A Bristol-based charity that receives thousands of pounds in housing benefit to accommodate vulnerable people has topped a list of the UK’s most-prosecuted landlords compiled by the Guardian.
Alternative Housing, which was established to provide accommodation for homeless people with addiction problems, has been convicted of housing offences six times over the past two years, after letting properties with problems including overflowing raw sewage.
The company, which is registered with the Charity Commission, was fined a total of nearly £40,000. Over the same period it received £321,000 in housing benefit.
The landlord is one of 61 convicted of multiple housing offences over the past two years, yet are still offering homes to tenants.
In one case Alternative Housing was successfully prosecuted for providing bedsits with broken cookers and drains, and without hot water or heating. Other landlords were convicted for providing cold, substandard or unlicensed homes.
The list was compiled by the Guardian following freedom of information requests to councils in England and Wales. Data from the three-quarters of councils that responded revealed that 651 landlords were convicted of housing offences between January 2015 and December 2016. They were fined a total of just £3m – an average of around £4,600 per conviction.
Many of the landlords on the list continue to operate in the private rental market, which has doubled in size since 2000 and now includes many families unable to afford homes as a result of rising house prices.
The list includes two other landlords with six convictions each: Plymouth landlord John Mayer and Adrian Charles Terry, who has appeared on BBC1’s Homes Under the Hammer.
Mayer let out a string of unlicensed bedsits across the city, some of which were so cold council officers reported that his tenants had to wear coats indoors. He had four convictions for operating unlicensed houses in multiple occupation and two convictions for failing to comply with improvement notices and fined a total of £22,000.
In November, Terry pleaded guilty to multiple licensing and Housing Act offences at Wirral magistrates’ court, none of which related to the condition of his properties. He has been convicted six times, all for failing to license properties. A firm he founded, ADR Property Management, which is no longer trading, has five convictions for the same offences. He was fined a total of £150 for the offences, with his firm fine the same amount. It received more than £22,000 in housing benefit payments over the same period.
Wirral council’s housing cabinet member, George Davies, said Terry’s record was “quite appalling” and claimed he had been working against the council’s efforts to raise standards in the sector.
Terry, who has no previous convictions, described the prosecution as “ridiculous” and blamed his staff for missing the deadline to register the firm’s properties with Wirral. “Due to staff negligence the applications didn’t go in on time and they fined me,” he said, adding that the convictions came in just one court case and his record “looked worse than it is” because the council had charged him and his firm with the same offences.
Alternative Housing was prosecuted three times in 2015 after housing officers raided a string of its bedsits in some of Bristol’s most deprived neighbourhoods. They found an electricity meter had been hotwired and sewage was overflowing in the backyard of one small terraced house converted into four bedrooms.
In 2016 it faced three more cases, when council officials discovered the business was still putting some of its tenants at risk. A bucket was being used to collect kitchen waste water and there was no gas for hot water or heating in the same St Pauls house. There were also missing smoke detectors, damp in the bedrooms and insufficient cooking facilities for the tenants.
One of the charity’s tenants, Jorge Rias, was found dead in his room in the property in 2016. The Colombian lay undiscovered for up to four weeks.
Bristol council’s housing cabinet member, Paul Smith, described Alternative Housing as a “bogus charity” which had done “appalling things” to vulnerable people. “There is nothing charitable about what they were doing. They were using charitable status as a cover for commercial activity,” he said.
He added: “In Bristol a large percentage of the private rented sector is looking for young professionals. Those landlords that do take people on benefits have a huge captive market. What we might have once called slum landlords are able to come in and mop people up on benefits because there is not enough affordable homes.”
The charity has only one trustee and director, Ghulam Mohammed, who is not contactable at the address filed with the Charity Commission. The charity’s office in Bristol appears to have closed. On Tuesday, a judge at Bristol crown court dismissed an appeal by Alternative Housing, upholding six offences relating to the house in St Pauls after the charity failed to attend the hearing.
Kevin de Haan QC said he was “frankly very surprised” that a charity set up to manage property on behalf of very vulnerable people had allowed premises to get into this “very, very poor condition”.
The Charity Commission opened a compliance case against Alternative Housing last year and refused to comment on the case. However, a spokesman said: “The commission takes very seriously its duty to maintain public trust and confidence in charities and takes robust action against those who abuse charitable status or who fail to comply with their legal duties.”
The Guardian’s list reveals nearly 60% of councils haven’t prosecuted any landlords in the past two years. This includes some with large rental sectors such as Redbridge in east London and Croydon in south London. Redbridge said there were prosecutions in the pipeline. “During the time period referred to we did not bring any landlord prosecutions, which was in part due to resourcing issues and also due to the long lead in time to prosecutions,” it said. Croydon said it preferred to issue landlords with notices. “They deliver faster results for tenants, and in the small number of cases where landlords do not comply we do the work ourselves and bill them for it,” it said.
This month councils were given the power to impose civil penalties of up to £30,000 on rogue landlords without going to court. In the autumn councils will be able to apply to ban the worst landlords and housing officers will be able to consult a national database of rogue landlords.
The most convicted landlords
The only remaining registered director and trustee of Bristol’s Alternative Housing is the elusive Ghulam Mohammed. The bright red shop in the deprived east of the city where Alternative Housing once offered housing and additional advice now lies deserted.
The family living in the nearby residential address where Mohammed registered the charity know nothing of him. After the convictions built up for the charity last year, Bristol council ruled that Mohammed was not a fit and proper person to manage licensable rental property.
However, his charity, which is under investigation by the Charity Commission, continues to receive nearly £2,000 a month in housing benefit.
Property investor specialist Adrian Terry started purchasing properties for himself and in 2003 he founded ADR Property Group. The firm sourced and managed properties in the north-west on behalf of investors keen to pick up bargains.
Terry used his appearances on BBC1’s Homes Under the Hammer to win new clients. The firm built up a property portfolio of 300 rentals but was wound up at the end of last year.
He now runs a property company, Indigo Invest, but has not appeared on TV since the convictions. Terry said: “I’ve been on Homes Under the Hammer six times. They only like to put you on five or six times. They keep repeating the episodes and we get business from that.”
Despite not being registered with his local council, John Mayer let homes to 30 tenants in Plymouth. Housing officers who inspected his homes reported that he had failed to install adequate heating in the houses in multiple occupation – with some tenants wearing coats indoors and others sleeping on the sofa rather than the bedroom because they could not afford to keep more than one room warm.
The biggest fine
Over 2015 and 2016 the biggest financial penalty imposed on a landlord was £162,000. The huge fine was slapped on London landlord Abbas Rasul and his companies, who broke 22 separate housing regulations when he turned a four-bedroom flat in a street of multimillion-pound properties near Hyde Park into 14 bedsits sharing one kitchen. A local councillor branded the property “illegal and unsafe”.
Rasul charged 18 tenants – who were mainly migrant workers understood to be mostly employed in West End hotels – an average of £800 a month for the rooms in the Georgian grade II-listed property next door to the Dutch embassy, bringing in more than £14,000 a month.