An organised group of criminals calling themselves agents and landlords and described as a “gang of chancers” by the authorities have been convicted and fined with costs totalling around £79,000 after renting out properties they owned and others they rented using fake names and businesses.
Luis Felipe Tilleria Limongi, 34, of Penfold Place, Regents Park, Ney Fernando Limongi, 40, of Aberfeldy Street, Poplar, and Christian Hidalgo Limongi, 28, of Fairmont Avenue, Poplar, alongside Lenner Velastegui Guaman of Croydon Road, Plaistow, Leandra Velez of Castalia Square, Poplar, and Alex Ibarra of Lanark Square, Poplar, were all prosecuted by Newham Council for housing offences under the relevant HMO regulations and the Housing Act 2004.
Q Lion Management Limited and London Rooms Rental Limited were companies also prosecuted as part of the case. Other companies Flatshare London Limited and Valenberg Properties Limited also faced prosecution; however they were both dissolved shortly before the trial.
The antics of the group of men came to the attention of the council’s private rented sector (PRS) HMO licensing team shortly after the scheme was introduced in January 2013, when Luis Limongi’s name appeared on a tenancy agreement in a house which was not licenced as a rental property. At that time the home owner was prosecuted for failing to licence his property.
But as the licensing team investigated further they uncovered several tenants with agreements naming Limongi, one of his accomplices or up to 25 different business names, which the group would quickly dissolve, as the landlord or licence holder.
Tenants within the same property would very often have tenancy agreements with different companies run by the group named as landlords. They had complained to the council that these landlord companies were impossible to contact. They were paying their rent in cash, collected by different people.
When the inspection team visited the properties they found that the houses had been converted into bedsits without planning permission from the council. Master rooms in the houses would often include flimsy partitions to create an extra room. There were also minimal fire safety standards in all the properties.
The tenancy agreements given to tenants were designed to strip tenants of their statutory rights, their deposits were never placed in deposit protection schemes and none of the properties had HMO licences.
The group were caught out because one tenant took pictures of them, which helped the council identify the “landlords” operating in all the other properties.
The group attended Thames Magistrates’ Court on Friday 4 March 2016, to answer 115 charges, relating to five properties in the borough. Two of these properties were owned by Luis Limongi and three others had been rented by the group and then sublet without the permission of the owner.
The 115 charges included failure to licence the properties, several breaches of safety conditions under the relevant HMO regulations and failure to co-operate with the council’s requests for documentation, such as safety certificates and details of deposit protection schemes.
- Luis Limongi, pleaded guilty to a total of 38 charges. He was ordered to pay £18,450 of fines and £10,415 of costs.
- Ney Limongi, pleaded guilty to a total of 46 charges. He was ordered to pay £14,040 of fines and £14,690 of costs.
- Christian Limongi, was found guilty in his absence and ordered to pay £4,050 fines for 12 charges, and costs of £3,456.
- Lenner Guaman was found guilty of one charge in his absence and ordered to pay a £300 fine and £250 costs.
- Leandro Velez was found guilty of 12 charges in his absence and ordered to pay £4,050 and costs of £1,832.
- Alex Ibarra was found guilty of seven charges in his absence and fined £2,550 and ordered to pay costs of £4,275.
- London Rooms Rental Limited was also charged with one offence and fined £300 and ordered to pay costs of £250.
In total the group were ordered to pay fines of £43,740 and the council’s costs for their investigations of £35,168.
Councillor Andrew Baikie, mayoral advisor for housing, said:
“This gang of chancers tried everything they could to avoid taking responsibility for their tenants. They were all about making as much as possible from these properties and used false names and businesses which they would dissolve. Their tenants were left with worthless tenancy agreements and they had no chance of getting their deposits back when they moved on.
“They thought they could avoid our licensing scheme but they underestimated our determination to protect residents from opportunists who put not only the safety of their tenants, but their finances at risk too.
Tower Hamlets Council’s trading standards team had also helped the council with their investigations. Newham Council has now passed on details of 92 properties run by the group across London to the local authorities.
It is estimated that the group are receiving an income of more than £1.25million from their network of properties.
This follows previous cases involving Limongi, one when in October 2104 “Managing Agent”, Luis Felipe Tilleria Limongi, of Miles Buildings, City of Westminster, was found guilty of ignoring a request for information at Thames Magistrates Court on March 12.
Limongi was fined £3,000 in October 2014 for a flat in Hamlets Way, Mile End, and again later on a different property £4,000 and ordered to pay costs of £650 after failing to provide information to the council about a property in Farrell House, Ronald Street, Limehouse.
Limongi hadn’t responded to two council notices requesting this information after being asked by the council to meet officers and notify them of who lived at the address and who collected rent on his behalf – information needed to assess overcrowding claims.
Dave Tolley, Head of Consumer and Business Regulations said:
“Mr Tilleria, like anyone else benefitting from letting private accommodation, has a legal responsibility to share all relevant information with the council. This information is vital if the officers are to improve housing conditions. These notices must not be ignored.”
That court appearance came as the council sought to hear from the public about a proposed Landlord Licensing Scheme for the private rented sector.
The scheme means that private landlords are required to obtain a licence from the council in order to rent their property to residents.