Mr Riaz Uddin obtained a sub-lease on a combined residential/commercial premises in the London Borough of Newham. The lease set out clearly that the residential premises which was accessible only through the commercial premises and for occupation by the leaseholder. There were no provisions for subletting the property.
In 2010 the superior “freehold” landlord was concerned that Mr Uddin was acting not in compliance with his lease obligations and had fallen into arrears with his rent. Mr Philip Antino of APA Property Service Ltd (www.apaproperty.com) was instructed by the landlords to carry out an inspection of the property and to report thereon.
It became immediately obvious that Mr Uddin was not in occupation and had carried out unlawful structural alterations to separate the commercial and residential premises, and was now subletting the residential accommodation on a multiple occupancy (unlicensed HMO).
The large rooms had been divided in some instances up to three times to create smaller bedsit rooms. Surprisingly Mr Uddin had also formed stud partitions around stairwell enclosures, which were large enough to accommodate one single mattress and was also letting these to tenants, just like Harry Potter Mr Uddin had tenants living under the stairs.
In all there were approximately 25 people living in the premises paying on average £125 per week per room. The premises had one bathroom and a ground floor cloakroom. There was no communal rooms, the kitchen was reduced by 50% in size to accommodate the alterations to external access with one fridge and one oven/hob.
There was unauthorised interference with electrical wiring, there was no independent protective means of escape over the four floors. No smoke, fire alarms installed and none of the works had been carried out with either planning or building regulation approval or indeed the superior landlords permission.
Mr Antino reported these breaches of building regulations and planning to the London Borough of Newham. Legal proceedings were initiated for forfeiture of the lease for these blatant breaches.
The London Borough of Newham issued repeated warnings to Mr Uddin to make an application for planning and building regulations and then to carry out any appropriate works that were deemed necessary to ensure compliance and to vacate the premises immediately of all tenants or face prosecution.
Mr Uddin cleared the property of tenants for several months and then moved them back in following further unauthorised structural alterations to the property.
The London Fire Brigade were notified of these ongoing breaches and concerns regarding the safety of the occupants, and they issued a prohibition notice preventing the use of the property for residential use.
Mr Uddin was repeatedly warned that residential occupation was prohibited but ignored these warnings and repeatedly let and relet the premises to tenants. He repeatedly misled the LFB and the council and the landlords surveyor Mr Philip Antino about the use of the premises.
The UK border agency were notified of the occupancy and on the LFB the Council and the UK border agency raided the property. It was abundantly clear to all concerned an supported the non-complaint building work evidence collated by Mr Antino that the building was in use as multiple persons albeit now reduced to 13 occupants at the date of inspection July 2016.
It was abundantly clear that Mr Uddin was putting his own financial interests ahead of the safety of the tenants and/or his legal obligations as set out in the lease.
In April 2018 Mr Uddin appeared at Court and pleaded guilty to six offences as follows:
2 for non-compliance with a prohibition notice for extended periods between 2012 & 2017.
4 charges for substantive regulatory breaches of failure to provide fire alarms/detection, lack of compartmentation between shared kitchen and means of escape, dangerous condition of means of escape stairs and extremely excessive travel distances for means of escape.
Mr Uddin was sentenced (as a totality rather than against individual offences) to 12 months in prison, suspended for 2 years and to 100 hours of unpaid work.
A criminal investigation was commenced under the proceeds of the Crime Act 2002 where an application for a confiscation order for all of the illegal rent that Mr Uddin had received was made following the unlawful lettings. This is a lengthy process which would require co-operation of Mr Uddin and full disclosure of his financial history by a credited financial investigators under supervision of the Court.
This case was notable because it was the first time that the authority’s had attempted to do this in the absence of the defendant volunteering the information. The issues are outstanding and will take approximately another 12 – 18 months to complete and therefore costs for the prosecution will be dealt within those confiscation proceedings.
However, in her sentencing the Judge stated unequivocally that Mr Uddin should consider himself fortunate to have been spared immediate custody given the egregious case history.
Furthermore, it was held that the case appeared suitable for Mr Uddin to be entered on to the GLA rogue landlord checker following new procedures introduced pending the City of States Judicial Review.
In light of the recent Grenfell tragedy it behoves any landlord to act in such a way that is detrimental to the safety and well-being of the tenants. If any person deserved a custodial sentence it was Mr Uddin, LFB were extremely disappointed that his sentence was suspended.
Indeed, there have been occasions where the LFB have bought charges against other rogue landlords for less serious charges and they have received longer and immediate custodial sentences.
There are now civil proceedings by the superior landlord to ensure forfeiture of the lease is achieved as quickly as possible.
Philip Antino’s reports on illegal structural alterations, breaches of planning and building regulations were fundamental in the council taking up the individual prosecutions for the breaches of the planning and building regulations and the council then working closely with the LFB to secure this prosecution.
In Philip’s opinion this “Harry Potter” rogue landlord should count himself very lucky that he escaped custody.