Ben Reeve Lewis shines a light onto the little known and shadowy world of ‘rogue’ or criminal landlords and organised crime.
Over the years that I have been contributing to Tessa’s blog I have written several articles trying to get across to people the kinds of issues that enforcement officers like me have to deal with.
I have also spoken on numerous occasions to landlord groups, explaining how different the world I occupy is from that of the normal landlord, often to the annoyance of the reader or delegate and the frustration of myself.
Rogue landlords – a recent terminology
When Shelter introduced the previously unused term several years ago I openly criticised it for being ill-defined and unhelpful for people like me dealing at the sharp end.
Personally, I hate the term and still view it as misleading on a day to day level, but can’t deny that the idea has gained traction in the public’s consciousness.
So fair play on that one and I find myself routinely using the phrase, despite my own annoyance.
Is ‘rogue landlord’ a fair term to use?
It’s a term of convenience but it fails to communicate what is really going on out there in real “Rogue landlord land”.
To accurately reflect the true situation these people should be deemed to be ‘criminal landlords’ with outright criminal intent.
The London Underworld still exists
In London at least (my stomping ground in 4 different boroughs) it is so often linked to people trafficking and exploitation, including links to cannabis farming, illegal DVD production, brothels, housing benefit fraud and what HMRC calls the ‘Hidden economy’.
I operate in a world far removed from a defective section 21 or a deposit protection certificate.
Regular criminal events
On a recent 7am visit with a London authority, accompanied by UKBA Borders Police 2 coachloads of people fetched up from abroad to be met by landlords queueing on the pavement to sign them up, not only for accommodation but presumably cash in hand jobs, given that none of the tenants were interested in talking about their parlous overcrowded accommodation travails.
One enforcement officer for a Norfolk based local authority who spoke to me reported connections between employers in agricultural gang-master scams, providing overcrowded and unauthorised HMOs where the officers couldn’t get a look in because nobody would talk to them for fear of losing their jobs.
Rent to renter scams
Then there are the other groups of landlords and agents exploiting the vast need for affordable housing in an economy gone mad with out of control rents creating a veritable feeding frenzy of greed.
Rent to rent scams abound here with tenants finding properties through online portals that offer no protection or checks for anyone and are seemingly happy to allow their services to be used by a variety of crooks.
Why would a rent to renter, posing as a landlord bother with repairs when it isn’t even their property?
Greed is ever present in an underworld of exploitation
If the agent isn’t actually involved with the scam, and often they are, they have no cares other than receiving the agreed rent of say £1,800 per month, the rent to renter filling a 3 bed house with 12 people, paying their £1,800 rent to the agent whilst pocketing another £1,000 per month per property from the occupants.
And that is where they aren’t renting out the rooms on a shift basis to day and night workers, doubling up on the total rental income, effectively renting beds at an hourly rate rather than a property, for which they are paying no tax.
When the local authority enforcement crews rock up with queries about licensing, HMO standards and trivial things like fire safety precautions, landlords stealing computers in lieu of rent and women being sexually assaulted but too fearful to complain (the clipboard jobsworths as we are sometimes called) the agents deny all knowledge.
The rent to renter having done a runner without protecting anyone’s deposits and everyone is pointing the finger at everyone else whilst denying responsibility.
With rogue landlords – who are the losers?
The only losers being the occupants and sometimes even the owner, ignorant of the liberties that agents and R2R people are taking with their properties.
Often the tenants report that both agent and landlord have visited the property at various times and knew full well what was going on and just as often the back-hander arrangement between the agent and the rent to renter goes awry when the R2R stops passing money over to the agent, amassing thousands in rent arrears.
The agent then goes for possession against their tenant, the R2R, without referencing the real tenants who carry on oblivious to proceedings whilst still paying their rent to the R2R, who only know about the problem when High Court enforcement officers turn up to change the locks.
Said HCEO won’t divulge information of the proceedings when questioned by enforcement officers and housing advisers because enforcement officers and housing advisers have no ‘Locus Standii’.
Check it out for yourselves…..
Anyone doubting how this works should do a bit of research on the history of dodgy HCEOs and High Court Writs on Nearly Legal. Although it is believed that the particular practice described in that article has now ceased.
Often the clueless tenants have to make a homelessness application paid for by us through our taxes.
Justice evades the victim
All of the above raises complex legal and procedural arguments.
Some of which can be remedied but many not and even if they are open to challenge the process of clarifying and resolving issues is so long winded and arcane that in the doing of it the victim tenants usually lose interest and just move on, voicing the opinion that justice has not served them – and I totally agree.
Rogue Landlords blatantly flout the law
Your average Rogue Landlord is not bound by any laws that they care about breaching and are dismissive of any threats of effective enforcement action. because they exploit the procedures that enforcement officers have to abide by that leave us lagging 100 yards behind them at all stages,
Because they exploit the procedures that enforcement officers have to abide by that leave us lagging 100 yards behind them at all stages. Because we have to play by Marquis of Queensbury Rules, while they just execute a swift kick in the nuts and run away.
Decent hard-working landlords are oblivious to the rogue landlords
Whenever I write about rogue landlord enforcement I get shouted down, because normal, decent landlords, who are probably 90% of you, don’t get what is really going on out there.
Admittedly these people aren’t landlords in the sense that they simply earn their living building an investment portfolio by providing homes for people. I don’t even count Fergus Wilson as a rogue landlord. People like him are not my concern.
Neither are clueless amateurs breaking rules they didn’t even know existed, which with respect is probably a large amount of Landlord Law Blog readers. This is why you read the blog, to educate yourselves.
Cash is king is rogue landlord-land
True criminal landlords don’t give a Rats about legal requirements. They also don’t care about repairs and will happily let a property run down rather than spend out on maintenance – because for them it’s all about immediate cash flow, not investment.
Title to the land is the important thing at the end of the day for ordinary landlords, especially in London. If all goes tits up they still have a hold on a significant wodge of cash.
But these people, the rogue landlords, don’t operate by conventional rules of self-interest. They have different agendas to people like you.
To these people, the Private Rental Sector is an untended field to be harvested and used to bleed dry of any last ounce of cash.
An unguarded herd of cattle to be rustled, whether it be by installing electricity and gas meters stolen from demolished properties whilst charging tenants rent inclusive of bills that aren’t actually even registered or running an unofficial housing waiting list for homeless people sleeping in their cars in a nearby car park, paying the landlord to have showers in the morning whilst waiting for tenants to move out so they can move in.
This is reality
All this stuff is real and all of it I have dealt with in the last few months. For me, in the past 27 years, this is just bog-standard stuff.
To understand the mind of the rogue landlord you have to abandon any sense that they operate with the same concerns as you and you also have to accept that much of what is going on out there is serious, committed and organised criminal activity, only marginally related to the day to day business of landlording.
Renting properties is merely a portal, an access point to other means of income, often backed by and supporting organised crime.
People need to wake up to what is really going on.