Tag Archives: renters rights

Buy-to-let tycoon Fergus Wilson facing legal action after admitting he banned ‘coloured’ tenants making his homes ‘stink of curry’

fergus-wilson

Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord Fergus Wilson is facing legal action after defending his policy to direct his letting agents not to let his properties to “coloured” people whom he claimed make his homes “stink of curry”.

Mr Wilson refused to deny making a list of requirements for tenants in an email to a letting agent seen by the Sun newspaper. He did however say that it was “some time ago”.

Wilson, who has previous convictions for assault and who last year failed in a bid to run for the role of Kent’s police and crime commissioner, said the controversy started when he bought a house in Ashford at a discounted price because of a strong smell of curry.

“I said when I bought it that within six months it’d be sorted but we just could not get rid of the bloody smell – it absolutely stank of curry,” he told Kent News.

“The carpets had to come up and the whole job meant throwing £12,000 down the drain.”

Mr Wilson then bought another house nearby but said a mixed-race family left the house smelling of curry at the end of their tenancy.

“It was a case of once bitten, twice shy,” he said.

“Having spent six months on the first one I said ‘no I’ve have enough, I do not want to take on another house where I have to get rid of a curry smell’.

“Yes, I accept not every individual coloured person likes and eats curry but I think a high proportion do and I had to go on probabilities.

“It was done because I did not care to repeat the experiences of before.”

When challenged on the use of language many would find offensive, he responded: “I use the term ‘coloured’ because it’s quicker and easier than saying ‘people from India, people from Africa and people who are Arabic’.

“To anybody who says I’m racist, I’ve just employed a coloured person.”

“Battered-wife” letting ban

This is not the first time Mr Wilson has been in the public eye for discriminating potential tenants. In January he issued letting criteria which banned single mums, battered wives, plumbers and low income earners.

His ban on battered wives came following his attempt to run stand for election for Kent’s Police and Crime Commissioner on an anti-domestic violence platform. In the end his candidacy was ruled ineligible by the election officer for his previous assault conviction. Wilson also claimed that if elected he would return illegal immigrants to France the day after they arrive in Kent.

Speaking to the Sun Wilson denied he was a racist saying “To be honest, we’re getting overloaded with coloured people. It is a problem with certain types of coloured people – those who consume curry – it sticks to the carpet. You have to get some chemical thing that takes the smell out. In extreme cases you have to replace the carpet.”

He further claimed that while he doesn’t today employ a specific policy banning “coloureds” he estimates he’s only rented to 14 mixed-race tenants over his two decades in the property business.

“As long as their money is green, we’re happy to have them,” he said.

“But if the same situation happened again tomorrow, I would say the say thing, because I was being practical.”

Discrimination investigation

Rebecca Hilsenrath, the chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission said the watchdog would be investigating the comments and warning Wilson that he could face legal action.

“These are truly disgusting remarks as well as being unlawful instructions from a landlord to a letting agent,” she said. “There are still deep inequalities in our society as our race report demonstrated and these comments show why.

“As a country we all assume we have left the dark ages behind, but clearly there is more to be done. We will investigate and will be asking Mr Wilson to explain his actions. Unless we are satisfied that he will not commit unlawful acts in the future we will take legal action”.

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 buy-to-let landlord bans ‘coloureds’ from renting his properties because they ‘make them smell of curry’

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

Britain’s biggest buy-to-let landlord has banned ‘coloureds’ from renting his properties because they make them smell of curry.

In an email to his letting agent Evolution Properties, Fergus Wilson, 70 from Kent said: “No coloured people because of the curry smell at the end of the tenancy.”

Wilson who is reportedly worth around £100 million is no stranger to controversy.  In January it emerged that he banned “battered wives” from his properties claiming he does not want to risk ex-husbands or boyfriends returning to destroy his houses.

Also included on the list of proscribed tenants were children under 18, single adults, battered wives, tenants without a rent guarantee, people on housing benefit, low income workers, zero hours workers, plumbers, smokers and pet owners.

Wilson, who at one point owned 1,000 homes in Maidstone and Ashford, was unrepentant when challenged about the latest ban.

“To be honest, we’re getting overloaded with coloured people.”

“It is a problem with certain types of coloured people — those who consume curry — it sticks to the carpet.

“You have to get some chemical thing that takes the smell out. In extreme cases you have to replace the carpet.”

While Mr Wilson’s latest policy would not breach criminal law he could be sued in a civil court and has already been chastised by anti-racism group Hope Not Hate.

In December 2014 he banned tenants who shared his surname after several cases of ‘mistaken identity’ led to council tax disputes.

In the same year 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”.

Evolution, which manages hundreds of Wilson’s properties, has also condemned the policy and said it would never implement it. Evolution’s manager, Roy Fever, said: “We don’t condone this at all.

“We would never implement a policy like that. We put through anyone to the landlord and it is up to the landlord who they take on.”

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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Child sex abuser who applied for landlord license from jail among four Glasgow men banned from letting properties

govanhill

Four landlords including a convicted child sex offender from Govanhill have been banned from renting homes by Glasgow City Council.

Muhammed Anwar applied for renewal of his landlord registration while serving a six-year jail sentence for three child sex abuse offences. The application was refused by a council committee along with three other rogue landlords.

The other men: Akhtar Ali, Ashiq Mohammed and Shabnam Sattar were found to be no longer fit to be landlords by Glasgow city council’s licensing and regulatory committee due to issues with their properties.

Mr Ali’s ban arose from concerns about his property management following a fire at one of his properties in Glenapp Street which resulted in two people being taken to hospital.

Additional  inspections of properties on Prince Edward Street, Garturk Street and Hickman Street revealed that gas and electricity meters had been by-passed and the flats had no smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.

Ashiq Mohammed and Shabnam Sattar failed fit and proper persons tests. Both did not provide enhanced criminal record certificates, current building insurance policies, confirmation form tenants that they had received their information packs, gas safety and energy performance certificates.

A spokesman for Glasgow council said: “We are very pleased that the work of the Landlord Registration Unit has been endorsed by the Licensing Committee.

“Our team is determined to ensure that those people on the Landlord Register are fit to be landlords.

“Whenever there is evidence that a landlord is no longer a suitable person to rent out property or they fail to manage their property appropriately, we will always seek to take action against them.

“Govanhill has been an area of the city where particular problems with landlords have been identified. The additional powers available to us through Govanhill’s Enhanced Enforcement Area are helping us to improve housing standards in the area.”

Wider Problem

The most recent bans from the landlord register comes following the banning of nine rogue Glasgow landlords in November. One of men banned had been convicted of assault with intent to rape.

The latest crackdown on rogue landlords in Glasgow comes following a highly publicized BBC Scotland investigation in August last year into housing abuse in Govanhill. It is reported that housing conditions are so bad that in some cases newborn babies are living in flats without running water.

Banned landlords may face prosecution and a fine of up to £50,000 if they attempt to let a property in future.

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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Crooked letting agent with previous fraud convictions jailed for 19 months for scamming tenants

Thirugnanaselvam Damayantharan outside Croydon Crown Court
Thirugnanaselvam Damayantharan outside Croydon Crown Court

A crooked letting agent in Croydon with previous convictions for swindling tenants has been jailed for 19 months and banned from being a company director for five years.

Thirugnanaselvam Damayantharan, 53, scammed victims out of sums ranging from £300 to £1,449, in frauds relating to 33 tenancies. It is believed that the total amount stolen is around £15,000.

In a prosecution brought by Croydon Council’s Trading Standards team, Damayantharan, also known as Mr Damo, originally denied two counts of fraudulently trading as two companies – See Own Properties and My Lawn Estates – over the past six years.

He later changed his plea to guilty after hearing evidence from around twenty of his victims who testified how he had taken holding deposits from tenants which he refused to return when he deliberately failed their reference checks.

Damayantharan then invented reasons for withholding the money before eventually breaking off contact. Common excuses included claims that the landlord had decided not to let to the tenant or that the money had been held up with a referencing agency.

In some cases Damayantharan even cheated multiple tenants out of their holding deposits for properties he advertised to let without permission.

Andrew Johnson, prosecuting, told the court that  in some cases Damayantharan took deposits from several different prospective tenants for the same property – with none securing the property.

During sentencing at Croydon Crown Court, Judge Gower told Damayantharan: “Before you changed your pleas, the court heard evidence from more than a dozen prospective tenants. All painted a similar picture.

“You were quick and efficient at relieving them of their money, if necessary by driving them, there and then, to cash-point machines. Some have spoken of being made to feel rushed.

“Thereafter, they found it increasingly difficult to make contact with you, as the time for commencing the tenancy in their home grew ever nearer. A variety of different excuses were put forward by you as to why they were not able to move in.

“Only one prospective tenant managed to get back the whole deposit, but it took a considerable time and a great deal of persistence. The majority got nothing.

“The way you operated was thoroughly dishonest.”

Previous Convictions

Damayantharan’s case raises important questions about public protection from rogue landlords and letting agents. At trial, the jury was told that Damayantharan was convicted in February 2013 of three offences under the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations Act. He had also pleaded guilty to two Companies Act offences at an earlier hearing in relation to the same case.

The jury was further informed that Damayantharan continued to operate the deposit scam even after fresh criminal proceedings began against him in August 2015.

Furthermore,  despite the mandatory requirement since October 2014 that letting agencies belong to a redress scheme, one of Damayantharan’s companies, My Lawn Estates, continued to operate for two years following its expulsion from the Property Ombudsman in August 2015.

Damayantharan could also now be be placed on a blacklist of agents which is planned later this year. However, the list will not be publicly accessible which raises serious questions about the effectiveness of scheme to protect the public.

Speaking following Damayantharan’s conviction, Councillor Hamida Ali, Croydon Council’s cabinet member for communities, safety and justice said: “This is a dreadful case of fraud, leaving dozens of his clients out of pocket and, in some cases, facing the possibility of homelessness.”

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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Sheffield Landlord with two previous criminal convictions for harassing tenants again found guilty of harassment

judge

A buy-to-let landlord in Sheffield with two previous convictions for harassment has been ordered to undertake 180 hours of unpaid community service for harassing a tenant and failing to adequately manage his property. Nilendu Das, of Carterknowle Avenue, who was convicted at Sheffield’s Magistrates Court, was also been ordered to pay £2,412 in court costs, fines and compensation.

The court heard how on one occasion Das sent ten text messages in a three minute period to one of his tenants. On another occasion, 15 messages were sent to the tenant in one the day, which included a text informing the tenant that he must vacate the property.

In addition to the harassment charge,  Das also pleaded guilty to four health and safety breaches relating to the property on Sackville Road, Sheffield. The court heard that there were damaged fire doors, an unprotected means of fire escape and faulty fire alarm systems.

Well known in Sheffield housing circles, Mr Das has previous convictions for harassment in February 2012 and August 2013 with the latter resulting in a 49 day prison sentence. Das was also convicted of failing to comply with a council improvement notice and failure to adequately manage properties.

During his 2013 trial, it was revealed that Mr Das sent his son to private school while falsely claiming £17,000 in council tax benefit and Job seeker’s allowance over two years. At the same time his tenants were forced to live in properties with mouldy walls, broken doors and lack of insulation.

Das was sentenced to 26 weeks in prison for fraud for four failures to comply with improvement notices and harassing a former tenant. While awaiting sentencing, Das was also serving a suspended prison sentence for changing the locks at the flat of another tenant who had complained his home was unsafe. Das had written into his tenancy agreements any tenant who complained would be charged £350.

In his defense Das’s lawyer claimed that his client had ‘got lost in a fog of figures’. “This is a man who operates with an IQ of one, only just above the base line.”

Speaking about Das’ latest conviction, Councillor Jayne Dunn, cabinet member for housing at Sheffield City Council, said: “This case is serious. The landlord has been convicted twice before for similar offences and he knows how strictly the court treats these matters.

“We don’t just investigate issues where we hear about tenants being threatened or evicted illegally. As this case shows, we also prosecute when there is lower-level harassment and when the landlord acts in a way which is outside the law.

“Everyone deserves to live in safe, good quality housing regardless of whether they rent or own their home. I am determined to carry on clamping down on the very small minority of bad landlords in Sheffield that treat their tenants badly and tarnish the private rented sector.”

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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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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Nearly One-in-Three Private Rented Houses Would Fail Government Minimum Housing Standards

Private rented houses worst property type

Nearly one-in-three privately rented properties would fail the Government’s minimum property standards for social housing according to the the 2014/15 English Housing Survey. Even more alarmingly, a House of Commons research report published last year admitted that there has effectively been no minimum property standards for private rented housing in England since 2006.

Although there are statutory provisions governing private landlords’ repairing and maintenance obligations, enforcement of standards in private rented housing in England and Wales is mainly carried out through the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS). This system is essentially a risk-assessment based regulatory model used by local authority environmental health officers. The House of Commons report states that: “since the introduction of the HHSRS in 2006, replacing the old Housing Fitness Standard, there have effectively been no minimum property standards for rented housing in England.”

Overall the private rental sector in England has worst standards of any rental property type. Twenty-nine per cent of privately rented properties would fail to meet minimum standards compared with fourteen per cent of social housing.

Despite the seriousness of the issue, several failed attempts have been made in Parliament to establish minimum housing criteria. Notably the MP for Westminster North, Karen Buck proposed a Private Members’ Bill which was adjourned on its second reading debate on 16th October 2015. The “Fitness for Human Habitation Bill” sought to amend the Landlord and Tenant Act (1985) to require that residential rented accommodation be provided and maintained in a state of fitness for human habitation,

In addition to the effective lack of private rental housing standards, local authorities are also struggling to deal with housing complaints. In 2016, the Liberal Democrat Peer, Baroness Bakewell revealed that in 2012-13, little over half of housing complaints resulted in a Local Authority inspection. Of the 62,818 complaints received over the time period, only 31,634 inspections were carried out. This resulted in only 1,645 improvement notices being served, 2.6% of the total number of complaints. The most common categories of hazards and faults identified in inspections were: damp and mould, excess cold, overcrowding, falling hazards and fire.

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Furthermore, despite having the lowest property standards, the private renting is also the most expensive housing type. Private renters now spend an average of 47% of their income on rent compared with 23% of the income of people with a mortgage and 32% of the income for those in the social rented sector.

These findings come as 11 million people now live in private rented accommodation in England, a figure which has almost doubled in the last decade and is set for further increases.

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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Private renting virtually impossible for benefit claimants

House to rent no dss

Increasing numbers of Housing Benefit claimants are being excluded from the private rental sector as the number of properties listed as ‘No DSS’ grows according to a House of Commons Briefing Paper. ‘No DSS’  (standing for “Department of Social Security” which was replaced by the Department for Work and Pensions 16 years ago) means the landlord or agent won’t rent a property to someone on housing benefit or local housing allowance.

The House of Commons reports corroborates anecdotal evidence from the Hackney-based private renter information and campaign group Digs which found only one studio flat on the market available to Housing Benefit claimants in a survey of 50 local estate agents between December 2015 and February 2016.

Despite calls from  renters rights groups to outlaw the proscription of renters receiving state benefits on discrimination grounds, the House of Commons briefing paper stated that such restrictions on Housing Benefit claimants is “unlikely to amount to direct discrimination as income and employment status are not protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010.”

The paper also highlighted other factors which may be exacerbating landlords’ reluctance to let to Housing Benefit claimants which include:

  • uncertainly around the roll-out and implications of Universal Credit
  • the payment of Housing Benefit in arrears
  • restrictions in mortgage agreements and insurance requirements
  • impending tax changes resulting in landlords focusing on “less risky” tenants.

The House of Commons report was soon followed by significant coverage of the publication of a list of banned tenant types from Britain’s biggest landlord, Fergus Wilson, which included tenants receiving benefits. Mr Wilson also included workers on zero-hour contracts, single parents, battered wives and plumbers on his list of undesirable tenant types.

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In addition the the reluctance of many landlords to rent to people on benefits, mortgage lenders may also be exacerbating this situation. In 2012 for example, the buy-to-let lender, The Mortgage Works, stated that no new mortgages would be advanced to landlords whose tenants received benefits. This condition was later withdrawn after significant negative press coverage. Other property letting websites also include a search filter to screen out properties which do not allow tenants on benefits.

This situation is of such importance to large numbers of renters that the housing charity Shelter has published a guide for benefit claimants to  convince a landlord to rent to them.

 

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Renters in shared housing to gain from increased protection

housing_inspection

Around a million renters living in HMOs (Houses in Multiple Occupation) will soon benefit from extra protection from rogue landlords being planned by the government.

HMOs, familiar to many students and flat sharers, are defined as properties shared by more than one unrelated persons. Typically these may be groups of friends such as is common for student accommodation or by strangers.  Typically the house sharers will have their own bedrooms but will share communal areas such as bathrooms or kitchens.

Under the government’s proposals, tenants living in a HMO may soon benefit from:

  • minimum room size standards (6.52m2 for one person rooms and 10.32m2 for double rooms)
  • improved waste disposal facilities
  • tackling rogue landlords through the introduction of a fit and proper person test for HMO landlords

Most significant is the proposed extension of the HMO licensing regime to include small HMOs which are currently exempt from mandatory licensing.

To date only large HMOs (3 stories or more) require mandatory licensing. The government seeks to extend HMO licensing to all properties irrespective of size and will push all HMOs with five occupants or more from two different households into the mandatory HMO licensing regime (with the exception of purpose built flats).

Due to the higher risk of poor quality housing in HMOs complex licensing regimes exist which may vary significantly across the UK. The move to license all HMOs will also help reduce such  regional variation in licensing regimes and housing standards. These extra renter protections will enhance currently existing license checks for properties which currently include minimum building quality standards (gas/fire safety) and the payment of a license fee.

Currently landlords operating an unlicensed HMO which requires licensing are liable for criminal prosecution and may be subject to an unlimited fine. Under such circumstances tenants may apply for a Rent Repayment Order to receive  refund of up to 12 months’ rent on the property.

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