back in 2011.

It was a phrase nobody had heard of at that time and Shelter worked hard at getting traction for the idea.

I remember speaking to one of the campaign’s creators, Robbie De Santos about where they were going with it. He said it was important to create a flagpole to rally people around.

I was openly critical of it at that time, feeling the term “Rogue” wasn’t really helpful in housing enforcement world. What is a rogue? Someone who sets out to break the law or someone who breaks laws they didn’t know were there?

These sorts of arguments still rage in the industry. I recently spoke to a senior EHO who was of the view that a landlord could not be referred to as a criminal until they had been prosecuted for an offence, whereas others in the business argue that criminal activity is criminal activity, regardless.

I still struggle with this concept of “Rogue landlords” when I have my legal head on but admit that at least the notion of landlords behaving badly was planted in the public consciousness to a certain extent and government have drafted legislation off of the back of this ever-present problem that was re-framed but I’m of the opinion that the term might have already become outdated in the past 9 years.

A decade now of austerity measures, a chronic housing shortage in many areas of the UK and out of control rents being driven by increased demand have attracted criminals looking to make a fast buck with limited risk of detection or prosecution. In the same way that trends in drugs come and go as fashions change while dealers move from Heroin to Ketamine, depending on where the most demand is.

The internet has also added wind assistance to criminal activity, as so many renters source accommodation through online portals, although high street letting agents are no guarantee of provenance, given so many now run shady companies with a conventional shop front that suggests trustworthiness.

Many of the people Safer Renting deal with procured accommodation from agents sitting conventionally next door to WH Smith or Greggs that casual passers by may not even notice or just think are authentic businesses, when in reality they are the most appalling bunch of crooks, stealing deposits, running Rent 2 Rent scams, giving out licence agreements to tenants. If you have personal experience of how they operate, through dealing with numerous repeat complaints.

Nobody knows how big the shadow private rented sector is because like all social trends, such things are measured in ‘Big data’ and the English Housing Survey, relied on in many a report,  doesn’t set foot in the kinds of properties that housing enforcement officers work in.

The landlord community often dismisses concerns with the oft heard refrain about a few bad apples, which may have been true in 2007 but a mile wide of the situation in 2020 and no, I cant offer any big data to back that statement up, for the reasons I just mentioned and for the same reasons mentioned in my previous article on the absence of statistics on illegal eviction.

What I can say is that I have been working in housing enforcement for 30 years and have never seen the amount or variety of criminal activities that I have seen in the last 10 of those years. Its everywhere but so much of it is hidden that people don’t believe it is going on.

Each morning I walk to my local shop to get a paper and have recently been passing a house with a lot of building work going on. Looking through the windows you can see stud walling going up and peeking over the garden fence you see a strange extension, that I very much doubt has planning permission.

All the signs that in a very short space of time, this place is going to be housing 15 migrant workers, all paying rent with no receipts given, a complete absence of fire precautions, nary a tenancy agreement between them and generating £5,000 a month in rental income, which works fine until the local authority identify the property, at which point the harassment and illegal evictions start.

Travelling on the top deck of busses provides a glorious view into accommodation above shops where you can clearly see bunk beds stacked around rooms and train journeys offering a wonderful opportunity to survey the proliferation of weird outbuildings and beds in sheds that provide an alternative landscape to the shadow PRS.

Criminality has also become more varied since the introduction of legislation aimed at regulating it, as the crooks, undeterred by laws, devise ever more fiendish and convoluted methods of evading detection and avoiding prosecution.

Each new law being met with a new scam.

The use of aliases and chains of companies some genuine and some fake, that are involved in renting a single property means that your standard housing enforcement officer needs to also be a fraud investigator these days,  if they are to make connections between the various parties involved.

Environmental health officers, Planning enforcement officers, Tenancy Relations Officers, licensing officers are all running to keep up with the explosion in numbers as dodgy operators enter the market each week.

Its not a few rotten apples, its an industry. You have to be embedded in it to know that and I’ll keep flagging up what is going on, regardless of whether or not I come across as the Greta Thunberg of the PRS.

By Ben Reeve Lewis

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About Cambridge House Safer Renting

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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