The Ministry of Justice (MoJ) have released a new national database, publicly naming private landlords who have been convicted of safety breaches.
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health’s magazine collected the information, and highlights companies convicted under the Housing Act 2004.
The database shows 68 offences by 57 companies, and will provide an instant guide to tenants looking for ethical landlords and letting agents. The MoJ were ordered to release the list of property firms convicted under the Act.
Some companies included in the list have received hundreds of thousands of pounds in housing benefit.
According to the MoJ, the worst offender is Burnley company Aspire Group Developments. The firm rent out hundreds of homes around Lancashire. They have been prosecuted five times under the Act.
Aspire’s owner, Jamie Carter, is an ex-Barclays bank management trainee, and property developer. He bought houses at low prices in auctions, and the company has assets of over £13m.
Carter’s previous company, Aspire Home Lettings, was prosecuted last year after failing to conduct repair work on an infested house in Oldham.
The 80-year-old tenant had complained to the council, but Aspire ignored a notice from them. Burnley Council also prosecuted the firm over a lack of repair work to another property.
Despite this, Aspire received £168,690 already this year in housing benefit. Last year the figure stood at £184,287.
Director of lobby group Generation Rent, Alex Hilton, says that Aspire seem to be taking as much money from the benefit system for the minimal cost on their part. He says it is “not in the Government’s or the public’s interest” to allow Aspire to “continue providing homes to vulnerable people.”1
Burnley council commented that their payments are part of official procedure, and said that they could not base their decision on other matters.
A spokesperson says: “We have seen improvements in the way the company operates.”1
Carter confessed that there were a number of problems that Aspire had not “got it exactly right” but claimed there is no money to be made from housing benefit. Of the elderly tenant in Oldham, he says: “The lady in the house is very elderly and refused many times to move out in order that we could carry out the repair works that were required; the works have now been completed.”
He also mentioned that Aspire won an award for refurbishing properties: “I set this business up 18 years ago to provide quality housing to all walks of society and am very proud of what we have achieved.”1
Three other companies on the MoJ’s list also received housing benefit in 2013. Midas Property Management took £369,880 in benefits, despite being prosecuted for renting out flats in which the council called “an appalling and dangerous state of repair”1 in Liverpool.
Firms experiencing the highest amount in fines were Watchstar Ltd and Watchacre Ltd, both owned by north London’s Mehmet Parlak. Haringey council called Parlak a rogue landlord, after he was fined £40,000 for renting out four Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) in 2013.
The houses were found to have faulty fire alarms and obstructed fire escapes, with small children living in some properties.
Parlak was also given a £23,000 fine in 2012 for letting an unlicensed, overcrowded HMO. Officers described the conditions as “so poor they severely compromised the safety and comfort of tenants.”1
Parlak’s accountants, Freemans, of Southgate, London said that the companies met their legal obligations. A spokesperson says: “They have paid their fines. The licences are all in place. Everything is up to date and there is an agent that manages the properties.”1
Topaz Property Company Ltd, based in Cardiff, was the second highest prosecute firm, with four housing convictions. They were fined for renting out two unlicensed HMOs, and an unsafe property. The fourth prosecution came after someone was found living in a dangerous building, which Topaz had been ordered to clear immediately.
Alex Hilton believes that the database will be a useful tool for councils in shutting down immoral companies.
He says: “As more authorities introduce licensing and identify criminal landlords, they will start to be driven out of certain areas so neighbouring councils need the means to stop those landlords exploiting their residents.”1
Vice President of the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health, Stephen Battersby, thinks that all criminal landlords should be prohibited from renting out homes.
He explains: “The fact that these agents 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.”
At present, little prevents landlords convicted under the Housing Act of renting out properties; however, councils that require licenses will conduct fit and proper person checks.
Battersby does not believe that the database exposes the huge scale of the problem, as prosecution is a last resort.
He says: “It is only when the notice has failed to be complied with or licence breached or no licence applied for after requests do authorities move to think of prosecution.
“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.”1
Merging the MoJ’s list of prosecuted companies, with available court reports, council press releases, and firm addresses, created the database.
The MoJ expressed that the database is as accurate as it can be, but says there is lots of missing data.
The private rental sector is the second largest property industry in England. About 4.1m households are renting, double the amount of 1996.
However, over 40% of private rental homes are substandard, many are even classed as hazardous to health, or non-decent. Poor housing conditions cost the NHS around £600m per year.