Dealing With Unauthorised Sub Tenants – Paul Shamplina



Over the past 12 months, we have seen a 15% increase in the number of overcrowding cases we are dealing with, with more cases in London than anywhere else in the country which, we believe, is a direct result of the recession.

The worst case we have dealt with was a three bedroom, one bathroom, semi-detached house in North London, which, on an inspection during the course of the tenancy, was found to have had 53 occupants, all illegal immigrants. There were mattresses literally littering the floors from wall to wall in every available space. The sanitation issues were stretched to say the least. In this particular case, the occupants of the flat were well aware of the habitable situation they were getting themselves into.

There are, however, an increasing number of cases where both parties are not aware of the whole story!

A typical scenario would be a property let through a well known and, most of the time, respected letting agent. References are carried out by way of employment and previous landlord, credit checks are done and the new tenant moves in. All legal and above the board – you would think! However, once they have their foot in the door, it quickly turns sour.

That is where a legal landlord's relationship with their neighbours comes into its own. It's vital to ensure that, when letting your property, you keep up a good and constant relationship with your neighbours or, in the case of an apartment, caretakers so that anything untoward is brought to your attention as soon as possible. Most cases are reported by vigilant observers who often complain about noise levels or disrepair to the property due to the excessive number of occupants. The initial point at which the complaint is investigated can also be the first time the tenants are made aware they are an unlawful occupant. Depending on what available time and resources the local police have, they don't always want to get involved, often classing it as a civil matter.

If your only option is to deal with the issue yourself, take advice and act with caution. If you suspect your property is being sublet, whilst I would advise that the sub tenants are spoken to directly to ascertain exactly what is going on, you should never accept payment directly from this source as this would be seen to be giving them authority to be in the residence. I would suggest that, if they are happy to remain, both parties cut out the middle man by going through the proper procedures to have the tenancy negated, then draw up a new tenancy for each individual resident. Under no circumstances should you accept payment of rent until the matter is sorted.

I would also recommend that both land lords and tenants use a reputable letting agency and landlords use a referencing company, although, with the sophistication of these gangs, even taking these precautions doesn't always guarantee you won't get caught out. Both parties should ensure that they are dealing with someone who is actually who they say they are by insisting on seeing photo ID and, in the tenants case, proof that the property is available for rent by the legitimate owner. If a landlord does decide to handle the let himself, ensure that due diligence is carried out.

The prize for ingenuity has to go to an organised gang who I came across some years back now. A professional lady working in The City let her lovely two bedroom flat in Westminster to two Chinese students. The agents she had used contacted her some months into the tenancy to suggest she make a visit to check everything was OK, as it had been brought to their attention that there might be a problem. One making her visit, she found the front door unlocked and was able to walk straight in to find not only beds she had left in the property, but an additional 7 bunk beds, rucksacks and other baggage covering what remained of the floor space. It transpired that her flat was being advertised on a Chinese website as a youth hostel for travelling students and the beds were being charged out at £15 per night. The managing agent for the block later informed her that hers was the fourth flat in the block that had been found to be being used in this way in a two week period. I was followed by BBC 1 programme 'War at the Door' on this case.

Nothing surprises me anymore!