Category Archives: Housing

Electronic tagging order for rogue landlord who waged ‘unforgivable’ harassment campaign against single mother

Rogue trader Derrick Stuart filmed by the BBC
Rogue trader Derrick Stuart filmed by the BBC

A landlord has been fitted with an electronic tag after a “campaign of harassment” against a tenant that including switching off her heating and electricity in the middle of winter.

Joel Zwiebel who waged a campaign of harassment and intimidation against single mother Angela Agyemang received the electronic tagging order after losing an appeal last month against a conviction for illegal eviction.

Miss Agyemang incurred Zwiebel’s ire after she complained that damp conditions, leaks and serious disrepair in her south London flat were damaging her son’s health.

After Mr Zwiebel and his company refused to carry out repairs, Miss Agyemang began withholding her rent prompting Zwiebel to begin eviction proceedings. Zwiebel finally locked her out of the flat with all her possessions inside leaving the pair homeless and forced to find temporary accommodation.

At this point the council intervened and negotiated a compromise agreement in which she would pay the rent she owed and he would carry out the necessary repairs.

However within days Mr Zweibel reneged on the deal. Instead of fixing the defects he sent Mr Stuart – who had previously been the subject of a BBC Rogue Traders investigation – to the property who switched off the gas and electricity supply even though it was the middle of winter.

A few days later Miss Agyemang returned to the flat to find the locks had been changed and she could no longer enter her home. It took her 18 months to eventually regain her possessions, most of which had by that stage either disappeared or been broken.

Conviction

Zwiebel, of Hackney, and his property company Interpage, were found guilty last November of harassment and carrying out an illegal eviction in a case brought by Wandsworth Council at Wimbledon magistrates court.

In February, Mr Zwiebel and Interpage lost their bid to overturn the magistrates court conviction and sentencing when their appeals were thrown out by a judge at Kingston Crown Court.

On Monday this week, the judge imposed a stiffer sentence against Mr Zwiebel. Zwiebel was ordered to wear an ankle tag and comply with an overnight curfew for three months between the hours of 9pm and 7am. He was also ordered to pay £4,000 in costs and £1,000 compensation to his victim. Interpage Limited was fined £4,000 plus costs of £3,500 and £1,000 in compensation.

For his role in the eviction, Mr Stuart, from Newham, was fined £1,500, with £2,500 costs and also ordered to pay a further £1,000 in compensation.

Wandsworth’s housing spokesman Cllr Paul Ellis said: “This was an utterly appalling display by these men. They waged a disgraceful and unforgivable campaign of harassment against this mother and her son.

“To switch off their gas and electricity in the middle of winter showed a shocking lack of compassion so I am pleased the court has upheld these convictions and imposed a stiffer sentence against Mr Zwiebel and his company.

“Let this case and its outcome serve as a salutary warning to other landlords thinking of following the same illegal path.”

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Rents fall for first time in six years

London House Prices Fall

The average monthly rent for newly let properties has fallen for the first time since late 2010 according to the estate agency Countrywide.

The fall in rents is believed to be caused by a large recent increase in  the supply of properties becoming available. This was possibly attributable to some landlords rushing to buy last year before a 3% stamp duty surcharge came into effect.

In contrast to the usual pattern of rent rises in London and declines in the rest of the country, nationwide rents have continued to rise. Rents fell by nearly 5% in the past year in the capital to an average of £1,246 a month. In  South East England they fell by nearly 3% to £1,152. The average cost of a new tenancy in England, Wales and Scotland is £921 a month, down by  0.6% in the year to February.

Brexit effect

According to Countrywide’s research director Johnny Morris, “Rents are growing in most of the country but falls in London and the south east are dragging down the national growth rate. Early signs point towards 2017 being a rare year where rents rise faster in the north of the country than in the south.”

Morris also added that brexit and economic uncertainty also appears to be weighing on London house prices. “Economic and housing sentiment – both in sales and rental markets – has been affected by our vote to leave the EU, in London more than anywhere else. This uncertainty causes tenants to be more cautious, meaning less likely to move and more likely to look for cheaper accommodation, eg sharing. With the private rented sector home to around three-quarters of new migrants, any future substantial shift in migration patterns would likely have a knock-on effect on rents.” Morris said.

Countrywide’s data does conflict however with the most recent figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).
Its latest figures for the year to January 2017, the ONS showed that across the UK rents for private tenants had risen by 2.2.%.
When the figures were published last month, the ONS commented that “inflation in the rental market is likely to have been caused by demand in the market outpacing supply.”

Countrywide said it expected the apparent over-supply of rental properties to be flushed out of the market in the coming year. Average national rents are then expected to start to grow again after that.

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Seven disgraceful statistics about renting in London

Rent Costs London

1. London Renters spend 60% wages on rent

The English Housing Survey reports that Londoners spend an eye-watering 60% of their gross earnings on rent. Excluding housing benefit this figure rises to 72%.

Even more shockingly, 16-24-year-olds are forced to pay 88% of their income on rent in the capital. When housing benefit is included this falls to 81%. However this age group is particularly vulnerable to reductions in housing benefit.

2. It is cheaper to commute from Madrid each day than rent in Camden Town

Renting a flat in Camden Town and working in Liverpool street will cost a Londoner £2,128 monthly or £25,532 yearly.

If the same Londoner rented a flat in Madrid’s city centre and booked return flights from Madrid to Stansted from Monday to Thursday, he or she would spend £1,725 a month or £20,708 a year.

3. The average rent on a two-bedroom flat is £707 a week or £100 a day  

Figures from property investment firm London Central Portfolio (LCP) show that the average rent on a two-bedroom flat in central London is a whopping £707 a week.

Average rental prices of rooms in a flat-share in Paddington (Zone 1), can cost around £1100 a month.

Council taxes are also a significant  consideration. Areas like Richmond and Kingston tend to be the most expensive at around £1929 a year.  Cheaper areas include Wandsworth where council tax averages £823 a year.

4. London professionals are being forced to live “12 to a house”

According to Ealing Central and Acton MP Rupa Huq, London professionals are being forced to live “12 to a house”, thanks to the soaring rents.

In a House of Commons debate Huq said: “Renting is no longer just a transitory thing for those who are in their twenties. It’s becoming routine for people further up the age scale.

“Many in my constituency in their 30s on good money find themselves sometimes 12 to a house with shared sitting room and kitchen.

“At that age, ‘who stole my cheese?’ should not be a way of life.”

5. By 2025, more than half of people under 40 will be living in property owned by private landlords

Over half of 20 to 39-year-olds will be renting from private landlords by 2025, according to accountancy firm Price Waterhouse Coopers.

PwC economists state that: “For 20-39 year olds, we would expect over half to be renting by 2025, implying a continuing rise in the size of ‘Generation Rent’.

The report suggests that home ownership levels will continue declining to dramatic new levels, dropping below 60% by 2025, as the rise of ‘tenant nation’ looms.

6. The UK has the highest private rents in Europe

A study by British Housing Federation found that rents in the UK are the highest in Europe.

In countries like Germany and Holland, private rents are around 50% cheaper than in the UK.

David Orr, chief executive at the National Housing Federation, said: “British renters get a raw deal in comparison to their continental counterparts. Not only do they face crippling rents, but renters in the UK have almost no certainty about whether they will be able to stay in their home from one year to the next.”

7. One in three rented homes are “not fit to live in”

One in three British three homes do not meet the government’s decent home minimum standard, according to 2014/15 English Housing Survey.

A Parliament report published last year admitted that there have been no minimum property standards for private rented housing in England since 2006.

Furthermore, more than 170 tenants are being evicted every day according to 2015 Ministry of Justice figures.  In total 42,728 evictions recorded in England and Wales in 2015.

According to Gillian Guy, CEO of Citizens Advice, “It’s hard to feel at home in the private rented sector. People can struggle to lead a normal life when their home is in a state of disrepair and they could be told to leave at any time. But many feel powerless to speak out.”

The Renters Alliance helps renters with bad landlords and letting agents. If you have a story you would like to share, please contact the National Renters Alliance through our website or email us at contact@nralliance.co.uk

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Britain’s biggest landlord bans ‘battered wives’ and zero hours workers as tenants

Fergus Wilson and his wife Judith CREDIT: REX FEATURES
Fergus Wilson and his wife Judith CREDIT: REX FEATURES

Britain’s biggest landlord, Fergus Wilson has banned “battered wives” from his properties claiming he does not want to risk ex-husbands or boyfriends returning to destroy his houses.

Perhaps Britain’s most notorious buy-to-let landlord, Wilson is no stranger to controversy.  In 2014 he sent eviction notices to over 200 of his tenants, many from low income backgrounds, claiming that he was “sending battered wives back to their partners to be beaten up again”.  He was also convicted in the same year for assaulting an estate agent over a broken boiler which he denied, claiming that he was “too fat to punch anybody or even tie his own shoelaces”.

Posted for residents of Ashford (Kent), the list of unacceptable tenants include:

  • Zero hours workers
  • Battered wives
  • Tenants on housing benefits
  • Tenants with children under 18
  • Single parents
  • Plumbers
  • Smokers
  • People with pets
  • Low income workers

Despite Mr and Mrs Wilson’s estimated wealth of £200 million, the couple are known for penny-pinching. In 2014 Fergus Wilson lost a court battle to charge a tenant £3,000 for a broken toilet lid even though the tenant had offered to replace it out of his own pocket. Judith Wilson is also believed to owe £3,000 in court costs after a failed attempt to sue a gas engineer for £5,000. The Wilsons had claimed that the engineer’s decision to issue an “At Risk” notice on gas equipment in one of their properties had made the house unrentable. Such considerations factored into Fergus’ decision to ban plumbers as tenants in his latest letting criteria since he believes they “rip him off” about repairs and “invent” problems with the properties which he says they bill him for.

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Fergus Wilson’s ban of domestic abuse victims comes after the 69-year old’s unsuccessful bid  to stand as an independent candidate for Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner last year which was blocked  for incorrect submission of nomination papers. It was also expected that Wilson’s candidature would be deemed ineligible for a conviction of assault for which he was fined £500. Wilson, who planned to stand as an independent, intended to run on a platform of tackling domestic violence saying that he was particularly concerned by two domestic abuse cases involving Kent Police and would have used his £85,000 salary to fund a rapid-response team of four officers.

Commenting on the tenancy rules Fergus said the criteria are revised every year and are concerned with “financial fine tuning of the business” adding: “it is just economics… I live in the big bad world of reality, if I do not let properties and do not get the rent then I do not eat, I starve to death… it is the Government’s job to help poor people.”

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London house prices predicted to fall 5% in 2017

London House Prices Predicted to Fall 5 per cent

Property prices in central London are expected to fall by 5 per cent in 2017 according to property data firm Rightmove.

The situation across London as a whole however was mixed with a significant variations between market conditions in prime central London and peripheral areas.  Outer London property prices are expected to see an approximate 3% increase in prices in 2017 Rightmove suggests with prices across England and Wales expected to rise by two per cent as a whole next year.

Brexit uncertainty continues to be a serious issue  with respect to property price forecasting. As yet the government’s desired outcomes and the negotiating position it will adopt following the triggering of  Article 50 to begin the two year countdown to leave the European Union remains unknown. Prime Minister Theresa May says she is committed to triggering the start of formal Brexit negotiations by the end of March next year and is expected to make announcements on the Government’s preferred future relationship with the EU in the New Year.

The disconnect between property prices in central London and the rest of the UK may be symptomatic of London’s traditional early reaction to changes in the British economy. During the 2007 global financial crisis and subsequent recession, prime London properties were the first affected by the downturn but were also the fastest to recover.

To date predicted negative economic data following the UK’s decision to leave the EU have failed to materialize. The British Chambers of Commerce revised up its forecast for economic growth next year but downgraded the outlook for 2018 due to inflation pressures and ongoing economic uncertainty about Britain’s future trading relationships with the EU. In terms of GDP forecasts, the Chambers revised upwards UK GDP growth forecast to 1.1% from 1% for 2017 after stronger-than-expected economic performance following the June Brexit vote.

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Buy to let landlords exploiting tax loophole to invest in property

landlords-continue-fight-against-george-osborne-rental-tax-changes

Increasing numbers of landlords are using a tax loophole to avoid buy-to-let tax changes announced by former Chancellor George Osborne in 2015.  Under the rules set to be introduced next year, private landlords face restrictions on their ability to offset mortgage  interest payments against tax bills.

However, the new rules will not apply to landlords who invest through a company rather than as an individual.  Accordingly in anticipation of the changes, 63 per cent of applications for landlord loans are now being made through limited companies, up from 21 per cent before the announcement was made. Many landlords are also setting up companies and selling their existing properties to them.

According to Chief Operating Officer Steve Olejnik of the mortgage brokering firm, Mortgages for Business, the number of landlords using limited companies will rise since it will be  “more tax efficient for the majority to buy property.”  Investors who hold properties in limited companies will continue to benefit from tax relief and will be able to write off all costs of running buy-to-let properties (including mortgages) as  ‘allowable expenses.’ Incorporation would therefore effectively circumvent the rate relief restrictions.

Furthermore, despite having to pay stamp duty at the increased rate, incorporated landlords would be eligible to pay just 20 per cent corporation tax on profit as opposed to up to 45 per cent income tax if the buy-to-let were operated by an individual.  Incorporated landlords would also benefit from more relaxed affordability checks compared with individual landlords since since lenders will take into account the fact they will still benefit from tax relief.

The increase in landlords registering as companies comes following the successive failure of legal and Parliamentary challenges against former Chancellor George Osborne’s restrictions on the amount of tax relief private landlords will be able to claim on mortgage interest outlined in last year’s summer budget.

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House Prices in Chelsea fall 9.8% annually in September

London House Prices Fall

House prices in Chelsea have fallen by 9.8 per cent annually with prices for high-end homes in central London falling by 2.6 per cent in September.

Property consultants Knight Frank claims that changes in stamp duty rather than the effects of the Brexit vote in the EU referendum is the main factor for the house price decline. The firm also claims that the Brexit vote may have been “a catalyst for overdue price reductions” in the sector.

Overall the picture across London as a whole has been mixed. Some parts of prime north London have seen price falls of 7.5 for Hyde Park and 5.3 per cent for Notting Hill.  Islington on the other hand witnessed an increase in prices by 3.6 per cent. In the high-end rental sector the picture has been similarly varied with rental values for prime central London properties falling by 4.7 per cent on an annual basis with rent falls of 9.9 per cent in Marylebone and 8.3 per cent in Chelsea.

Properties are also spending more time on the market with the average number of days taken for a property to sell increasing by 14 per cent between January and August compared with the same period last year.

There are also advantages for renters in the capital with rental values also falling for high-end homes. In September, rental values for prime central London fell by 4.7 per cent on an annualized measure.

Chelsea and Marylebone notably saw rents falling by 8.3 per cent and 9.9 per cent annually.  The picture for areas further out was quite different with Areas further out saw less dramatic rent falls with King’s Cross and the City Fringe seeing average rents rise by 1.9 per cent and one per cent respectively.

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170 tenants evicted per day as evictions rise 53% in five years

Eviction Notice
Evictions up 53% in 5 years

More than 170 tenants are being evicted every day according to 2015 Ministry of Justice figures.  

More than half of the 42,728 evictions recorded in England and Wales last year were attributable to private landlords with rent arrears being cited as one of the most common factors.  Retaliatory evictions of tenants who complain about poor property standards was also a factor in a significant number of the eviction cases.  Many such evictions may have been brought forward in anticipation of laws against revenge evictions which entered into force on 1st October 2015.

It is believed that a significant fraction of the rise in evictions originated from the private rather than the social rental sector.  Ministry of Justice figures show that the majority of evictions in 2015 resulted from a section 21 accelerated procedure which are usually a feature of private landlord evictions.

This situation is set to deteriorate as increasing numbers of people are forced into the rental sector due to the housing affordability crisis.  According to information from the Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA), home ownership is expected to be permanently out of reach of around a fifth of people in the UK.  Property unaffordability is exacerbated by rising rents with an average renter in the North East and London estimated to spend around £31,300 and £68,300 respectively on rent over a decade.  To compound this situation further, rents are forecast to climb at a faster rate than house prices in future.

 

 

 

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High Letting Agent Fees Stopping Tenants Moving out of Sub-Standard Homes

letting_fees

High agent fees are discouraging tenants living in unsatisfactory housing conditions from finding alternative accommodation according to the latest report on the Private Rented Sector.

The report published by the English Housing Survey covering April 2014 to March 2015 found that 69% of tenants living in poor quality homes are discouraged from moving out because of agent fees. In addition to complaints about fees, the report also found that private sector renters are less satisfied with their tenure than owner-occupiers and council housing tenants:  overall 65% of private renters reported being satisfied with their current tenure compared to 98% of owner occupiers and 82%  of social renters.

Important findings of the report include:

  • 40% of private rented sector households were charged agency fees in 2014-2015, up from 34% in 2009-2010.
  • 18% of private renters said that they felt some of the fees charged were hidden. 65% of private renters reported paying an administration fee
  • 33% paid a finders’ fee, 7% of tenants paid a non-returnable holding fee, 5% paid a returnable holding fee and 4% paid an ‘other fee.’
  • The number of private renters who lived in non-decent dwellings rose from 1.1 million households in 2006 to 1.2 million households in 2014.

Surprisingly, despite the entry into force of deposit protection legislation in 2007 as part of the 2004 Housing Act, the Housing Survey found that only sixty four per cent of renters with a Assured Shorthold Tenancy reported that their deposit had been protected despite penalties existing for non-compliance with deposit protection rules.

Under deposit protection legislation, landlords must place tenancy deposits in one of three government-backed deposit protection schemes within thirty days of receipt or face a penalty of between one to three times the deposit amount with the penalty value determined by the seriousness and intent of the landlord’s non-compliance deposit rules. In general greater penalties for failing to protect deposits are awarded against experienced landlords or against landlords who have attempted to avoid protecting deposits for financial gain.

Despite charging  for protecting deposits being against the spirit of the deposit protection legislation the Renters Alliance has encountered numerous examples of landlords and letting agents charging renters extra fees to protect their deposits. In one landlord’s forum for example, one landlord reported charging £120 for protecting tenants’ deposits recommending to other landlords that they call similar fees “Admin fees” rather than “deposit fees” for legal reasons.

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Landlords Still Issuing Licenses to Occupy to Evade Deposit Protection Rules

Deposit Protection

Since the entry into force of the Tenancy Deposit Scheme many landlords and letting agents have devised ways of evading and ignoring deposit protection rules.

One common tactic which renters should be aware of is issuing tenants with a “licence to occupy” in place of an “Assured Shorthold Tenancy”.

A licence gives the right to occupy and is typically used for bed and breakfasts, hotels, holiday lets and some HMOs.  Often tenants only discover that a license has been issued when attempting to recover their deposit at the end of their occupation. However, despite being called a license, you may still have an Assured Shorthold Tenancy (AST) in the eyes of the law. In this event it may be possible to use typical AST measures to recoup moneys owed.

Do I have a License or a Tenancy?

A tenancy is created automatically if someone moves in and starts paying rent. Some landlords incorrectly issue licenses, either through inexperience or design to give tenants less rights than they would usually expect with an AST. A tenancy cannot be turned into a license merely by both parties signing a piece of paper headed ‘license agreement.’  A landmark case which defined the requirements for a tenancy as opposed to a license was Street v. Mountford in 1985. This stated that one has a tenancy if one:

  • pays a rent
  • occupies the property for a term
  • enjoys exclusive possession of land / property

These conditions do not apply if one does not pay rent  or if the occupier does not enjoy exclusive possession such as in a shared room or if cleaning and meals are provided as in a hotel.

The clearest way to identify the difference between the two [license and Assured Shorthold Tenancy] is exclusivity. If a tenant has exclusive use of at least one room in the property, and that room(s) is specified, this will usually be classed as a Tenancy Agreement. If the property is shared with more than one individual, this is more likely to be a Licence.

I believe I have been incorrectly issued with a license and my landlord has not protected my deposit, what should I do?

It may therefore be possible to claim damages from your landlord if they incorrectly issued you with a licence and failed to protect your deposit. According to current deposit protection rules, your landlord must register your deposit in one of the three government-approved deposit protection schemes within 30 days of the start of your tenancy.  The penalty for non-compliance is a fine of between one and three times the deposit amount.

 

 

 

 

 

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