Barnet Council Leader Richard Cornelius has defended Mayor Hugh Rayner’s “illegal” behaviour towards tenants living in the properties he owns.
Cllr Rayner, the first citizen of the borough, has been accused of breaking the law by London Mayor Boris Johnson over the “unfair” way he treats his tenants, who receive housing benefit.
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The allegations came out during the Mayor’s Question Time at the London Assembly on Wednesday, by GLA member for Barnet Andrew Dismore.
Cllr Rayner drafted 12 month contracts which permitted rent increases by any amount during any time of the year, used children as translators and overcharged them to the “detriment of the public purse”.
In addition, he asked fellow Conservative Cllr John Hart to pre-sign the lease without the tenant being present and “pressurised” a woman to sign by turning up unannounced at 10pm.
According to Housing Charity Shelter, this is all "unfair" and "clearly" void of common law.
When questioned about Cllr Rayner’s behaviour by the Times Series, Cllr Cornelius appeared to dodge the question.
He said: “I don’t know, it doesn’t sound illegal. I don’t know the details of it so I can’t make a judgement.
“If it’s something that’s illegal it’s something that shouldn’t be done. It depends on what you mean by illegal?
“Leases should be in line with a statute. If it wasn’t, it would be a civil matter.”
Instead of charging residents at market rate – which would be between £989 and £1,186 per month – Cllr Rayner charged six out of seven tenants on housing benefit between £1,350 and £1,846.
When asked about this, Cllr Cornelius replied: “Market rent is what you can get something for. If that’s the amount of money he can get for the houses, it’s market rent.
“I don’t see that as overcharging to the detriment of the public purse.”
However, Cllr Rayner has since admitted he no longer uses pre-signed witnesses and has removed the clause about rent increases as he appreciates they are “invalid”.
But he denied the fact that tenants are “pressurised” and said the tenant could have asked him to “come back at better time” if 10pm was not convenient.
Since the details emerged, there have been calls for Cllr Rayner to resign. So far, 83 per cent of Times Series readers believe he should step down from his duties as Mayor.
But Cllr Cornelius said: “No of course he shouldn’t resign over this.”
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