The owner of a three-bedroom house in north-west London where 35 men are living in rooms full of mattresses has insisted he had no idea of the conditions at the property and threatened to take legal action against the council for calling him a rogue landlord.
Brent council raided the property on Winchester Avenue, Queensbury, after complaints from neighbours. Mattresses were found wall to wall in all of the rooms except the bathrooms.
The owner of the property, Sunil Hathi, who is a doctor, told the Guardian he was shocked by the discovery and has pledged to evict the men as soon as possible.
“I have no idea how many people are living at this address, it was originally rented out to three people. This is the first time I have come here in the month they have been living here. We were not aware they were staying here and we are going to evict them.”
Hathi said he was aggrieved at the council’s statement on Wednesday that put the blame on him.
“Brent council put out a statement to the press saying that it was a ‘rogue landlord’ and I resent these comments. They’re highly defamatory and I am speaking with my lawyers.
“I’m not running away from anything, why would I? This house is worth a lot of money. They could have found me in minutes on the land registry.”
He says he is renting the property, which was sold for £450,000 as a buy-to-let in July 2014 to three Romanians who did DIY work for him up to seven years ago. They pay £2,500 a month for the semi-detached house, which is not registered for multiple occupancy.
According to a neighbour, there has been a van outside the house for over a month. The neighbour speculated that this was to obscure constant night-time comings and goings. On Thursday a gazebo in the back garden was found to contain more mattresses.
A Romanian man at the property said he did not speak English and that his friends were at work.
While Hathi acknowledged that it is a landlord’s responsibility to inspect properties, he said it was impossible to do that every day and that he rented the property out only recently.
When asked whether he owned other properties, he said it was “irrelevant”. He also claimed he was not aware of overcrowding being a problem in the area.
Neighbours and locals claim there may be up to three other “doss houses” on the same road.
“There’s no way that anyone should be made to live in such horrendous conditions,” said Josephine Yardborough, whose mother lives on the same road. “There’s an awful lot of it going on in this area. The council should be monitoring it and the landlords must be at fault if they know what’s going on.”
These comments were echoed by the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan.
“It is outrageous and shameful that we continue to see extreme examples like this, in which renters are being exploited and treated so abysmally. In 21st century London this is entirely unacceptable and must stop now,” said Khan.
“Most landlords treat their tenants fairly – but those rogue landlords who exploit tenants must have no place in our city.”
The finding comes as the mayor’s office prepares to launch London’s first publicly accessible ”name and shame” rogue landlord database that will provide information on landlords who have been prosecuted.
On 1 October, it will go live with landlords from six London boroughs before being rolled out more widely.
Brent council says it has successfully prosecuted more than 100 landlords since July and a council spokesman stressed its zero tolerance policy towards rogue landlords.
“The unlicensed HMO in Winchester Avenue came to the council’s attention via complaints made to the police about overcrowding,” said a spokesman. “We want to protect vulnerable tenants from exploitive landlords. A rogue can be prosecuted for unlawful evictions against tenants. We would advise tenants in Brent to approach reputable letting agencies in the borough for accommodation in the private rented sector.”