Posted by: Tom Lloyd07/11/2011
Camden claimed a legal first last week for securing a criminal conviction against one of its tenants who had been subletting their council home.
Oladapo Talabi pleaded guilty to the charges against him, and was given a 12 month community order to do 100 hours of unpaid work.
The case is unusual – although perhaps not as unusual as Camden claims – because the council has decided to go through the criminal rather than civil courts to pursue a subletter.
Generally subletting is treated as a breach of a tenancy agreement, which is a civil matter that can result in eviction, but little more.
In the case of Mr Talabi, Camden used the Fraud Act 2006 to prosecute for failure to disclose information and exposing the council to loss.
In a similar case in 1991 Ealing used the Theft Act to prosecute one of its tenants who had used false papers and a false identity to obtain a council flat. In this instance the tenant was sentenced to 12 months in prison.
Both the current housing minister, Grant Shapps, and his Labour predecessor John Healey have expressed a desire to make subletting a criminal offence.
The obvious question posed by the Camden case, is why bother if you can already get a criminal prosecution against a subletting tenant?
Mr Shapps has argued that the prospect of a prison sentence would deter potential subletters. It is hard to judge if this would really make a difference though. Are subletters aware they are not committing a criminal offence?
Mr Talabi didn’t even get a custodial sentence, because the judge looked favourable on the fact that he was using the rental income to pay off debts, including rent arrears. But even if he had been given a long stretch at her majesty’s pleasure, it’s hard to believe many others would be put off.
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