Friday, 8 May 2009

The house that Zaman can't build

Demolition job: Residents were in uproar over Tariq Zaman's 'grand' designs

News that the landlord who legally owes thousands in unreturned deposits has been told he can't build his own palace is music to the ears of his former tenants.

Rogue landlord Tariq Zaman, former director of Providence Properties, has been refused planning permission to build a new luxury home in Adel due to the grand scale of its design.

Zaman, who currently has 17 County Court Judgements against his name, had applied to Leeds City Council for the go-ahead to demolish an existing four-bedroom dwellling on Dunstarn Drive and replace the 70s construct with a five-bedroom detached property complete with triple garage.

Zaman has been attempting to erect a new building on the site since 2006, having five different designs either rejected or withdrawn over the period.

According to Council public records obtained by Leeds Student, Zaman’s would-be palace was refused planning permission by the Local Planning Authority on the grounds that it “fails to have sufficient regard to the character and appearance of its surroundings”. The papers also detail how the proposal’s “innapropriate volume, scale, massing and design” would make the finished building “incongruous in its setting” leaving it the “dominant” feature in the area’s landscape and therefore “detrimental to the streetscene”.

It appears a resident backlash helped guide the Council’s decision, with 23 letters of objection from those living nearby being lodged. The complaints aired included suggestions that the proposed house is “out of character” with the area, that the scale and proportions put forward are “too excessive” and that the new build would result in the loss of an “attractive habitat, mature shrubs, hedges and trees”.

In an ironic twist, the house next door to Zaman’s property had its own planning permission granted a week after his latest bid was rejected, with construction work already underway.

Tariq Zaman’s dealings have been under the media spotlight since 2007 when he and Providence Properties - the letting agent he was listed as a director of - were accused of unfairly witholding an estimated £70,000 worth of students’ deposits.

17 separate households have taken him to court and won their cases, with judges ordering Zaman to pay the money back. In an episode of Watchdog aired in November last year Zaman brazenly dismissed the court’s rulings as ‘meaningless’ and to this date nothing has been returned.

Zaman was also in the headlines in February when he was implicated as being involved in the opening of the Student Property Shop, a new letting agent located in the same premises as Providence Properties, despite the owner denying any knowledge of who he was.

Tariq Zaman was unable to be contacted for comment.

Rob Damaio, Community Officer at LUU and campaigner for the return of deposits, was pleased with the decision, however it came about. “Having his planning refused is great news,” Rob said. “Though it was done for reasons of aesthetics, it does mean that Tariq is not going to be able to live a grand lifestyle, in a five bedroom mansion, whilst many tenants are still owed hundreds of pounds.”

Meanwhile, the Student Advice Centre has closed the book on Rory Aitken, the landlord who initially refused to pay back £30,000 worth of deposits to tenants. Aitken, dubbed ‘The Ginger Conman’ by the Daily Mirror, was the target of numerous campaigns and Leeds Student articles over the previous academic year.

Andrea Kerslake, Housing Specialist at the Advice Centre, was pleased with the figure eventually secured. “I have just closed the final Aitken deposit case and we obtained £37,464.08,” said Kerslake. “All but a handful of people got at least something back from their deposit. We would have liked the figure to have been higher but it is some £37,000 more than he was preparing to give back at the start. Thanks to everyone who helped highlight the issue.”

The news on Zaman and Aitken comes as The Association of Residential Letting Agents (ARLA) announces it is introducing a licensing scheme for its UK members and a code of practice for letting agents.

Espe Fuentes, a lawyer for independent advice group Which?, said: “We receive many calls from tenants who have issues with their landlords. Most are about poor living conditions and problems with landlords still not putting deposits into the deposit scheme. ARLA’s licensing system is certainly a step in the right direction to offer greater protection for tenants.

“At a minimum, we’d like to see all letting agents and landlords required to join a compulsory complaints scheme. Many people have suffered for too long at the hands of unscrupulous landlords and letting agents - it’s time to separate the wheat from the chaff.”

Originally published in Leeds Student on May 8 2009

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