A well-known landlord and businessman who appeared in Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire TV series has fallen foul of the government’s Covid evictions ban, with a cost currently running at £60,000 lost rent excluding lawyers’ fees.

Paul Williams, who owns a large house in Esher, Surrey, says he does not expect to regain possession of the property until January 2021 after his tenants stopped paying the rent earlier this year.

To add insult to injury, the tenants involved have begun offering the property on Booking.com and he estimates they have earned £75,000 from the property so far.

Williams says he is frustrated both that the blanket nature of the government’s evictions ban means fraudulent tenants like his are able to take advantage of the stay in possession hearings, and that Booking.com refuses to take the listing off its site.

“Under normal circumstances we would have ejected the tenants by now but the evictions ban gives people like this an open door to rip people off,” he says.

“I am disappointed that Booking.com appear to condone ‘illegal properties’ being listed on their platform – I have made multiple attempts to contact the company but so far, apart from one brief email, I’ve been ignored.”

The saga began after Williams, 62, who operates his 50-property rental portfolio with his son Ben (both pictured, above), completed a six-month trouble-free tenancy at the property last year, which had been rented by Downton Abbey actor Dan Stevens.

After being told in October by agent Knight Frank that the short-lets market was quiet, he instead listed it on Airbnb to a respectable-looking couple.

Two weeks later they then requested a six-month short let and that is when the trouble started.

Referencing error

“Because they paid their Airbnb deposit and fees promptly and seemed nice, I didn’t reference them before the longer tenancy started, and that was a mistake,” says Williams.

The rent then stopped and the tenants refused all access to the property including for vital repair work while offering rooms within the house to holiday makers using Booking.com.

“It’s very frustrating because we refurbished the property just before they moved in and my wife and I had planned to make it our home later this year,” says Williams. “Also, they have received at least 150 bookings since offering it on Booking.com including right through the lockdown.”

Williams claims one of the tenants has been abusive when contacted via phone or in person, and that the property has been damaged.

“Due to Covid laws we cannot even start eviction proceedings until the end of August and like thousands of landlords across the UK, there’s nothing we can do.”

LandlordZONE has approached Booking.com for comment.


  1. I am seething reading this article!. Heaven knows how the owners must feel. I’ll certainly be giving booking.com a wide berth in future for sure. The law is an ass.

  2. So thanks to (subsequent) Governments, who see Landlord’s simply as cash cows, who has helped create and allowed a climate where scumbags like this can pick and choose then freely act without impunity or recourse!

    Scum who seemingly think all Landlord’s are carefree mega rich, do they actually believe they can do and act in what way they wish, and to commit theft by not having paying their Landlord’s rent, do they think that there’s nothing wrong with this, robbery!!

    Well it certainly seems that way, I mean when was the last time policies got changed that supported Landlord’s? And the landlord bashing continues!

    In all honesty, we’ll be facing this problem not just for the short term, there is a gross imbalance against the private sector and Landlord’s, and until this is changed, and dishonest acts like not to paying rent are chargeable for what it is: theft, Landlord of all sizes will continue having this almighty problem!

  3. britain is no longer good for business. its a social welfare estate. now the money is running out. they will use every dirty trick in the book to claw money from anyone they see is vulnerable. your assetts will become your liabilities.

  4. Successive governments continue to reinforce penalties on landlords without reinforcing penalties on tenants.

    No landlord wishes uneccessarily wants to evict tenants if they pay the rent on time, treat the property with respect and keep the landlord appraised of difficulties.

    There are rogue landlords and it is not beyond the abilities of the law and local councils to remove them from the housing supply. The disproportionate financial loss to landlords is totally unnacceptable and it should be made a criminal offence to steal money, for that is what it is, theft pure and simple, when a tenant refuses to pay rent in the manner described in the article. Bookings.com has also benefited from criminal behaviour and as such is a party to a crime for which they should be held accountable.

  5. This story just doesn’t make sense. They listed on Airbnb and can’t evict the “tenants”? They are there on a SHORT LET agreement, not an AST, and they are not tenants, they are guests.
    The mistake they made was probably to let it to them for 6 months without putting the proper short let agreement in place and it defaulted to being an AST.
    I run a short lettings management company, and all our guests stay with us based on our terms and conditions, which have been specifically drawn up so that no matter how long guests are with us, it is not treated as an AST. Then, if they break the Ts & Cs, they are asked to leave, simples!

  6. There must be many Landlords leaving the private rental sector due to the constant onslaught of regulation and difficulties with getting rid of none paying tenants from your own property. This will put up rents until they are capped. When you consider all the work cost and stress of being a Landlord is it really worth it now when so many ftse 250 shares pay good dividends such as Legal and General at over 7% a year and you don’t have to do anything except buy and hold the shares. Shares have consistently outperformed Property.Also now the market is down there is the prospect of large capital growth. Plus the real advantage that you can liquidate you asset in 3 days to cash selling instantly at the touch of a button. Plus you can avoid the growing capital gains tax bill most of us have as you and your partner could draw down over£20,000 profit a year without any capital gains tax to pay. No Letting agents £500 plus fee’s or Solicitors, Estate agents, repairs, Insurance,Damage, safety checks, void periods Iam coming to the realization that I getting older and tired of having mint properties wrecked by uncaring Tenants. The work load just keeps coming as do the regulations and rising tax liabilities when they are finally sold Capital gains tax can be as high as 28% for higher tax payers and the chancellor is looking at this going forward with all the covid expenditure to be repaid we are an easy target.


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