A new on-line resource will collect names of rogue landlords and agents convicted of offences relating to their property businesses.
Tenants will be in a position to check-out their prospective landlords or letting agents to see if they have a history of offending.
The move comes as the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) has been forced to release the name of every property firm convicted of housing offences in England and Wales following a ruling by the Information Commissioner.
Justice officials were ordered to disclose the data after the Commissioner, who arbitrates in freedom of information disputes, ruled businesses are not entitled to the same protections as individuals.
The data reveals the most prosecuted property firm is Burnley-based Aspire Group Developments, which rents out hundreds of properties across former Lancashire mill towns. It has been successfully prosecuted five times under the Housing Act 2004, far more than most of the other companies on the database.
Aspire is owned by Jamie Carter, a former Barclays bank management trainee turned property developer, who built up his rental empire by buying from people ‘desperate to sell’ and knock down prices in auctions. It has assets worth just over £13m.
When he was profiled in a property magazine in 2007, Carter was described as having a ‘Midas touch’. But Aspire’s court appearances reveal a different side.
Aspire Home Lettings, the former name of Aspire Group Developments, was prosecuted last year after it failed to make repairs to dilapidated pigeon-infested house with broken windows in Oldham. The 80-year-old tenant complained to Oldham Council but Aspire ignored a notice requiring it to make improvements within 56 days.
It was also prosecuted by Burley Council for ignoring a litany of problems in one of its properties, including blocked drains and overflowing waste pipes.
Despite this record, Aspire has received £168,690 in housing benefit so far this year from Burnley Council. Last year it received £184,287.
Three other convicted firms received housing benefit in 2013. Midas Property Management was paid £369,880 despite renting out flats in ‘an appalling and dangerous state of repair’ in Liverpool last year.
The two highest fines were imposed on Watchstar Ltd and Watchacre Ltd, which are both owned by Mehmet Parlak, who has been branded a ‘prolific’ and ‘rogue landlord’ by Haringey Council.
Mr Parlak was fined £40,000 for offences relating to four houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) in Tottenham, North London, in 2013. Council officers found faulty fire alarms and obstructed fire escape in the properties, some of which housed young children.
Mr Parlak was also fined £23,000 in 2012 for renting out an unlicensed, overcrowded HMO, which posed a fire risk for tenants including children in Tottenham. Officers found conditions ‘so poor they severely compromised the safety and comfort of tenants’.
Freemans accountants of Southgate, London, which acts for Mr Parlak’s firms, said Watchstar Ltd and Watchacre Ltd had met their legal obligations. ‘They have paid their fines. The licences are all in place,’ said a spokesperson. ‘Everything is up to date and there is an agent that manages the properties.’
Cardiff based Topaz Property Company Ltd was second most prosecuted firm, with four housing convictions. Last year it was fined for renting out two unlicensed HMOs in Newport and an unsafe, substandard house HMO in Cardiff. It was also prosecuted after a woman was found living in a dangerous building it had been ordered to clear immediately.
Chartered Institute of Environmental Health’s (CIEH) vice president Stephen Battersby said criminal landlords should not be able to operate in the housing market.
‘The fact that these firms have been prosecuted successfully means they can safely be described as criminal – that is fact. These are the firms who should not be allowed to operate in the private rented sector,’ he said.
Currently there is little to stop convicted landlords from renting out homes although councils with licensing schemes carry out fit and proper person checks, which take into account prosecutions.
Mr Battersby said the firms on the database were only the ‘tip of the iceberg’ as prosecutions were usually a last resort.
‘It is only when the notice has failed to be complied with or license breached or no licence applied for after requests do authorities move to think of prosecution,’ he said. ‘So these prosecutions are only the tip of the iceberg. Even if many landlords act responsibly, this data indicates that far too many landlords around the country are getting away with flouting the law and endangering their tenants.’
Bob Mayho, CIEH principal policy officer, praised Environmental Health News (EHN) for pursuing the case and winning without any specialist legal assistance.
‘One of the most common complaints we hear from our members working in private sector housing is that it is very difficult for them to find out whether a landlord has other convictions or fines against them; this is important when considering the fit and proper person test,’ he said. ‘It would also help prospective tenants to make informed choices when renting.’
Russell Moffatt, Newham Council’s operations manager, said the data would help Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) track down criminal firms.
‘Currently they can shift around the country with impunity. It will also help housing authorities complete accurate fit and proper assessments and take a firm’s prosecution history into account when taking enforcement decisions. At the moment, for example, multiple simple cautions might wrongly be issued because housing authorities are not aware of previous offences in other places. This undermines effective justice,’ he said.
The data compiled by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health’s magazine maps firms convicted of dozens of breaches under the Housing Act 2004.
Access the Database here
Rogue Agents & Landlords will be named and shamed on government database. http://t.co/WykUsoXA1H
— LandlordZONE (@LandlordZONE) December 21, 2014