Britain’s most controversial buy to let investor, Fergus Wilson, has hit back and given his side of events on a series of high-profile stories hitting the headlines in recent months.
In an interview with Letting Agent Today, Wilson - who with his wife Judith owns around 400 investment properties, mostly in Kent - says journalists have selectively taken quotes and incidents in recent stories, giving a misleading impression of what really happened.
Wilson has been a frequent figure in the media. At one time he was reported to have owned around 1,000 buy to let properties near where he lives; until the year 2000 he and his wife managed the properties themselves, but then they instructed letting agents.
He says the agents do a good job but he has to hire some translators as some tenants cannot speak English and the lettings agencies do not have their own translators.
The latest story to hit the headlines concerned a number of women renting from him who were, according to some reports, evicted. The BBC, for example, says: “A notorious Kent landlord who has evicted women with newborn babies is being investigated for discrimination ... he has now evicted four mothers in the Ashford borough.”
Wilson, however, says the facts are quite different.
He says a series of mis-communications over whether there were problems with properties' central heating systems or just the hot water led to initial delays.
He adds that the local authority has “incredibly strict rules” on how quickly boilers need to be fixed in homes where the residents have babies, and that a shortage of appropriately trained engineers made matters worse.
“In some cases I’ve had to go to Surrey to find people with the right qualifications to handle boilers in my properties in Kent. There are too few skilled ones, mostly because they’re working on the vast number of new homes built in this [Kent] area” he says.
In a letter to the local housing department of the council, seen by Letting Agent Today, Wilson describes the situation as “chaotic” and writes:
“The net result of this chaos is that I terminated the tenancies of four mothers with babies. It is heartbreaking to do so but we cannot recruit staff and service the tenants. The Council has brought this decision on itself. It sounds like have a baby and lose your home and that is what it amounts to.
“These mothers have been long term, of around four years, and had their babies after they moved in and were clearly not pregnant when they moved in. None were a penny in arrears and none were any problem.
“However, if there were to be a problem with hot water then we cannot get a Gas Safety Engineer in under four days when the Council requires the work to be done immediately.
Critically, he then adds: “We know we will not be able to comply with that expectation so have brought these tenancies to an end. There is no criticism of the tenants whatsoever.”
Wilson says he still takes children over five years, adding in his letter: “With children over five the requirement is to do the work as soon as possible. With children under five the requirement is to do the work immediately.”
On the specifics of the case he says that he has served S21 notices on four tenants “but none of them is single, none is pregnant, and none yet evicted - it may not come to that.”
Wilson also explained to Letting Agent Today that a further controversy over his alleged comments on race and “curry smells” had been misinterpreted.
Last year there was extensive publicity surrounding his comments and a legal case brought by the Equality and Human Rights Commission which ended with him being ordered to ditch a policy of not letting to some Indian and Pakistani tenants.
The incident was over what Wilson describes as “a light hearted comment” which was taken seriously, and concerned the condition of a carpet that required cleaning because of dog odour and not because of the smell of curry.
Wilson says eight per cent of his current tenants are non-white “and that’s a lot higher than the proportion of the population in this part of Kent” and he insists “we take anyone of any colour and any religion and any sexual orientation as long as they can afford to pay.”
He adds that his criteria for rejecting tenants are solely based on their ability to pay. He says those on zero-hour contracts are unlikely to be able to pay reliably, even if they wish to, so he insists that his tenants have permanent contracts or other guaranteed income.