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165 city landlords still flout the law

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  • 165 city landlords still flout the law

    Six years since two students died, 165 city landlords still flout the law

    STUDENTS are so keen to find cheap accommodation they are willing to collude with landlords to hide the true number of people living there

    LESLIE GERBER said only two people would sign the lease to his Great Western Road flat - but didn't care how many stayed there

    SAFETY laws brought in after two Glasgow students died in a fire at a rundown basement flat are being ignored.

    An Evening Times investigation can today reveal dozens of landlords across the city are openly flouting legislation for renting to groups of three or more unrelated people.

    A licensing system is in place for these types of lets - called Houses in Multiple Occupancy (HMOs) - to ensure regular safety checks are carried out.

    But experts and student leaders say abuse of the system is widespread. And Glasgow City Council estimates 165 city properties are now operating illegally as HMOs.

    It is thought there are many more rogue landlords who never come to their attention.

    Student leaders admit it has become the norm for groups of three or more undergraduates to move into unlicensed properties.

    And responding to property ads, the Evening Times found it was as easy to find unscrupulous landlords as law-abiding ones. In popular areas there is often collusion between the owner and tenants to hide the true number of people living at a property.

    The nightmare scenario would be another tragedy like the blaze in 1999 which killed James Fraser and Daniel Heron.

    Both students were 20 years old when they died in their unsafe west end flat.

    Since 2000, and under laws tightened after an Evening Times campaign following the deaths, 32 landlords have been found guilty of offences relating to HMOs.

    Yet in just two hours, our reporters were able to find two landlords willing to break the law. We simply called a handful of flat owners from a shop-window noticeboard.

    Two of the landlords we met - Leslie Gerber and Mohammed Younis - didn't seem interested in the law ... except for how they could get round it.

    Their tactic, which is widely used, is to put just two students on the lease, while allowing more to live there. Niall Rowantree, president of Glasgow University Union, said: "There is a perception that demand for flats outstrips supply, so people get a bit desperate.

    "Landlords are trying to make every saving they can but we always advise students to make sure HMOs are in place."

    Businessman Leslie Gerber showed us round a three-bedroom basement flat at 28 Buckingham Terrace on Great Western Road.

    The property, in a prime location for Glasgow University students, was available for £895 a month. We told him three of us were looking to share.

    Mr Gerber explained that just two people would sign the lease, but he didn't care how many stayed there... as long as we kept the noise down.

    Mr Gerber, who works from an office at St Enoch Square, said three people had lived in the basement property last year.

    As he showed us round the flat, which had four beds, he sprayed air freshener to disguise a smell of damp.

    When asked about whether he had a Corgi gas safety certificate - required under HMO law - he evaded the question. And we also found wires sticking out of a fuse box.

    Mr Gerber said: "The way it works is the lease will only be in the names of two people."

    He said: "You can only rent out - unless you are relatives - to two people."

    Asked by our reporter if that was okay, Mr Gerber said: "It doesn't matter to me. The third person is invisible as far as I'm concerned."

    When the Evening Times confronted Mr Gerber after the viewing to ask him why he was breaking the law, he denied any wrongdoing.

    He said: "I don't know if I'm doing anything wrong or not. I am just renting out the flat to two people."

    A council spokesman said: "There are various tactics which are employed to try to avoid licensing.

    "However, we have a range of tactics to enforce the law and we will be robust in taking action - including seeking prosecution - where landlords are found to be endangering the safety of tenants."

    Since the new laws came into force, almost 100 cases have been referred by the council to the procurator-fiscal under HMO and housing legislation.

    Of those, 32 led to convictions and 19 cases are still ongoing. The rest were either found not guilty or did not proceed because compromises were reached.

    Mohammed Younis tried to rent our reporters a tattered tenement, with crumbling walls, for £660 a month.

    And he claimed the HMO system was a money-making exercise by the council.

    For up to 10 occupants, the council charge is £1700 for the first three-year licence and £850 for each three years that follow.

    If they are caught breaking the law, landlords can be prosecuted and fined up to £5000.

    But Mr Younis, like many other landlords, would rather take the risk. He said the property, at 296 Renfrew Street, was for three people.

    Asked if he had a HMO licence, the landlord replied: "No, the people that have HMO, they charge very high - up to sky high. If somebody knocks on the door and says how many is staying, you say you are 'two brothers and one friend'."

    Mr Younis said the same kind of flat would cost us as much as £900 a month if it had a HMO certificate.

    When asked whether the grubby furniture was fireproof, Mr Younis said: "There's a fire alarm if anything goes up."

    As with the flat at Buckingham Terrace, only two people would be allowed sign the lease.

    And Mr Younis, who said he was a taxi driver, explained this was common practice among private landlords.

    "Most people don't have HMO," he said. "The problem is you have to pay the council and there is a lot of competition.

    "The people who have HMOs are mostly companies. They charge very high rent as they have HMOs but private landlords do it this way."

    Mr Younis compared HMOs to parking tickets, adding: "In Glasgow they are a major source of money - HMO and parking."

    Glasgow City Council wouldn't comment on whether they were aware of the two landlords we met.

    • Anyone with information on rogue landlords can contact the HMO unit on 0141 287 6532.

    News source:
    "There's one way to find out if a man is honest-ask him. If he says 'yes,' you know he is a crook." Groucho Marx

  • #2
    Let's hope Aunty Helen and Michael Cullen don't notice this article. It might give them ideas.