Labour-run Croydon Council has slapped more than £30,000 in fines on… one of Croydon Labour’s biggest, if not the biggest, donors.
The council last week announced that two property companies, AA Homes and Housing and Anabow Services Ltd, have been fined a combined £32,000 under Croydon Council’s landlord licensing scheme, although both companies had – albeit belatedly – licensed their properties with the council.
Unmentioned in the council’s press release, or in “local” newspaper reports, was that the man behind the properties is Anwar Ansari, a former chair of the Croydon Central Constituency Labour Party who has over the past decade or more handed over thousands of pounds to the Labour Party and senior Labour politicians, including Alan Johnson, Yvette Cooper and Sadiq Khan.
Indeed, in May 2014 Ansari even hosted Labour’s celebration party after Tony Newman led the party to control of Croydon Town Hall.
Ansari’s relationship with Newman and his clique of Alison Butler and Paul Scott soured somewhat after that, as the millionaire property developer helped to fund a legal challenge against the Labour council’s new landlord licensing scheme.
At that time, Ansari described the licensing scheme as “a stealth tax on business initiative and development within the borough.”
All owners of private rented properties in Croydon must by law apply to the council for a licence, which, the council says, is “to protect private tenants and raise housing standards”.
In the past three years, Croydon Council says it has issued more than 30,000 licences. At a cost of £750 per property every five years, this suggests that the council has received £22.5million from the licensing scheme.
Since 2015, the council has issued a total of 16 financial penalty notices, as well as serving more than 800 improvement notices, requiring landlords to put right poor housing conditions.
Of those 30,000 licensed landlords, over the past three years, Croydon Council – as it “protects private tenants and raises housing standards” – has managed to prosecute just two landlords, whose properties were adjudged to be in a dangerous condition.
Interestingly, in the case of the fines against Ansari, despite having a dedicated team of officials beavering away in Fisher’s Folly to protect private tenants, Croydon Council only discovered that the properties in question were unlicensed thanks to a report from the Fire Brigade.
Much of Ansari’s property development business has focused on what is called “permitted development”, or PDR.
PDR was a 2013 Tory Government policy which removed many planning controls and allows old offices blocks to be converted into flats – often noticeably small-in-scale flats.
It was a policy over which Gavin Barwell, the former Croydon MP, enthused when he was (briefly) housing minister, saying that it delivered 12,824 “desperately needed” homes across the country. Others were less kind about the kind of homes permitted development was delivering, calling them “the slums of the future”, as they often lack outside space, balconies and provide cramped conditions.
The smallest flats in one of Ansari’s office-to-resi redevelopments in central Croydon measure just 32.2 square metres. In October 2015, the government introduced a nationally described space standard. According to this, the minimum floor area for any new home should be 37sqm
In an article on the website Inside Housing last year, Dr Ansari said, “PDR has been a fantastic opportunity. It’s become a starter home for people – a replacement for affordable housing that we are able to deliver. It’s a quick decision-making process for us.
“If we had to go through planning we wouldn’t be able to get funding to do the developments.”
Across three former office blocks in the town centre, Ansari’s companies have delivered around 200 flats in the past three years, helping the borough towards meeting its demanding housing targets, while Alison Butler, the council cabinet member for housing, and the council’s loss-making house-building company, Brick by Brick, have yet to finish a single new home.
Indeed, in effect, by setting up Brick by Brick, Croydon’s Labour-run council has effectively set itself up in competition with private developers, including Ansari.
And now the council has levied one of its biggest fines yet against Ansari’s companies, using the landlord licensing powers it has awarded itself.
According to the council’s press statement, “In 2017, AA Homes and Housing (5 Sydenham Road) Limited and its managing agent Anabow Services Ltd did not apply for a licence for 36 flats at a block called 5 Sydenham Road in central Croydon.
“The council decided to impose financial penalties over the failure to license one of these flats.
“AA Homes and Anabow appealed, but… the decision to impose financial penalties on the companies was upheld by the First-Tier Tribunal Property Chamber led by Judge Mrs Sonya O’Sullivan.”
The council’s press release then went into some detail to emphasise issues in the block with fire safety regulations, which were discovered by the London Fire Brigade in a visit in September 2017. After the LFB issued a fire safety enforcement notice, “all matters identified in the notice had since been resolved”, the council notes.
It was this visit by LFB which drew Sydenham Road to the attention of the council’s dynamic landlord licensing department.
The council press release states: “When council officers investigated, they found 36 of the 52 private rented flats had no landlord licence. One of them, which became the subject of the financial penalty, had had a tenant since 1 April 2017 who did not know the building’s fire evacuation procedures. This would have been a condition if the property had been licensed.
“It took building owner AA Homes and Housing and Anabow Services until March 2018 to submit all 36 fully correct and paid-for landlord licence applications.”
Judge O’Sullivan’s written judgement said: “There were serious fire safety issues in the property and accordingly there was serious harm or potential harm to the tenants in failure to license. We agree that there had been a wholesale failure to license as many as 36 flats out of a total 52 [which] is a relevant factor to be weighed against the Applicants.”
The council press release omitted to mention that the managing director of AA Homes is Anwar Ansari. You can draw your own conclusions why that might be.
In issuing her judgement, Judge O’Sullivan reduced the original fine against AA Homes to £20,000. That was close to the amount which in 2015 Ansari donated towards Sadiq Khan’s campaign fund when he was seeking selection to be Labour’s candidate to run for London Mayor on a manifesto which included a determination to root-out what he called “rogue landlords”.
Today, Ansari declined to comment to Inside Croydon, stating that he was still considering further legal action over the case.
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