Warning, rant coming…..
After 28 years in rogue landlord enforcement, I have been surprised over the past three years at the amount of extra legislation and powers being tossed our way by government.
I think much of it prompted by Shelter’s rogue landlord campaign, which I was critical of back in 2012 for being an unhelpfully vague description.
I still think that of it, given the criminals I deal with, but I can’t deny it did do what it was designed to do – bring the problem to broader public awareness.
It seems these days rogue landlord porn TV programmes have supplanted cookery shows as the nation’s favourite watch. I know……I’m usually in half of them.
The Deregulation Act 2015
This placed a range of requirements on the creation of Assured Shorthold Tenancies that will invalidate a s21 notice which has made defending possession proceedings something a 6-year-old could do. Because the rubbish landlords who don’t bother to educate themselves or cut corners to save money, never get the notices right.
The Housing and Planning Act 2016
This gifted us banning orders, a rogue landlord database and now there is compulsory registration and training in Wales,
We also have or will have
- banning letting agent fees charged to tenants,
- a new HMO definition,
- the right of councils to keep all of the penalties charged, to use for enforcement and of course
- the inclusion of harassment and illegal eviction to the list of things a Rent Repayment Order can be claimed for and the concomitant relaxing of the need for a prosecution before they can be applied for.
But, there is a problem…
Even five years ago people in my kind of job would never have imagined we would be in this environment, spoilt for choice.
Unfortunately, all these new powers came in at the same time that austerity cuts hit public services hard and councils responded by choosing to cut the wages bill to keep services going. Meaning the staff numbers available to employ the powers took a steep downward curve as the powers were moving in the opposite, upwards direction.
Lately, public, government and press alike are asking why things aren’t moving faster in the fight against criminal landlords. A couple of weeks back The Guardian ran a series of articles on the low enforcement figures and I wrote my own response then:-
- Cuts are one reason and a big one.
- The unwieldiness of the regulations, which are in practice fiendishly bureaucratic for the most part.
- An inability of councils to recruit staff as people abandon the sector. One senior TRO of 12 years standing that I know, now runs a coffee shop and two homelessness officers with years of service, now drive busses.
- The fact that the criminals who are the targets of enforcement use aliases, fake companies and obfuscation routinely to avoid prosecution.
- Councils not working smart enough in their efforts to apply a multi-team approach – although I’ve noticed this changing quite rapidly this year as more get into the groove.
The Goremsandu Case
So given these challenges and sometimes justifiable criticisms I was mightily miffed to read in the Guardian the case of rogue landlord Katia Goremsandu, the subject of so much enforcement activity that she has sixty convictions for housing-related offences.
Nobody could accuse the enforcement teams of being slack there and a measure of how bad this woman actually is. Although she accused her tenants of damaging her property and had the temerity to view herself as the victim.
She has a reported portfolio of 17 properties across London, valued at over £500,000 a pop and an annual rental income of £188,000. In 2016 her housing fines stood at £71,000 which she wilfully refused to pay. The fines since then rising to over £143,000 as she carried on regardless of council enforcement.
In such circumstances, the standard procedure is for councils to force the sale of property to recover the debt. I doubt any decent landlord would have a problem with that concept in cases like Goremsandu’s and her flagrant disregard of the law, not to mention giving the middle finger to the courts.
It is after all, what government are encouraging council’s to do in order to tackle the problems and drive the criminals out of the sector.
So what did Highbury Magistrates do?
When they were faced with Ms. Goremsandu’s defence of her multi-million-pound property empire they refused the application to force a sale and gave her nine years to pay the fines.
This woman was banned from managing her own portfolio for ten years, she is that bad. She refused to voluntarily sell one of her properties to pay the fines and yet the courts protected her and gave her time to pay when ordinary people with limited income are fighting off bailiffs for £200 – £300 council tax bills.
The rogue landlord wins again
I don’t know whether this decision was arrived at by a bench or a single magistrate. But whoever it was, they should be ashamed of themselves.
Goremsandu is the embodiment of the kind of person that all this new legislation was brought in to deal with. The sixty prosecutions would have been the result of thousands of hours of enforcement officer time, countless tales of misery from her tenants – and yet the courts took the view that the establishment should support the rights and interests of property ownership and cut her slack that they would not do for a starving single mum caught shoplifting in M&S.
In cases like these, you have to seriously wonder if the decision makers were friends or family or if their bloody medication had just worn off.
Yours sincerely, disgusted of Tunbridge Wells.