Ghosts In The House

Michell Soares Gonzales speaks to a ‘pseudo-landlord’ who is renting properties in East London and then sub-letting them to multiple occupants – at a tidy profit.

A survey conducted by reported that across Britain up to 3.3 million ‘ghost residents’ are living in sub-let rooms in rented homes without having a tenancy agreement with the landlord. As many as 1:10 dwellings are thought to be home to unofficial residents.

It’s not just a case of a friend staying over in a shared flat and contributing to the rent. Sometimes, landlords prefer to have paying occupants ‘off the books’ because this allows them to break all the rules on multiple occupancy. Also, many tenants use their official tenancy in order to sub-let the rooms they are renting; but their unofficial ‘sub-tenants’ have no legal status whatsoever.

Shelter, the housing charity sets a limit of ‘two occupants per habitable room as maximum.’ But it often happens that properties with five or more bedrooms are let to 20+ tenants at a time. Accordingly, an online survey of recent immigrants revealed that seven out of 10 share accommodation with other 15 people.

I interviewed Cesar X, a Brazilian tenant who rents six properties in East London and then sub-lets them to unofficial tenants. He agreed to the interview as long as Rising East did not disclose his surname.

Cesar, how did you start renting rooms?

I came from Brazil ten years ago and worked 4 years as barman and kitchen porter. During this time I was living in a house with 12 people, but then I saved money enough to rent my own place with a friend.

The house had three bedrooms and there were only two of us, so we decided to rent the spare room to another person. The whole rent was around £1200 per month and both of us were paying £600. We decided to rent the spare room for £500 so it would take £250 off both parts of the rent. Then, as I was paying only £350 for my rent I was able to save around £500 pounds from my wages each month.

One day my colleague, who is now my associate, told me about renting semi-detached houses or flats and then re-renting the rooms of each property with the same technique we had used for our house. But in this case we would increase the price and include the costs of bills. That’s how everything started.

How many people are currently living in ‘your’ properties?

In four of the houses there are about 15 tenants, living in six rooms and with bathrooms. The other two houses have between 10 and 12 tenants and 2 bathrooms.

So you are saying that in most of the houses you have, at least four tenants are sharing a same room?

That’s right, but the rooms are big enough to place bunk beds and they have cleaning rotas and house rules to keep is organized.  

Do you know that HMO license contains standard terms and conditions for properties of Multiple Occupancy, i.e. a maximum of 2 tenants per room; do have HMO license?

No, I didn’t know about this term precisely. As I said, rooms are big enough to hold three or four people. And the license, well, it is in process”.

Are you aware that safety and health of your tenants might be at risk with your management?

I wouldn’t say they are. Look, I get the gas and electricity installations checked every 3 months and everything is fine. I never had trouble with my tenants neither with the landlords. I pay the rent of the properties on time and my tenants do the same. I pay their bills on time so they always have internet, gas, electricity.’

How much does it cost to rent a room in your houses?

It depends on the area and size of the room. A double room in Stratford costs £120 per week. A single room in Barking is 90 per week. It depends, you know.

So, how much do you charge the ones sharing a room with other three people?

Cesar refused to answer.

At least could you tell us how much money you make from your work?

I am afraid I cannot offer you that information. It’s time to finish this conversation.