Notorious property tycoon Nicholas Hoogstraten insists his bullyboy days are over – but says there are still “plenty” of rogue landlords in Brighton and Hove.
From his base at the Courtlands Hotel in Hove the 67-year-old admitted he “may have been hard on people” in years gone by but said he had finally changed his ways.
Once heralded as Britain’s youngest millionaire, Mr Hoogstraten has never made any secret of his robust approach to keeping problem tenants in line.
In the 1960s he gained a sinister reputation and was accused of using strong-arm tactics against residents of slum properties, which he bought cheaply for redevelopment.
During one of his many court cases, one judge even branded him a “self-styled emissary of Beelzebub”.
But after announcing his “bad old days” were over Mr Hoogstraten last night accused some private landlords in modern Brighton and Hove of taking advantage of their tenants.
He said: “The class of tenants we had in the 60s were terrible. Those days were something else.
“Back in my younger days perhaps it was true that I was hard on people. That was normal back then.
“But it’s not true now. I’m certainly not a rogue landlord any more. It’s pretty well known that I own vast areas but it’s all managed professionally now.
"I can’t remember the last time I had a problem with a residential tenant.
“However, there are landlords in this city who will do anything to get rid of a problem.”
Mr Hoogstraten claimed bullying landlords were usually private buy-to-let owners rather than “professionals”.
Landlords who worked through lettings agents had too much to lose to risk their reputation by “mucking around”, he argued.
But he said many private owners were bullying their tenants by threatening them with eviction.
He said: “Often it’s because they want to put the rent up or they want to move their relatives in.
“I even know personally of cases where a landlord has tried to get sexual favours out of tenants.
“Of course in a lot of cases there’s not much the tenant can do.”
Mr Hoogstraten blamed the rise of the rogue landlord on the number of owners renting out their properties.
He said: “In this day and age we have got far more landlords than we did in the 60s in the bad old days.
“Now everybody’s a landlord – taxi drivers, everyone. That means you’re bound to get a few more bad eggs.
“But now it’s a disaster area because in many cases they borrowed too much and some people might resort to bad practices to reclaim their lost money.”
Brighton and Hove has the sixth largest private rented sector in the country but more than a third of homes in the city are poorly heated, badly maintained or out of date.
According to the most recent figures, 36,400 households are living in standards that fall below the level the Government deems “decent”.
However, demand for housing far outstrips the number of properties available and some tenants say their landlords threaten them with eviction if they complain.
Mary is a disabled pensioner who has lived in her tiny flat in Hove for 14 years.
Last week, after she complained about a leak, she was told by her landlord she had two months to pack her things and leave.
She said: “I have always been a good tenant but they know they can just put the rent up as much as they like and force me out.
“All I did was let them know when something was wrong. It’s terrible. They are completely bullying me and there’s nothing I can do.
“People are just too scared to say anything. If you complain you just get turfed out.”
Mary said it was the most vulnerable people in Brighton and Hove that bore the brunt of rogue landlords.
She said: “It will cost me more than £1,000 to move out and I can’t afford it.
“They just pull the carpet out from under the most vulnerable people but there’s nothing the authorities can do.
“The law is all in favour of the landlords. It’s ridiculous.”
Chris Norris, the head of policy at the National Landlords Association, said Brighton and Hove was a “particular problem area” for bully landlords.
He said many of the worst perpetrators in the city were often linked to organised crime.
He said: “I don’t think it’s commonplace but we can’t ignore the fact that it does go on. Many landlords do force retaliatory evictions.
“The majority of landlords in Brighton operate professionally and in complete accordance with the law.
“But there are people masquerading as landlords who we would describe as criminals. It’s totally outside the law.”
Mr Norris said Brighton and Hove suffered because of the overwhelming demand for housing.
He said: “In other parts of the country if a tenant doesn’t like their landlord they can vote with their feet and move – but that often can’t happen here.”
A spokeswoman for Brighton and Hove City Council said: “We recognise the enormous role of the private rented sector in providing accommodation throughout our city. The council believes it is important to reward good landlords, who consistently maintain high standards within the private rented sector.
"The council runs a landlord accreditation scheme so that the best private landlords can be recognised and rewarded, and to help others raise their standards of property maintenance and management.”