The Mayor of Barnet has come under fire over allegations he acted illegally towards tenants living in properties he owns.
Councillor Hugh Rayner owns 15 properties in Colindale with his wife, Susan, and four more are listed under his firm’s name – S&H Housing Limited.
But today, Barnet GLA member Andrew Dismore today raised concerns about the “unfair” way Cllr Rayner treats his tenants, who all receive housing benefit.
Speaking at the London Assembly Mayor’s Question Time this morning, Mr Dismore told Mayor Boris Johnson that Cllr Rayner was not part of the London Landlord Accreditation Scheme.
Mr Dismore said Cllr Rayner drafted 12-month contracts which permitted rent increases by any amount and at any time during the year – and in one case, a mother was slapped with a three per cent hike without notice.
Mr Dismore said: “Housing charity shelter told me they would almost certainly class this as an unfair term. It is clearly void of common law.”
The GLA heard how Cllr Rayner, who represents residents in Hale, also visited a tenant unannounced at 10pm asking for the new lease to be signed – even though his contract says adequate notice must be given.
Mr Dismore added: “The lease was presented to her with the last signature page showing, pressuring her to sign the lease without reading it.
“The most recent lease agreement that she signed stated that a named individual witnessed the signing. She was adamant that she had never seen the witness before and the lease was given to her pre-signed by the landlord and the witness.”
Online housing site Zoopla advises rent for his houses to be set at between £989 and £1,186 per month, but Mr Dismore said Cllr Rayner charged six out of seven tenants between £1,350 and £1,846.
Local Housing Allowance entitles people to between £1,009 and £1,560, and Mr Dismore accused him of “overcharging tenants to the detriment of the public purse”.
After Mr Dismore had finished speaking, Mr Johnson said: “There’s an argument in terms of misrepresentation of the lease, it sounds to me as though he has not been fair to the tenant.
“It seems to me, to be prima facie illegal.”
When quizzed by the Times Series, Cllr Rayner said he “never thought it was necessary” to join the accreditation board but that he would look into it based on our story.
He claims to have removed the clause about raising rent earlier this year as he now “appreciates they are non-enforceable”, but not could answer when the change took place.
And he no longer asks witnesses to pre-sign contracts – he admitted he admitted it was done on various occasions to “save time and trouble” but now appreciates it is incorrect.
He added that rent renewals or discussions about arrears are dealt with at the tenants home, and where possible, an appointment is made.
But when asked whether he felt 10pm was an unreasonable time to visit a tenant, he replied: “If they say it’s inconvenient for them, I go away. I take the tenants judgement.
“No pressure is applied.
“Efforts are made to have an English speaker available to translate – often the tenants children.”
He, could not, however, elaborate on the age of the children and said he does not feel this to be inappropriate.
He added: “With regards to charging above market rates, when letting to housing benefit funded tenants, our rents have been in line with the prevailing local housing allowance rates.”