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Rogue landlords fall foul of Tower Hamlets renters’ charter with record fines

PUBLISHED: 07:00 26 February 2019

Campaigners picket town hall in 2016 against dodgy landlords which leads to a renters' charter. Picture: Mike Brooke

Campaigners picket town hall in 2016 against dodgy landlords which leads to a renters' charter. Picture: Mike Brooke

Mike Brooke

Rogue landlords have had to fork out nearly half-a-million pounds in just 36 months for flouting tenants’ legal rights since Tower Hamlets Council set up its renters’ charter.

Renters picket several East End lettings agencies over extortionate 'key money' deposits. Picture: Tower Hamlets RentersRenters picket several East End lettings agencies over extortionate 'key money' deposits. Picture: Tower Hamlets Renters

The £458,000 has gone on fines, legal fees and compensation following summonses against unscrupulous property owners or their dodgy lettings agents.

The long-awaited crackdown began after the Private Renters’ Charter was introduced with a landlord licensing scheme in 2016 to push up standards.

“We won’t hesitate to go after unscrupulous rogue landlords,” mayor John Biggs warned. “London is in the midst of a housing crisis while the government might be shy of taking action—but we certainly aren’t.”

Campaigners won their two-year fight for the Renters’ Charter after protests at the town hall to stop unlawful evictions and to stop unscrupulous registration fees before they could even move into vacant properties, some paying £900 “key money” up front.

Mayor John Biggs... Mayor John Biggs... "We won’t hesitate to go after unscrupulous rogue landlords." Picture: Mike Brooke

But the pendulum has swung against dodgy dealers who had to cough up £150,000 in fines the first half of 2018 alone, it has emerged. This followed checks on the 401 landlords and agents listed on the council’s database where 27 were found to be flouting legislation about hidden fees.

But the biggest penalty was earlier this year when a duped renter won back his £740 deposit after a lettings agent was fined £167,000 at Thames Magistrates’ Court with another £8,800 costs for a misleading advertising scam.

Justin Wight saw a promo on the Sterling De Vere website for a ground-floor bedsit near Victoria Park and paid his deposit—but the bedsit turned out to be a tiny room at the top of the stairs three flights up which also had mould, bad fittings and a broken sash window.

The 34-year-old video editor sought help with the renters’ charter which led to a trading standards investigation that uncovered what a judge later described as a “bait and switch” scam. The company admitted it was the wrong photo, but denied it was “bait and switch”.

The video editor who got his deposit back after judge fined a lettings agency £167,000 for 'bait and switch' scam. Picture: Justin WightThe video editor who got his deposit back after judge fined a lettings agency £167,000 for 'bait and switch' scam. Picture: Justin Wight

It was the second court appearance for Sterling De Vere in three months, having been fined £54,000 in September for renting out an overcrowded flat on the Boundary Estate in Shoreditch with no heating and inadequate fire precautions.

Renters had lacked protection before 2016 and could be evicted on a whim, some being thrown out for merely complaining about lack of repairs or maintenance.

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