2 Aug 2011

Landlords from Hell revisited

Presenter

Jon Snow’s investigation into rogue landlords for Dispatches learns that despite warnings to the government about the scale of the problem, cuts to local authorities are making things even worse.

Damp, disrepair and the bullying landlords who just don’t care – just some of the issues that have been raised with us.

Housing Minister Grant Shapps himself even tweeted that he was shocked by our findings.

Filming undercover, we exposed the methods of one letting agency, Meridian Investments in Bury, owned by Zafer Mahmood, who runs two hundred properties.

Our undercover reporter revealed a world of forced evictions, dangerous conditions, and routine bullying of tenants.

We discovered Mr Mahmood was forcing some tenants to move out so he could up the rent with new tenants, a scheme he calls remarketing.

Jon Snow investigates

“We can’t be clearer about it and at times we have been. And we have been subtly clear – look, sort yourself out otherwise we’ll end up renting it to somebody else,” Mr Mahmood was filmed saying.

Meridian denied any wrongdoing, telling Dispatches that they have “many, many happy tenants” and have a maintenance team working around the clock to recitify any faults in properties.

Our investigation also discovered that Meridian is a registered charity. The Charity Commission has informed us that, following our programme, it is assessing Meridian’s charitable status.

Channel 4 also revealed another emerging problem – landlords illegally renting living space in sheds and outbuildings. We found several of them in Southall, London.

After our footage was broadcast, Ealing Council, which is responsible for the area we filmed, obtained a warrant and searched the property. Its investigation continues.

Watch: The full documentary, Landlords from Hell on 4OD

The authority has also written to the Government asking for a tightening up of the law so that it is easier for local authorities to take action in cases like this.

Among the many responses we got after our original investigation, a number of local authority employees responsible for stopping problem landlords wrote to us.

“I would put the lack of prosecutions down to operational demands and lack of resources” says ‘John’.

“My own team has lost seven of its 18 enforcement staff over the last 12 months,” writes another from an inner London authority.

And, anecdotally, we have heard that cuts like this are likely to affect the ability of most local authorities to deal with rogue landlords in future

Ben Reeve-Lewis also contacted us because he has been dealing with problem landlords for 20 years.

“It’s extraordinarily difficult, prosecuting landlords under the Protection from Eviction Act is criminal legislation so the criminal standard of evidence applies,” he said.

Landlords from hell

“The quickest I’ve ever got a case in court was 18 months after the offence and often it’s two years or more.”

Dispatches also discovered that the Association of Tenancy Relations Officers – an overall body representing people in Ben’s line of work – wrote to the Government earlier this year demanding it asks local authorities to prioritise action against rogue landlords.

The Government told us they already expect councils, who have extensive powers already, to be proactive in dealing with landlords, and that any more red tape will simply push up the cost of rented accommodation.

A lot of response, not a lot of action. Some promised action.

If you know of any further evidence of rogue landlords, get in touch with Jon Snow on Twitter @JonSnowC4 or on email at Dispatches@channel4.co.uk