Thomas Flight, whose yacht Miss Conduct is in Bristol harbour, has been convicted of a series of offenses against his previous tenants, but his properties are now on the short-term rental market.

When Sarah* wanted to know if her rental deposit was protected and why her energy costs were so high, she was shut down with accusations that she was paranoid. The estate agent who managed Sarah*’s flat in St Paul’s began sending her abusive and intimidating emails.

“May I ask if you are taking any medications or drugs that may have (a) paranoid side effect,” one email read. “(She) is a very unstable and dangerous girl or she has mental health problems,” said another sent to Sarah’s boyfriend, with whom she shared the apartment.

“It was all so horrible and confusing,” says Sarah, who rented one of seven apartments at the Portland Square property from her landlord in 2016-2017.

In the end, I actually ended up being paranoid…we were being fooled every step of the way.

former tenant

His landlord’s name was Thomas Flight. She did not know his name at the time, because he hid behind aliases and false addresses, deploying ‘agents’ who would intimidate his tenants into paying maintenance fees, before withholding their deposits.

The 56-year-old businessman, owner and resident of the Miss Conduct pleasure yacht docked in Bristol Harbour, was convicted in January of four consumer protection offenses against his tenants between 2019 and 2020.

Flight was ordered to pay £37,000 in fees and costs, but was not prohibited from renting property in the future. Seven of his nine Portland Square apartments are now on the market for short-term rentals, rented on Airbnb.

TO Wire The investigation has found that their reckless and deceptive practices may have been deployed against more of those tenants whose cases were heard in court. Some of them, including Sarah, are still out of pocket.

We’ve also found that some guests who book Flight Airbnb properties have experienced issues with returning security deposits.

‘Endless amount of fines’

A photo of Thomas's flight
thomas flight

Olly says he was one of the “lucky ones”.

He and a group of friends rented Flight’s penthouse in Portland Square between 2016 and 2017. They encountered “pushy” agents who sent “weird” and “sometimes threatening” emails.

Under their lease, Olly and his housemates were required to pay up to £25 for a single phone call to the property’s maintenance line and £15 for sending an email. When they moved out, they had been charged £5,370 in damages and fines, which they refused to pay.

“We had a problem with the gas hob – the knob broke and the gas was on permanently, and I was like, damn, I need a real number to fix this quickly,” he says. “This is what led to the endless amount of fines for using that number.”

He says the £25 fine for the phone call doubled for each day it was not paid.

After Olly inquired about getting his deposit back, the agent demanded that he provide an address forward to send a check and threatened to contact his employers if they didn’t.

Olly’s housemate informed the agent that they did not have a future address as they had yet to secure a new rental. The agent accused them of lying and taunted them: “Let the games begin… Now they are out of the apartment and playing by my rules and not theirs”.

Olly says that unlike other renters, his deposit was eventually returned, but the ordeal “greatly affected” his mental health at the time.

The agents who handled Olly’s lease were from a company called Landlord Support Alliance Bristol (LSA). His website no longer exists online, and the Wire they were unable to locate an official representative of the company.

Olly and his housemates were unable to connect LSA, who they said were acting as intermediaries between the tenant and landlord, with Flight. Like the other Flight tenants, they were unaware that he was their landlord.

LSA’s controversial lease agreements were the subject of a BBC investigation in 2019. In a statement at the time, LSA insisted that the charges for phone calls and emails were “lawful, direct and clear”.

But most of these charges were soon made illegal by the Tenant Fees Act (2019). The Act prohibited landlords and agents from charging unreasonable fees for things like requesting references, administration or credit checks.

However, the crimes for which Flight was convicted in January were not related to the fees. He was prosecuted for deceptive and reckless trade practices that are illegal under the Unfair Trade Consumer Protection Regulations (2008), which protect consumers against deceptive trade practices and pushy sales tactics.

luxury airbnb

An Airbnb listing for the Thomas Flight penthouse in Portland Square

One of Flight’s seven Airbnb luxury apartments in Portland Square is a penthouse suite that can cost guests up to nearly £600 a night.

There have been calls for regulation of the holiday and short-term rental market in Bristol. Previous reports from Cable show that landlords in the city are cashing in on Airbnb rentals at inflated prices, while renters have limited access to affordable housing.

An analysis of reviews left on Airbnb for Flight’s properties in Portland Square showed that while his company is raking in money from vacation rentals, some guests are also subject to fees and charges that seem unreasonable.

“The host also demanded money from us for things that were already damaged… and demanded £70 just to move some mirrors that we needed to move to the rooms because they didn’t have proper mirrors in those rooms.” says a review from August last year.

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And it’s not just Flight’s Portland Square apartments that are on the market for short-term rentals.

In May 2021, Louisa booked an Airbnb accommodation in Frome for herself and a group of friends. They couldn’t make the trip (coronavirus lockdown restrictions tightened), so she asked to change the date of her booking, but the agent refused.

The agent also refused to return his £700 deposit. When she tried to escalate her claim, Louisa says the hostel owners denied any knowledge of her booking and that the email she received from them was “unprofessional, dishonest and aggressive.”

In a Tripadvisor review, he writes: “I would be very suspicious to book this place when they hide behind different names, companies and avoid reviews through other social networks.”

Louisa says the company she dealt with when she tried to claim her deposit was Maxin Limited, which is owned and operated by Flight and is the same business where some of its long-term tenants paid their deposits.

‘It was so exhausting, I just wanted it to end’

The address of the hostel in Frome was the same as the one Sarah was given when she asked for the owner’s contact details.

His estate agent had demanded that he stop making complaints about his flat because his £1,200 deposit had already been “swallowed up” by the administrative costs of his maintenance inquiries.

A protest outside the Thomas Flight yacht 'Miss Conduct' last year.
A protest outside the Thomas Flight yacht ‘Miss Conduct’ last year.

After her lease ended, she contacted the Deposit Protection Service (DPS) and was told that since the landlord refused to use their services, she would have to file her deposit in court.

Sarah said she sent a warrant to an address she was given, but never received a response and gave up.

“On reflection, I was so tired by the end that I just wanted it to be over,” says Sarah, who, five years later, still hasn’t got her deposit back.

Councils lack power to take action

In a statement following his court case, Bristol City Council said Flight had not been prohibited from renting property as the offenses to which he pleaded guilty were not prohibition order offenses under the Housing and Planning Act. of 2016.

Tom Renhard, a member of the local authority’s housing cabinet, said: “Mr Flight took advantage of tenants and that is simply not acceptable. We will continue to do everything we can to pursue unscrupulous owners where evidence of criminal exploitation is found.”

In January, Bristol councilors pledged to introduce a public database of compliance notices given to landlords who break the rules, if the government does not create a national register of landlords.

Polly Neate, CEO of Shelter, tells Cable: “The massive demand for rentals, coupled with a lack of proper regulation, means that private rentals can feel like the Wild West.”

She adds: “Unfortunately, as we see through our services, it’s not uncommon for prospective tenants to be asked to pay unreasonable fees, or for dishonest landlords to try to unfairly pocket people’s deposits.”

Flight has declined multiple requests for comment on the issues raised in this article.

*Names changed to protect identity.

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