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Significant unlawful eviction case exposes the use of sham letting agreements by landlord companies in London

Tuesday 25 February 2020

Tim Baldwin represented the Claimant instructed by Jayesh Kunwardia of Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors.

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Tim Baldwin represented the Claimant, Noelia Del Rio Sanchez a University Student, on 10th and 11th February 2020 in a successful claim for unlawful eviction from and harassment at her accommodation in Brent by her former landlord, Simple Properties Management Limited. She secured general damages, special damages, damages for harassment, aggravated and exemplary damages of over £54,000. In addition the judge, HHJ Clarke, awarded costs against the landlords on an indemnity basis and an interim payment of £24,000 towards the costs.

HHJ Clarke in a written judgment (see here for transcript) determined that although the landlord maintained that Ms Del Rio Sanchez was not a tenant and the letting agreement for so called “Accommodation Clubs” was one that excluded the Protection from Eviction Act 1977 and this was not an assured shorthold tenancy but was in fact let as an assured shorthold tenancy. The judge states in Paragraph 36 of the judgment:

"I accept this evidence, which supports the Claimant’s case but is not, in my judgment, compatible with the Defendant’s version of events. Mr Baldwin submits that the Defendant’s story is patent nonsense. I accept his submission."

This judgment is significant in that the agreement which was relied on by the landlord was created by Lifestyle Club London Limited (LCLL). From an article in The Guardian, and on the website Nearly Legal it can be seen this type of letting agreement was heavily criticised and doubted as to its legality. Indeed a Director of LCLL, which has now dissolved, was prosecuted and fined by Islington Borough Council in what was described as a letting scam (see here for report).

It is clear from the judgment of HHJ Clarke that these letting arrangements are in fact tenancies affording the occupant legal protection. In the course of the proceedings a Director of Simple Properties Management Limited, Miguel Cabeo Cespedes, sought a late adjournment of the trial on the basis of being abroad and facing family problems, this application was refused by the court, and it transpired that at the time he was at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court where he pleaded guilty to a number of charges brought by Camden Council for breaching housing safety standards leading to fines and costs of over £100,000 (see the hyperlinks for Letting Agent Today and Camden Newsroom) and was thus clearly a rogue landlord. Ms Del Rio Sanchez is seeking to persuade the London Borough of Brent to prosecute her landlord.

In commenting on the case Tim Baldwin of Garden Court Chambers said:

“It was an honour to represent Ms Del Rio Sanchez in her claim. She is clearly a courageous, determined, gifted and talented young woman who, together with her witnesses and tenacious solicitors, was not going to let her landlord get away with their reprehensible, unlawful and thoroughly dishonest conduct.

The judgment of HHJ Clarke is important as there have been a number of rogue landlord companies set up to try and exploit people by purporting to let substandard accommodation in London at high rents with supposedly little security of tenure, legal protection or redress against the landlord for the tenant. HHJ Clarke in her written judgment makes it clear these letting agreements are a sham and do create tenancies where there are clear legal protection for the tenants.

The case also highlights the importance of civil legal aid as without it Ms Del Rio Sanchez could not have pursued her case and exposed her landlord, and similar landlords as rogue landlords using sham letting agreements. This is precisely the kind of case which legal aid was designed for to enable individuals to vindicate their rights. In the circumstances of this case rogue landlords were held accountable and made subject to the law and it served a wider public interest of exposing scam letting agreements which suggest the tenants have no rights. Similarly, civil legal aid is also important in holding public bodies and Ministers of the State, including the Prime Minister, accountable for their unlawful actions and thus is key in upholding the rule of law and individual rights”

Tim Baldwin is a member of the Housing Team at Garden Court Chambers and was instructed by Jayesh Kunwardia of Hodge Jones & Allen Solicitors.

This case has also been reported on Nearly Legal

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