Don’t just vilify Fergus Wilson. Use him to justify change

Don’t just vilify Fergus Wilson. Use him to justify change

Fergus Wilson clearly enjoys the attention that being a hate figure brings.

In the last five years, he’s gone out of his way looking for publicity for his mass evictions and controversial – sometimes unlawful – lettings policies.

But in the wake of a new round of newspaper reports on his decision to evict 90 of his tenants, including nine families with children under ten, it should be clear that vilifying him isn’t enough.

Treating him like a panto villain isn’t going to stop him acting like one.

Instead, we should be using his shocking record to mobilise support for the changes that will fix the regulatory weaknesses allowing him to get away with it.

‘Britain’s most hated landlord’

Wilson’s recent announcement that he was evicting 90 tenants and plans to evict many more is only the most recent entry in a long rap sheet of priors that will have caused genuine and lasting damage to his tenants’ lives.

Together his actions have helped cement his notoriety and get him dubbed ‘Britain’s most hated landlord’ by The Sun. They include:

  • Evicting 200 existing tenants on housing benefit, whether they were up to date with the rent or not
  • Banning any future tenant on housing benefit from his properties
  • Evicting four mothers with newborn babies
  • Saying he would evict any single woman who got pregnant
  • Banning all families with children, ‘battered wives’, low income workers, zero-hours workers, single adults and, bizarrely, plumbers from his properties
  • Banning ‘coloured’ tenants from his properties (which was successfully challenged in the courts as discriminatory by the EHRC)
  • Failing, with his wife, to supply hot water to the home of a disabled tenant, for which she was prosecuted and received a £10,000 fine (plus £15,000 costs)
  • Assaulting a letting agent following a dispute about a boiler, for which he was found guilty and fined £1,500

The new Rachman

Some will argue that talking about Wilson’s record is giving him exactly what he wants: attention.

But as much as boos and hisses aren’t going to make Fergus ‘see the light’ and start acting responsibly, not talking about him isn’t going to do it either. Most poor practice in the private rented sector already goes on under the radar, without publicity.

So instead, we need to use Wilson’s track record as the best possible justification for the legal and regulatory changes that will stop other landlords from acting in the same way.

The changes need to begin with the lack of security private tenants have from no-fault eviction.

The only reason that Wilson has found it so easy to summarily evict large numbers of his tenants is because of the state of eviction legislation, and the weak protections tenants have from Section 21, no-fault evictions.

In the 1960s the name of Peter Rachman became synonymous with slum landlordism and helped galvanise renewed efforts to tackle the exploitation that it typified. Even after he was dead, opposition to ‘Rachmanism’ was being used in debates to justify new protections for tenants.

In the same way today, Fergus Wilson’s callous approach to letting and evicting should help justify changes to the law that give renters far more security in their home.

Of course, only a very small number of landlords act like Wilson and they shouldn’t all be tarred with the same brush. But the law’s role is often to protect us from the actions of the minority – and to change the law it’s this minority we need to focus on.