A rogue landlord deemed unfit to rent out property in the north London borough of Brent in 2015 has since received more than £500,000 in housing benefit payments from the same council that banned him.
Bernard McGowan, a repeatedly convicted landlord who owns a £30m property portfolio and was convicted six times under the Housing Act between 2014 and 2017, failed Brent council’s “fit and proper” test in 2015.
The decision meant that McGowan was barred from directly renting out houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) across Brent, or any home in eight of the borough’s wards where landlords specifically require a licence.
But a freedom of information (FoI) request made by the Guardian, revealed how Brent has continued to pay McGowan public money for renting out properties since it banned him.
In October, a Guardian and ITV News investigation revealed how a string of supposedly banned landlords were continuing to rent out properties, while the government’s new rogue landlord database was empty six months after its launch.
Now the discovery that Brent is directly paying public money to a landlord its own officers labelled a “rogue” is, according to The Guardian, the latest example of “the ineffective regulations designed to police the private rented sector’s worst offenders”.
The payments have included publicly funded rents for McGowan's properties in wards where no landlord is allowed to operate without a licence, meaning the legislation should prevent McGowan from directly receiving rents for homes in those areas.
Jacky Peacock, a director of the tenants’ charity Advice4Renters, which has helped residents bring cases against McGowan, commented: “I simply despair. This is yet another example of one part of the council not speaking to another. Of course it has to be wrong for a landlord who cannot be defined as a ‘fit and proper manager’ to be receiving the rent. We will never see meaningful regulatory improvements in private renting until there is a joined-up, council-wide approach.
“There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the circumstances have existed which should have created a duty for Brent to serve an IMO [interim management order] on most if not all of McGowan’s properties.”
The Guardian points out that under the Housing Act, a council has the duty to impose an IMO on certain properties, in order to protect the occupiers or to take “steps the authority thinks appropriate with a view to the proper management of the house”. That includes unlicensed houses that cannot be licensed because they do not meet the licence conditions, as well as houses where the licence has been revoked.
McGowan, one of the country’s most notorious rogue landlords, was fined more than £100,000 for property offences in 2017.