There’s a tribal network when it comes to rogue landlords through which they share information.
Let’s face it – they don’t bother with this blog or property tribes or any of the other places where decent folk hang out to swap ideas.
When you are in my trade you can pick up on what tricks are currently doing the rounds simply because you get a squall of complaints from tenants experiencing the same thing over several months.
Section 33 Notices
I remember a couple of years being asked to give advice numerous times on section 33 notices served to end assured shorthold tenancies that were fetching up at the homelessness unit.
“S33 notices?” I sense you asking yourself as you flip through your training notes or legal guide books “I don’t remember them” but they are a perfectly legal way of ending an assured shorthold tenancy……….if you live in Scotland. In England they are meaningless.
Rogue landlords too tight to pay for proper ones had fallen across a website advertising free ones they could download and mistakenly shared the info around.
This lasted several months before the fad died a natural death.
A new scam
Lately, I have been drawn in as a consultant/adviser on a pilot project for a West London Borough and have come across a particular scam doing the rounds in that neck of the woods.
Its so common that you just know the mischievous little scamps have been swapping notes.
It takes advantage of housing need against high rents.
Families unable to afford the £2,000+ for a three or four-bed house are able to take them on. The landlord tells them its ok to sub-let to meet the rent if they want to. As long as the rent is paid they are happy.
Rarely is there a written tenancy agreement confirming this but occasionally there is.
So the family occupies say the ground floor and rents the rooms upstairs to other people. Often the landlords come around to collect rent from everyone in cash, receipts for rent paid are also mysteriously absent usually.
In come the Council
Then the council’s licensing and enforcement team cottons on to the overcrowding, often following complaints from neighbours of numerous people seen coming and going in what in this area are quiet, suburban, fairly middle class streets, so they stand out, unlike Lewisham when I worked there where nobody would bat an eyelid at a machine gun attack, let alone report it.
The council’s environmental services are also told to look out for and report excessively overloaded wheelie bins or requests for extra ones, all clues that something is not right.
The council arrive with police and me in tow at 7am and interviews everyone in the place, deeming it statutorily overcrowded and/or an unlicensed HMO (they have additional licensing) at which point the landlord denies all knowledge of the arrangement and accuses the tenants of doing it.
This is when the threats of illegal eviction start. Sometimes they even go to court, where we represent and the tenants are able to produce emails from the landlords confirming the arrangement which they are then denying.
Raking in the money
We might visit 5 properties in a few hours and find exactly the same arrangement going on in all of them and here’s the real kicker….
The landlords puts for example £2,000 rent for the single named family on a tenancy agreement or in the absence of one, the tenant confirms this is what the arrangement is but the landlord personally collects the rent from the 5 others @ £450 per person, meaning the actual rental income is £2,700.
The other people in the arrangement have no contractual relationship with the landlord, having obtained the property through the named tenant on the understanding that he is in effect their landlord but they don’t pay rent to him because the head landlord collects.
In one case the landlord had his own rent collector who goes around weekly to collect the money.
Having their cake and eating it
The landlord is effectively having his cake and eating it by saying “Feel free to rent out rooms but if the council come around, I know nothing of the arrangement and will evict you”, whilst in the process trousering more money than he was even contracted to.
You could take the view that the regularity of this scam is evidence of tenants sub-letting without the landlord’s knowledge but this would be to deny the proof you get in the cases. Not all landlords are clever enough to never refer to the arrangement in emails, notes or texts to either the main tenant or the subbies. Even notes written by the landlord stuck up on the walls of a kitchen reminding them to keep it tidy.
I’ve even seen a cleaning rota with everyone’s names on signed by a landlord who claims he was ignorant of the sub-letting
Why its a growing trend
It’s a growing trend driven by a number of things. Tenant’s ignorance of their rights and contractual arrangements is one reason, as is the desperate shortage of affordable properties in London.
Sometimes it is the unemployed and poor who get caught in these shenanigans but not always. One tenant we came across is a civil engineer whilst another is the manager of a supermarket but they don’t get paid enough to be able to afford a single home for their families.
And the moral of this story – what do you think?