Rent-to-rent gang fined
Newham Council has prosecuted what it called a “group of criminals” running a dodgy letting business with an estimated income of £1.25 million.
The group of criminals described as a “gang of chancers” have been hit with fines and costs totalling around £79,000 after renting out properties using fake names and businesses.
The gang apparently used a “rent-to-rent” strategy to take over properties and sublet them to tenants.
Luis Felipe Tilleria Limongi, 34, of Regents Park; Ney Fernando Limongi, 40, of Poplar; Christian Hidalgo Limongi, 28, of Poplar; Lenner Velastegui Guaman of Plaistow; Leandra Velez of Poplar; and Alex Ibarra of Poplar, were all prosecuted by Newham Council for housing offences under the relevant HMO regulations and the Housing Act 2004.
A number of companies were also prosecuted as part of the case including Q Lion Management Limited and London Rooms Rental Limited. Flatshare London Limited and Valenberg Properties Limited also faced prosecution, however they were dissolved shortly before the trial.
The group came to the attention of the council’s private rented sector licensing team shortly after the scheme was introduced in January 2013, when Luis Limongi’s name appeared on a tenancy agreement in a house which was not licenced as a rental property. At the time, the home owner was prosecuted for failing to licence his property.
But as the licensing team carried out more operations over the years they uncovered several tenants with agreements naming Limongi, one of his accomplices or up to 25 businesses, which they would quickly dissolve, as the landlord or licence holder.
Tenants within the same property would often have tenancy agreements with different companies run by the group named as landlords and complained to the council that these companies were impossible to contact. They also reported that rent was paid in cash and collected by different people.
When officers visited these properties they saw that the houses had been converted into bedsits without permission from the council, and the master room in the house would often include a flimsy partition to create an extra room. There was also minimal fire safety in the properties.
Under scrutiny the tenancy agreements actually stripped tenants of their statutory rights, and their deposits were not placed in deposit protection schemes.
The officers also found that the properties were not licenced with the private rented sector licensing scheme.
One tenant took pictures of the group which helped the council identify the “landlords” operating in other properties.
On 4 March 2016, the group were required to attend Thames Magistrates’ Court to answer 115 charges, relating to five properties in the borough. Two of these properties were owned by Luis Limongi and three others had been rented by the group and then sublet without the permission of the owner.
The 115 charges included failure to licence the properties, several breaches of safety conditions under the relevant HMO regulations and failure to co-operate with the council’s requests for documentation, such as safety certificates and details of deposit protection schemes.
Luis Limongi pleaded guilty to a total of 38 charges. He was ordered to pay £18,450 of fines and £10,415 of costs.
Ney Limongi pleaded guilty to a total of 46 charges. He was ordered to pay £14,040 of fines and £14,690 of costs.
Christian Limongi was found guilty in his absence and ordered to pay £4,050 fines for 12 charges, and costs of £3,456.
Lenner Guaman was found guilty of one charge in his absence and ordered to pay a £300 fine and £250 costs.
Leandro Velez was found guilty of 12 charges in his absence and ordered to pay £4,050 and costs of £1,832.
Alex Ibarra was found guilty of seven charges in his absence and fined £2,550 and ordered to pay costs of £4,275.
London Rooms Rental Limited was also charged with one offence and fined £300 and ordered to pay costs of £250.
In total the group were ordered to pay fines of £43,740 and the council’s costs for their investigations of £35,168.
Councillor Andrew Baikie, mayoral advisor for housing, said: “This gang of chancers tried everything they could to avoid taking responsibility for their tenants. They were all about making as much as possible from these properties and used false names and businesses which they would dissolve. Their tenants were left with worthless tenancy agreements and they had no chance of getting their deposits back when they moved on.
“They thought they could avoid our licensing scheme but they underestimated our determination to protect residents from opportunists who put not only the safety of their tenants, but their finances at risk too.”
Tower Hamlets Council’s trading standards team also helped the council with their investigations. Newham Council has now passed on details of 92 properties run by the group across London to the local authorities. It is estimated that the group are receiving an income of more than £1.25million from their network of properties.