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An Olympic sized headache

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If you don’t know by now that the 2012 Olympic Games will be held in London then surely you have been living under a rock for the last few years. This much publicised event will be taking place 27th July to 12th August under a global spotlight and is the biggest competition in the sporting calendar.

Over 100,000 people will be working on the Games with over 1,000 athletes expected to compete; not to mention the estimated 1,000,000 visitors that this event is expected to attract to the country.

Now you may be wondering now what relevance this has to housing law. Well where are all of these people expected to stay? Surely there are not enough hotels in the vicinity to provide tourists and athletes and all of their teams with accommodation? Any local housing association tenant with an ounce of entrepreneurial spirit will have considered renting their property out in order to make a ‘fast buck’.

However, recent decisions in London courts show that Housing Associations are taking a stance against the issue of illegal subletting and tenancy fraud. In this case the Court found in favour of the Housing Association when it claimed that its tenant was renting out their property whilst living in another property somewhere else. The significance of this is that it is estimated that nationally 160,000 tenants unlawfully sublet their homes, costing taxpayers approximately £5bn a year. This obviously does not sit well with the current economic climate and welfare reform developments particularly in light of LASPO which was intended by the government to be a cost cutting measure. 

Naturally Housing Associations near to the Olympic Village have expressed concern about their tenants illegally subletting to tourists whilst the event takes place. One particular issue is how they will enforce the regulations in such a short period of time bearing in mind that the Olympic Games will last for just 16 days.

Samantha Herelle, area manager at housing association Circle 33, said: ‘These cases are going to be so short it is going to be difficult to get in there, get the evidence and then begin some sort of legal action.’

Ms Herelle said a more productive approach would be to make the potential consequences of subletting clear to tenants in the run up to the games. ‘The communications that you have with your tenants leading up to the Olympics, that breach of tenancy could become a criminal offence, could act as a very good deterrent,’ she said.

To me this seems like an impossible task. There is virtually no way that the Housing Associations will be able to take any action against their tenants or even identify that tenancy fraud is taking place without constantly visiting properties and checking up on tenants. Practically and financially this is not a viable option.

However to look at the flip side, one commentator has suggested: “Is this a case of fraud or an example of legitimate business acumen, a dilemma akin to distinguishing tax evasion from tax avoidance?”

Both are arguably one and the same however can mean the difference between a custodial sentence and freedom. Indeed comments have been made about tenants ‘deserving’ to benefit from the Games, particularly given the four years of disruptions which those living in the vicinity have endured. Is this really a case of private enterprise or is it blatant disregard for the rules and regulations which we are all bound to abide by?

Tenancy fraud is illegal and cannot be justified on a legal basis or encouraged as a profit making scheme.  However this is the black and white which sits either side of the grey area that contains a moral justification.  In any event, it will be interesting to see how many subletting cases are brought against tenants in London boroughs in coming months.