Families Facing Homelessness After Tycoon Issues Eviction Notices

Monday, January 14, 2019
Robert Booth
Guardian (U.K.)

Dozens of families are facing the risk of homelessness after receiving eviction notices from one of Britain’s biggest and most controversial buy-to-let tycoons.

Fergus Wilson is giving 90 households in Ashford, Kent two months to get out after he decided to sell his 700 property portfolio in the county estimated to be worth more than £200m. He is expected to issue hundreds more evictions in the coming months before retiring to “take life easy”.

Wilson started sending out the “no fault” eviction notices on Monday and has already been told by nine families with children under 10 that they have no chance of getting another property and could be left homeless. Wilson owns the whole of one street in Ashford and will send out the section 21 eviction notices to all 15 properties in the coming months. He conceded none of them had been difficult tenants.

“I feel remorse but, at the same time, I am going to have to do it,” he said. “If I give them six months, so what? Unless somebody is going to rapidly build a lot more houses, where do the people live in the meantime?”

He admitted that evictions, if they require court action, “can totally ruin their lives”, but said: “I don’t make the problem.” He added: “They are not doing very well at finding somewhere to go. If their household income is under £30,000, you can bet your boots they won’t get a property.”

Wilson blamed the risk of homelessness on the failure of national policy to build more homes and immigration from eastern Europe for the housing shortage.

Wilson and his wife Judith began acquiring houses in 1991 and built up a lettings portfolio of 700 homes across Kent. In 2017, he was ordered by a court to ditch a policy of refusing to let his houses to people who cooked curry, because it left a smell in the carpets that he could not get out. A judge ruled the policy amounted to unlawful discrimination. Wilson continues to insist the policy was not racist and said he rented his homes to Muslim families.

Last month, Judith Wilson was fined for failing to comply with an enforcement notice ordering her to supply hot water to a disabled tenant.

The prospects for families who cannot find affordable alternatives are unclear. About 1,500 households are on Ashford borough council’s waiting list for social housing, but Cllr Gerald White, the cabinet member for housing, said: “If anybody is becoming homeless, we will deal with that.”

The government is facing calls from renters and housing campaigners, backed by Labour, to scrap section 21 evictions. Under current laws, tenants can be evicted for any reason after the first six months of an assured shorthold tenancy. Evictions from private rentals are now the cause of 27% of homelessness. Last summer, the government floated the idea of introducing minimum three-year tenancies but has not done it.

The private rented sector has doubled in size over the past decade and provides a home to one in every five households in the country. One in four families with children are now privately renting, up from one in 10 a decade ago.

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