Controversial high profile landlords
One of Britain’s high profile landlords is to be sentenced on December 11 – and she must show the court details of the bank accounts and assets held by her and her husband.
Judith Wilson is the partner of Fergus Wilson, who regularly hits the headlines: together they at one time owned a reported 1,000 properties, almost entirely around Ashford in Kent, and have frequently generated news stories through their statements and actions.
Now Ashford council, which has issued a statement about the issue, says it has successfully prosecuted the high profile landlords for failing to comply with an enforcement notice ordering them to supply hot water to a disabled tenant.
Wilson – who in court confirmed that she was the landlady of around 300 properties – denied the charge but was found guilty at the end of a two-day hearing at Folkestone Magistrates Court.
The prosecution case centred on an allegation that Wilson was the owner of a tenanted property in the town which had ongoing problems with its hot water and heating system; this led to the council serving an enforcement notice requiring that the defects be remedied.
The council told the court that the high profile landlords failed to ensure that the defects were remedied within the period allowed by the notice, which led to the authority carrying out the work itself.
In their defence, Wilson claimed they had “a reasonable excuse” for failing to comply with the notice – namely that the damage to the boiler and heating system was caused by the tenants or their agents; that she was not permitted access to the premises; she had insufficient time to complete the work; and she reasonably relied on the council to carry out the repair itself.
The trial heard prosecution evidence from two gas heating contractors, the tenants – one of which is a wheelchair user – and a council officer. For the defence, evidence was given by a maintenance man and Mr and Mrs Wilson.
The council’s press release says that the judge, delivering his verdict, said the high profile landlords had “every opportunity to resolve the issues but Mr Wilson was consistently difficult and stubbornly refused to make any genuine commitment to the Council to get the work carried out”.
He added: “The high profile landlords have shrewdly built up what can best be described as a property empire. They know very well that there is no duty on the council to carry out repairs on their behalf and then bill them for the work. As owners of around 300 properties it is entirely reasonable to expect them to have arrangements in place to enable this type of issue to be dealt with promptly.
“Taking into account the evidence…I find that Mr and Mrs Wilson could have had the work carried out within the period allowed by the abatement notice but chose not to. In this case those were not the actions of responsible landlords” concluded the judge.
Sentence will be passed on December 11 and the judge has made a financial circumstances order under Section 162 of the Criminal Justice Act that requires Mrs Wilson to disclose in court documents that evidence all bank accounts, both individual and joint, plus all assets.
A council spokesman says: ”This successful prosecution against high profile landlords show that we have teeth and we are not afraid to fight for the rights of tenants who live in our borough.
“The council champion the rights of tenants and we make sure that landlords in the private sector remain accountable and live up to their responsibilities under the law. If they don’t then there are consequences.
“In this case we did everything we could to resolve the situation. We gave Mrs Wilson every opportunity to find a solution to the problem, but we were ignored. In the end, we realised that the only way to get justice for the tenants involved was to prosecute.”
Last evening Fergus Wilson told Letting Agent Today that the issue with the tenants had its origins in a telephone call alerting him to the fact that there was no hot water in the upstairs of the rental unit.
“I arranged for a workman to attend and free the hot tap. Hence hot water was reinstated to the bath” he says.
“There have been three Judgements from three different Judges and it is necessary to put all three side by side to get the full picture. One Judge totally found in Mrs Wilson’s favour. One found against Mrs Wilson and the third found in between” he says, adding: “One Circuit Judge previously said to me that it is the luck of the draw which Judge you get!”
Fergus Wilson maintains that after the tenants moved out, damage caused by a hammer was discovered at the property and he alleges that there had been threats issued by the tenants which “were perceived as real.”