The ‘perfect’ tenants were working girls: are landlords legally liable if they discover their property is being used for prostitution?

The rent was always on time and there was never any trouble — but the tenants had turned the flat into a brothel.

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When a friend married and decided to rent out her north London bachelor flat, she thought she’d really lucked out when a local letting agent found her two seemingly ideal tenants.

They claimed to be mature female students and the agent said they’d provided good references. They paid the first few months’ rent on time and caused my pal no problems.

She was delighted, until she decided to carry out a routine six-monthly inspection. Thank goodness she did. She emailed the tenants to let them know she was coming. They wouldn’t be home, they said, but they had no objections to her letting herself in.

When she and her husband turned up at the flat, they were both struck by how sparsely it was furnished. Apart from a bed in each of the bedrooms and a single chair in the living room, there was nothing.

Not only that, but there was no sign anyone was actually living in the flat. No TV, no radio, no utensils in the kitchen, no food in the cupboards or cosmetics in the bathroom.

“Poor things, they obviously can’t afford any furniture,” said the husband. “Should we buy them a sofa?”

DON'T BE FOOLED

My friend wasn’t so easily fooled. She marched into one bedroom and flung open the built-in wardrobes. Empty. It was the same story in the other bedroom. “That was when I knew they’d turned the flat into a knocking shop,” she told me. “I was 100 per cent certain, there couldn’t have been any other explanation.”

She rang the letting agency and told them she suspected her tenants were using her flat as a brothel. She received a metaphorical shrug in reply. They said they weren’t managing the flat, so it wasn’t really their problem.

My friend decided the best course of action was to confront the girls with her suspicions and ask them to leave. She rang the lead tenant, gave her 24 hours’ notice to return the keys and said that if she didn’t, she’d report them both to the police. Fortunately for her, the keys were posted through the letterbox the following day and she hasn’t heard from the tenants again.

She is lucky because strictly speaking, she should have followed the correct eviction procedures by serving the tenants with a Section 8 notice.

NOT BREAKING THE LAW

So what should you do if you suspect your tenant is selling sex from your property? Prostitution isn’t illegal in England, so if it’s just one tenant acting alone they are not breaking the law.

It’s not an offence to turn a blind eye as long as you are not directly profiting from the business, or you can serve them with an S8 eviction notice for breach of contract, assuming your lease prohibits working from the premises.

But in my friend’s case, it seemed likely that both girls were bringing clients back to the flat, which meant that they had turned it into a brothel — and it is an offence to own or manage a brothel.

In these circumstances, it’s probably best to inform the police. Also, as most tenancy agreements prohibit any illegal activities on the premises, you are within your rights to serve tenants with an S8 eviction notice for breach of contract.

However, as you don’t want to fall foul of the law, I’d say this is one of those occasions when it’s probably a good idea to seek proper legal advice.


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