Justin Wright is one of scores of renters who have had deposits and fees refunded after a tough campaign by Tower Hamlets Council.
Fines totalling £361,000 have been slapped on landlords and agents in the past three years, it has emerged.
The council is renewing its licensing scheme this month for a further five years in City Fringe neighbourhoods around Whitechapel, Spitalfields, Shoreditch and Bethnal Green.
– Credit: Mike Brooke
The authority has brought 57 prosecutions since the scheme started in 2018 after a campaign by renters.
“We take action against landlords who don’t follow the rules,” Cllr Danny Hassell warned. “We want to make sure renters can live in decent homes.”
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It has led to 13 landlords getting criminal cautions and civil penalties totalling almost £77,000 for disrepairs and overcrowding being given out. Lettings agents have also had to cough up £255,000 for false advertising.
The largest fine was £167,000, handed out over a bedsit near Victoria Park rented to Justin Wright.
It was initially ruled that the ad for the property was misleading; a “ground-floor bedsit” turned out to be a tiny room at the top of the stairs, and Justin won back his £740 deposit.
The 34-year-old video editor saw pictures online, but got a shock when he picked up the keys to find a different room with mould, bad fittings and a broken sash window.
Justin told the East London Advertiser at the time: “Building a case was stressful, but I pursued it because I didn’t want it to happen to anyone else.”
It was “a honey trap of misrepresentation”, Thames Magistrates’ Court heard in December 2018. The judge’s summing up noted: “The company produces a library of photos to entice people to enter a non-effective contract.”
But the lettings agents had its fine drastically reduced on appeal at Snaresbrook Crown Court. It admitted showing “the wrong photo” for the bedsit in Bonner Road, but there was “no evidence it had engaged in bait and switch practices”, their lawyers later said, and the fine was reduced to £7,500.
It had been fined £54,000 the previous September for renting out an overcrowded flat on the Boundary Estate in Shoreditch, which had been converted into five bedsits with no heating and inadequate fire precautions. Requests for repairs had also been ignored.
– Credit: London Housing Campaign stock shot