Property tycoon evicts a whole street in Kent

The Archbishops Palace, Maidstone, Kent
The magnificent Archbishops Palace in Maidstone, Kent

Former Maths teacher, Fergus Wilson, owns over 700 properties in the Ashford and Maidstone areas of Kent and is planning to evict all his tenants so that he can sell his £7 million a year property business, and enjoy the fruits of his labours.

Approximately 90 notices were served to some of Wilson’s tenants in Ashford, Kent, in January and many more are planned.

The mention of Wilson’s name in Grice Close near Folkestone, where he owns all 15 properties, is met with some hostility. The decision came as a shock to many of the street’s households. The quiet street was built on a former Battle of Britain airfield, and many of the tenants said they were happy. Many of the households contain young families and babies but must now find alternative accommodation with as little as two months’ notice.

Wilson, who lives in Boughton Monchelsea near Maidstone, began building his property portfolio in the 1990s and has previously been in the headlines. In 2017, he told a letting agent that he wanted “no coloured tenants because of the curry smell“. He denied his comments were racist, telling a court that he rented to a number of non-white people and that it was “political correctness gone mad”. His wife and daughter are registered owners of some of the properties and last year his wife Judith Wilson was fined for failing to provide hot water to a disabled tenant.

Wilson was not overly perturbed by the criticism he has received as a result of the evictions. He told the Guardian newspaper: “I’ve got a chap at the moment who thinks I should be giving him a three-year tenancy but I’m afraid he found out that he got his Section 21 notice. He’s a very upset man because he wanted to stay for the next 20 years. I had to point out that I am 70 and that as much as I would like to be around in 20 years time, perhaps I won’t be.”

Ellen Gavigan is a nurse and mother of five and has lived in an £850 a month three bedroomed house for a year with her husband and two daughters. She is one of the tenants in Grice Close facing eviction in less than two months. The family hadn’t planned to move but this was the third time she had been evicted. Ellen said she would never qualify for a council house and she doesn’t believe any more will be built in her area.

She said: “The landlords decide they are selling and we are out on our ear. It’s daunting. I don’t want to keep moving. It’s stressful. You start putting your roots down, in the garden for example, and you are gone. It just shouldn’t be allowed someone can own a whole Close because then he has got a total monopoly.”

Lecturer, Chris Blamires, a tenant of one property, said the evictions would result in thousands of people being made homeless and that ‘landlords have all the power’.

Tenants in Scotland and other European countries, including Germany, Sweden and Norway, cannot be evicted without reason and some are wondering if we should follow suit. Many other countries have stronger protection against eviction than England & Wales according to the Shelter charity.

Ashford Borough Council said it would help evicted tenants as much as possible, and that “Mr Wilson is a landlord and well within his legal rights to do what he wants with properties he owns.” Meanwhile, Fergus Wilson has revealed that 32 homes have already been sold independently and plans are in motion to sell more very shortly.

What are the rules currently on renting privately?

This example exposes just how quickly tenants can lose their homes, and it’s a problem that’s growing; in the past 30 years, the number of people privately renting in Britain has risen to almost 5 million.

Legally, a landlord must give at least two months’ notice if a tenant has lived in the property beyond the fixed term stated in the contract. This is often called a Section 21 notice. Most tenancy agreements are short-hold six monthly contracts, and once this term has expired the tenant can be evicted at any time, with only two months notice to find another home. A tenant cannot be evicted during the fixed term unless they have breached the tenancy agreement. A breach could be failing to pay the rent on time, not adhering to rules stipulated by the landlord or damaging the property.  If the property is not vacated once this notice is up, then the landlord will have to go through the courts to regain possession.

The government has debated over whether to introduce a minimum tenancy of three years but this is yet to be approved. A minimum tenancy would help reduce the uncertainty felt by a number of people who are constantly on the move and unable to put down roots. Housing secretary, James Brokenshire, said: “It is deeply unfair when renters are forced to uproot their lives or find new schools for their children at short notice due to the terms of their rental contract.”

However, landlords argue that a three yearly contract is too long and that they did not want to be tied into renting out their property. If the rule is applied to rental properties, then it may well be another deterrent to the letting market which would please critics of the current system. In its paper last November, concluded that the loss of private landlords to the rental market would have a beneficial effect. The report said:

  • “A fall in rental supply is matched by a fall in demand as renters become home owners
  • There is no impact on inflation-adjusted rents – in fact they’ve been falling
  • The experience of the past 14 years suggests rents are most closely linked to wages – i.e. what renters can afford to pay
  • This should give the government confidence to press on with substantial reform to tenancies”

The organisation said that “In short, some renters will be able to buy a home, and those who can’t will enjoy a better quality of life.”

If you are hoping to start your own buy-to-let empire, always get a Chartered Surveyor to evaluate the  property you wish to buy.

Back to March 2019 Newsletter