Councils Crack Down on Illegal Subletting: Case studies to take note of

In recent years, the number of people trying to make some quick cash by subletting their property has increased. Direct Line for Business’s recent research showed that one in six tenants have rented out part or all of their property to someone who isn’t on the lease. Shockingly, out of those who did sub-let their property, 25% failed to first check the terms of their lease beforehand, while more than a third didn’t tell their landlords.

On one hand, subletting your property can be a brilliant way of easing your financial burdens, helping you to continue living in a property you love by bringing in an extra person to share the cost of the rent. On the other hand, there are individuals out there who are doing it for pure profit.

Given the rise in this kind of offence, councils are beginning to crack down on people charged, in an attempt to try and deter others from doing the same thing. As your go-to legal experts, we thought we’d bring a few case studies to your attention, to demonstrate the kinds of penalties that you could face if you’re charged with illegal subletting.

Case study one: The rogue landlord

Our first case study focuses on Mr Rami Nazzal from Sheffield, who not only illegally sub-let his council home, but also forcefully evicted his tenant. According to the Yorkshire Post, Nazzal, 35, had rented a property in Netherthorpe for around six months before forcing his tenant out of the home following an argument.

The case is thought to be the first prosecution of its kind in the country, where a person has been convicted for both illegal sub-letting and illegal eviction at the same time. Nazzal pleaded guilty at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court, as the court heard how he forced student Ata Allah Alalawi from the one-bedroom council flat.

Alalawi said: “He told me it was his own property. He lied to me. I didn’t know he was a council tenant. Everything was fine until I wanted to leave. He started asking for extra rent – two months extra. He said it was summer and he wouldn’t be able to get a new tenant. When I wouldn’t pay he started shouting, saying the house was in a bad condition. He was making any excuse for me to pay.

“He started throwing my books about and ripping the bed sheets off. He grabbed me and pushed me out of the property and threatened I’d never see my possessions again if I called the police.” Sheffield City Council’s housing team is now undertaking legal proceedings to evict Nazzal from his council home, but Nazzal was fined a total of £1,923, including £250 compensation to his tenant and a £15 victim surcharge.

Case study two: The law-less student

It is rare that we find people interested in the law to be seen partaking in illegal activity, but we can see this in the case of Kusheema Nurse, a law student who was found guilty of illegally subletting her council home whilst working and studying.

Nurse was found guilty at Harrow Crown Court of letting her flat in London, while studying for a law degree at the University of West of England (UWE). She was allocated the one-bedroom council flat in August 2010, two months after secretly starting a part-time job in Bristol.

Not only did she fail to inform the relevant authorities in the area that she had moved out of her council flat, but she then proceeded to illegally sublet the property from April 2011. She was only discovered when her sub-tenant approached the authorities to complain about Nurse evicting him without notice.

An investigation by the council’s fraud team found that Nurse had started her law degree at UWE Bristol in September 2011, and was also employed in part time jobs in Bristol between 2010 and 2013. Nurse was sentenced to 130 hours of community service, but the sentence was adjourned for three months so that she could complete her final university exams. The council is also in the process of repossessing the flat.

Harbi Farah, Brent Council’s lead member for housing, told the press: “Subletting social housing isn’t just selfish – it’s illegal. It clogs up desperately needed accommodation while lining the pockets of people who falsely claim to be in need. Brent Council will be relentless in our pursuit of fraudsters like Ms Nurse, ensuring that council homes go to those who have the right to live in one.”

What are councils doing?

The above case studies are all examples of people who were trying to outwit the authorities, but even in cases like Ms Nurse, we can see an element of understanding on the part of the courts in that they allowed her to complete her exams before bringing in her sentence. In fact, there are more and more examples of councils showing leniency where illegal subletting is concerned.

For example, in Swansea, a report revealed that up to £4.5 million could be being lost to the authority in council tenancy fraud. As a number of tenants could either illegally sub-let their home or leave them unoccupied, Swansea Council addressed the problem by offering an amnesty to any council tenant who may be engaging in the illegal activity.

The same approach is also being taken in Bedfordshire, as Central Bedfordshire Council are holding an amnesty for anyone illegally subletting their property up until 9th November 2016. They will have a chance to hand in their keys, no questions asked, before the council begins a major clampdown on tenancy fraud, using data matching technology to help identify culprits.

I want to sublet my property: what should I do?

Many landlords are open to subletting if you are upfront and honest about your wish to do so. If you want to sublet your rented accommodation, you should always speak directly to your landlord first and obtain permission for subletting. Then, always ensure that you have this in writing as part of your tenancy agreement, so that there can be no way you can be prosecuted for illegal activity, and it can’t come back to haunt you in future.

If you’ve been accused of illegally subletting your property, or if you’re thinking about doing it but want to make sure you stay on the right side of the law, then get in touch with our legal consultants. The most important thing is to contact as soon as possible so we can assess your case, so don’t hesitate to call us on 020 7381 8111, or email us at [email protected].

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