Landlord Wins £100k After Harassment from Tenant’s Union

Tenants’ union ACORN has paid a landlord £100,000 in damages for organising a campaign of harassment against her.

The landlord, Zobia Rafique, rents rooms across Sheffield via her business, Century One Estates. She had a disagreement with tenant Aya Hoez in 2020 over the return of a £300 deposit and the row escalated when ACORN got involved. 

Rafique subsequently sued for harassment, defamation, and breach of data rights.

Among the harassment charges levelled, ACORN members:

  • Threatened Rafique using a loud hailer
  • Held a public meeting about her outside Sheffield town hall
  • Blogged and posted abusive statements on social media
  • Described her as a ‘dodgy landlord’ in leaflets that were delivered to neighbours
  • Delivered a demand letter to her house where they filmed her and sang Christmas carols

JMW Solicitors, which represented Rafique, last year said the campaign went on for four months and involved ‘noisy demonstrations involving scores of people as well as highly defamatory and incorrect posts on social media’.

How did the dispute begin?

The dispute began after she reportedly refused to return a £300 deposit to Hoez who signed up for a room, but changed her mind. ACORN continued to target Rafique, even though the Deposit Protection Service had ruled in her favour.

Rafique told the Sheffield Star: 

The last two years have been unbearable and frightening. I’m relieved and pleased the case has been resolved in my favour and now the harassment will stop. I also wanted to prevent this from happening to other business owners.

A spokesman for JMW Solicitors said: ‘Clearly, there is a place for legal and legitimate campaigning, but the tenant’s and ACORN’s conduct seriously crossed the line.’

ACORN paid just under £100,000 in costs and damages to the landlord and her business as part of the settlement.

It also issued two written apologies and has agreed not to repeat the conduct.

The fight for tenant’s rights

Nick Ballard, head organiser for the group, vowed to continue fighting for tenants’ rights:

ACORN remains committed to its mission of winning justice for and protecting its members and advancing the cause of low-income people and communities across the country. Nothing will deter us from this.

We agree that tenants have the right to be protected from unscrupulous landlords, but landlords also have the right to conduct their business in peace. We always advise:

  • Keep the lines of communication open. Make sure your tenant – or potential tenant – understands the small print (for example, that a deposit is not refundable) to prevent misunderstandings in the future
  • Always reference. Make sure that you are doing your due diligence when it comes to new tenants by referencing . This isn’t just about avoiding ‘nightmare tenants’ but referencing can also check their credit-worthiness to make sure they’ve got a good track record in keeping up payments
  • Protect yourself. Insurance like Rent Guarantee Insurance can cover you if your tenant falls into arrears, but Mashroom’s RGI also offers legal support if you need it
  • Use a third party. Keep things professional rather than personal, by using a third party service for inventories and check in/out, who can advise on whether or not some of the deposit needs to be held back 
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