The move from confiscation to forfeiture: how should we punish rogue landlords?

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

This article discusses the penalties for rogue landlords who rent out unfit and illegally constructed properties to tenants. It discusses the growing pressure for properties to be confiscated from landlords and their names and convictions to be publicly accessible.

There is growing pressure for more punishment of rogue landlords who are renting out unfit properties to tenants. It is argued confiscation orders are not effective enough. The term ‘rogue landlord’ has been defined by government as describing ‘a landlord who knowingly flouts their obligations by renting out unsafe and substandard accommodation to tenants, many of whom may be vulnerable.’ 

Confiscation orders are orders made against a convicted defendant ordering them to pay an amount of money, which reflects the benefit gained from their crime (Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, s6). Unlike a forfeiture order, a confiscation order is not focussed on the asset (property) and does not deprive the defendant or anyone else of title to any property.

Last month, a confiscation order worth nearly £740,000 was given against landlord, Mohammed Mehdi Ali, who rented out properties in Willesden in breach of planning enforcement notices. This is thought to be the largest order ever given for breaching planning permissions with Councillor Shama Tatler, Brent Council’s lead member for regeneration, property and planning stating that “the accommodation provided was some of the worst residential accommodation that officers have ever come across.” Mohammed Mehdi Ali was told he would face a prison term of five years and nine months if he did not pay the order, in full within three months.

Just the day before, Slough Borough Council secured a confiscation order worth £109,000 against a landlord who built unlawful extensions to a family home and housed up to 14 people in the rooms. Jagtar Phagura, 64, created five bedrooms in extensions built without planning permission at the property in Mirador Crescent, Upton Lea. The house had been purchased as a three-bedroom home covering two floors.

By flouting standard planning permission procedures, these landlords create unsafe environments for numerous tenants, who tend to be from an immigrant background and/or on low-incomes, making them particularly vulnerable. For these landlords, their aim is to rent out their properties to as many people than can physically fit, in the aim of making as much profit as possible. This engages article 1, protocol 1 of European Convention of Human Rights, of course, which states:

Every natural or legal person is entitled to the peaceful enjoyment of [their] possessions. No one shall be deprived of [their] possessions except in the public interest and subject to the conditions provided for by law and by the general principles of international law.

The question is, is it in the public interest to completely confiscate these unfit properties from rogue landlords? Surely the answer is, of course!

Comment

Despite the name, confiscation orders do not remove the property from rogue landlords’s possession and therefore they are able to continue profiting from their asset. This seems counter-intuitive. The issue was raised in a Select Committee debate in April 2018 where it was argued, confiscation orders were not enough of a deterrent, normally fining nominal fees which landlords simply in as part of their business model,. They then continue to earn a profit from their asset. It was argued that “local authorities should have the power to confiscate properties from those landlords committing the most egregious offences and whose business model relies on the exploitation of vulnerable tenants”, yet this has still not come into effect.

However, in response to these complaints, the Government did set up a national ‘Rogue Landlord and Agent Checker’ which was aimed at asking Local Councils to provideinformation about private landlords and letting agents who have been prosecuted or fined. Despite being heralded as ‘a key tool to target the country’s worst landlords’, it has been dubbed ineffective, with the Guardian reporting it was near empty 6 months after it’s creation, with numerous Freedom of Information Request denied as it ‘was not in the public interest to disclose this information at this time’.

So to confirm, bad landlords who make profit from exploiting vulnerable tenants are, yes asked to pay a fine, but in return, allowed to keep their property to continue using as they see fit and allowed to keep their anonymity when convicted of their crimes. How is this possibly benefitting the public?

There is hope on this issue, however. The Mayor of London has created a London based Rogue Landlord and Agent Checker’ with contributions from all London Councils as to convicted landlords and all information is publicly accessible. The aims of Checker are to:

  • empower private tenants to check their landlord or agent before they sign a rental agreement;
  • facilitate better information sharing between enforcement authorities, improving enforcement action against bad landlords and agents who operate across London; and
  • provide a quick and easy way for tenants to make a complaint to a London borough.

Early signs of this checker are seen to be positive with over 100 landlords/ agents named on the register. However, I suggest more awareness is needed over this tool, as many renters in London should be encouraged to report bad letting experiences and also review the website before signing tenancies.

To conclude, such high orders given in cases such a Ali and Phagura are drawing awareness to the need for true confiscation of properties in serious rogue landlord situations. Pressure is now growing for the government to remove the asset and stop this issue it’s core, rather than using weaker preventative measures of fines. In these situations, I argue rogue landlord’s have forfeited their right to exclusive enjoyment of the property and thus their property ought to be forfeited too.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: