A landlord who breached fire safety regulations and left her tenants living in uninhabitable conditions has been named the most prosecuted landlord in England and Wales, after a list of letting agents and landlords who have been convicted for housing offences was released.
Katia Goremsandu owns several rental properties in Haringey, North London and has been convicted seven times. She has been fined a total of £16,565 for letting uninhabitable rooms.
Haringey Council believes that her rental income is around £188,000 per year, including some housing benefit payments.
Goremsandu says she was being “victimised and harassed” by the Council, adding that she was at the centre of “a war between the landlords and the tenants, who begrudge the fact that we have property.”
Increasingly, people have to live in rental accommodation. But the shocking list reveals how landlords with multiple convictions are still letting out property and whose fines are just fractions of their rental income.
Property experts are calling for tougher penalties and indicate that some landlords consider fines “a business expense”, rather than a warning.
Environmental Health News (EHN) compiled the list of convicted landlords and letting agents after it won a freedom of information battle against the Ministry of Justice (MoJ).
The MoJ was forced to release the names of individuals and letting agencies that have been prosecuted for providing poor quality or unlicensed rental properties. There were 2,006 convictions between 2006-14, resulting in fines totalling £3m. This is less than £1,500 per conviction.
Many of those convicted are still practising as landlords and letting agents.
Complete details of the cases are not available for all landlords and agents, but half of the companies and individuals are named. The most common name is Goremsandu.
Haringey Council says that it took action against her “for a range of issues relating to disrepair and the poor state of properties she rents out.”
In 2014, Goremsandu was prosecuted for putting tenants at risk by covering a warning light on a faulty fire alarm with a black sticker, in a property that was converted into seven flats in Tottenham.
Goremsandu claimed that the sticker was placed over the light to prevent the alarm going off while her engineer waited for a replacement part. She says: “It was a work in progress.”
In 2012, she was convicted for leaving tenants without heating for long periods during the wintertime. She states: “They just didn’t put the money on the gas card.”1
Again in 2012, she was convicted for renting out a damp house for over a year. This case was upheld at a crown court.
The Council said there was an “ongoing problem in all properties with damp, which she has failed to address.”1
Wayne Lewis, Goremsandu’s barrister, said she felt the label of the most prosecuted landlord in England and Wales is “unfair” and has argued against the Council’s estimated figure for her earnings, saying her income is not as “glamorous as you might think.”
Lewis, of Access Lawyers, says his client was let down by the tradespeople she contacted to make the improvements that the Council demanded.
He adds: “She feels, had she been given more help from the Council in how to deal with the repairs, she wouldn’t have had all these prosecutions. They threw the book at her repeatedly and prosecuted her without delay.”1
EHN has released a video featuring Goremsandu. See below:
The list also reveals that Harbinder Singh Athwal and Gurbaxo Kaur received the highest combined fine of £18,000 for failing to make repairs on a flat in the Midlands, to such a state that the judge described it as “Dickensian.”1
The West Bromwich flat had a leaking roof, dangerous electrics and no central heating. The pair ignored requests from Sandwell Council to make the repairs.
The single highest fine was for landlord Liakath Ali, a £9,520 penalty for letting an overcrowded, dangerous home in Tower Hamlets, East London.
A Tower Hamlets Council spokesperson said that Ali had been prosecuted in 2012 and 2013 for failing to comply with improvement notices “with regard to housing health and safety hazards associated with fire safety, lighting, domestic hygiene, pests and refuse, and crowding and space.”1
The most prosecuted firm was Aspire Developments in Burnley, which rents hundreds of properties around Lancashire. It has been prosecuted five times and fined £8,850, more than any other company.
Jamie Carter, who owns the firm, said the prosecutions paint the wrong picture of the business. He admits: “I probably could have dealt with one or two of those issues better than I did, but none of us are perfect.”1
The list also includes more well known names, such as Serco, which was fined £5,120 for an unlicensed fire-risk bedsit in Liverpool.
Managing Director of the firm’s home affairs business, James Thorburn, says: “When Serco was informed of the breach, we took immediate action to remedy the situation. This breach should not have happened and therefore we pleaded guilty.”1
Director of campaign group Generation Rent, Betsy Dillner, says it is shocking that landlords with multiple convictions are allowed to continue practising: “It’s clear fines are just a business expense for people like Goremsandu.
“Criminal landlords are raking in £5 billion in rent a year, so the fines are a drop in the ocean. If we can’t hurt slumlords with fines, they won’t be driven out of the market.”1
Chief Executive of homelessness charity Shelter, Campbell Robb, says that rogue landlords are getting “nothing more than a slap on the wrist with insignificant fines, meaning they can go back to business as usual.”
He adds that the courts should use their powers to impose higher fines: “The Government also has a chance to do its bit to protect private renters with the upcoming housing bill, from introducing a register of landlords, to giving local authorities the resources they need to stamp out rogue landlords in their area for good.”1
Stephen Battersby helped develop standards for properties that are detailed in the Housing Act 2004. He believes that convicted landlords should be banned from the industry.
He says that councils do not use their powers to force landlords to fix problems: “There seems to be a desire always to get improvements by persuasion almost regardless of the attitude and record of the landlord.
“These are not minor or trivial matters, these are serious offences, because housing conditions shape people’s health and wellbeing.”1
Courts in England and Wales collected the data. The MoJ said that every effort was made to ensure it is accurate, but that a significant amount is missing.
Overall housing convictions have risen sharply since the 2004 Housing Act was introduced, increasing from just one in 2006 to 428 in 2014.
Several local authorities, including Doncaster, Wigan and Corby, have been taken to court just once each and councils in East London have prosecuted 256 landlords.