Star of Secret Millionaire landlord spends more than a YEAR battling to evict a tenant from his £2.5m five-bedroom mansion with a Jacuzzi, steam room and built-in lift after she racked up ‘£128,000’ in unpaid rent and sub-let rooms on Booking.com
- EXCLUSIVE: Paul Williams, 64, says Melanie Read, 49, missed first £2,000-a-week payment in December 2019
- Tenant made ‘thousands’ letting rooms online, says landlord, who claims she’s exploiting Covid eviction rules
- Mr Williams, who appeared on Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire, says he’s lost £231,847 in rent and other costs
A well-known landlord and star of Channel 4’s Secret Millionaire has spent more than a year trying to evict a tenant from his £2.5million five-bedroom house because he says she owes him £128,000 in unpaid rent and has made tens of thousands of pounds sub-letting rooms on Booking.com.
Paul Williams, 64, says Melanie Read, 49, missed her first £2,000-a-week rent payment for the detached town-centre mansion in Esher, Surrey in December 2019 but is ‘exploiting delays to evictions during Covid’ to stay as long as possible, meaning he could have to wait until June to finally get his home back.
The businessman, who previously let the house to Downton Abbey actor Dan Stevens, estimates he has lost a total of £231,847 in rent, legal fees and loan interest. He has watched with growing fury as Mrs Read profited from selling rooms on Booking.com, where an advert boasted of its luxury features including a steam room and Jacuzzi, an in-house lift and parking for three cars.
Mr Williams, who operates a 50-strong property portfolio with his son Ben, claims that the blanket nature of the government’s ban on evictions due to Covid means tenants like his are able to take advantage of the stay in possession hearings to stay for as long as possible without paying.
Mrs Read, who claims to be self-employed, declared herself bankrupt on August 16, 2018, just over a year before agreeing the £2,000-a-week tenancy.
A second landlord has reported a similar dispute with Mrs Read and her husband in 2016. When asked by MailOnline to respond to the claims made against her, Mrs Read said ‘this is all untrue’. She claimed she stopped paying rent on the house due to repairs not being carried out.
Mr Williams fought Booking.com to take down the page advertising his house but says the US-based site refused to do so for more than a year.
The landlord estimates Mrs Read has made more than £95,000 from letting out rooms on Booking.com – based on the number of reviews the property has received and an average stay of three days at £150 per night. However, Mrs Read disputes the profit figure.
Paul Williams, 64, runs a 50-property lettings empire with his son, Ben, (seen far left with Paul on the right). Mr Williams says Melanie Read (right) has earned thousands from selling rooms in his luxury house on Booking.com while not paying rent
Mrs Read is estimated by Mr Williams to have earned thousands from selling rooms for the property on Booking.com, where an advert boasted of its luxury features including a steam room and Jacuzzi, (pictured) an in-house lift and parking for three cars
Mr Williams previously rented the house to Downton Abbey actor Dan Stevens before his six-month tenancy period expired (pictured: one of the bedrooms)
‘This house was designed by my wife and me as our dream retirement home, but it’s now become our worst nightmare,’ Mr Williams told MailOnline.
‘Our intention was to rent it out for six months and then move in ourselves, but that hasn’t been able to happen now.
‘She told us when Covid was starting that we wouldn’t get her out of there for a year and she’s been proved right.
‘The law is there to protect tenants but not someone like this who is exploiting the system to stay as long as possible. It’s just unacceptable that this can be allowed to happen.’
Mr Williams previously rented the house to Downton’s Dan Stevens before his six-month tenancy period expired.
After being told in October by agent Knight Frank that the short-lets market was quiet, he listed the property on Airbnb – as property website Landlord Zone reported last year.
There it was booked up for a short stay by Mrs Read, who at the time was living with her 47-year-old husband, Christian.
Two weeks after moving in the couple requested a six-month short let, which began on October 24, 2019, but soon stopped paying the rent, according to Mr Williams.
Mr Williams noticed a review for the property on Booking.com on November 29, 2019, and found out Mrs Read had begun sub-letting it.
Booking.com kept the advert up for more than a year. Pictured is the downstairs kitchen
After being told in October by agent Knight Frank that the short-lets market was quiet, he listed the property on Airbnb. There it was booked up by Mrs Read, who at the time was living with her 47-year-old husband, Christian
Mr Williams says Mrs Read missed her first rent payment for the detached mansion town-centre mansion in Esher, Surrey (pictured) in December 2019 but is ‘exploiting delays to evictions during Covid’ to stay as long as possible
The businessman said he tried to negotiate an agreement with the Reads to repay their backlog of rent but this failed and their tenancy expired on April 24, 2020. Mr Williams began legal action to evict them that same month.
The Reads refused to leave and a six-month pause on evictions during Covid meant he was unable to obtain an eviction order. Mr Williams has sued them for his lost income but they are fighting this by claiming they stopped paying rent because the property was in disrepair.
There have been several delays to court hearings due to a major backlog in cases, although the landlord has eventually got a court hearing on May 16, when he hopes to eventually secure an eviction order.
A welcome letter handed by the Read to guests
‘The only way we got that was through our MP who wrote to the Lord Chancellor,’ he said. ‘But I feel sorry for other people who can’t even get a court date when their tenants aren’t paying a penny.
‘I’m currently losing £2,000 a week. We had a high-interest development loan on the property because we couldn’t re-mortgage because we have a tenant who isn’t paying rent.’
Mr Read has now moved out of the house, according to Mr Williams.
He said of Mrs Read: ‘She treats the place like it’s all hers. When we were round there the other week she told us to ”get out of my house”, but it’s not hers, it’s mine. I’m in a rented flat and she’s in my retirement home.
‘Meanwhile, she has been living it up. I saw her the other week and she was talking about her holidays and recently had her new boyfriend, a local builder, move in.’
He admitted to not carrying out his usual background checks on his new tenants when they first moved in, which would have revealed Mrs Read’s bankruptcy, and says this is something he regrets.
‘This was the first time when we haven’t done all the normal checks because she was so nice and offered to do all these little things around the house,’ he said.
‘It was all to get us to sign a tenancy. She knows the law back to front.
‘There’s been two previous hearings where the judge has just pushed it back. What she does is arrive at the court with a load of paperwork which she submits an hour before. The judge says he can’t have time to look at it.
‘We are hoping to get an eviction order during the next court hearing the 16th but the judge could still give her another extension for a month or so if they want.’
The large rooftop terrace at the property in Esher town centre, which Mr Williams was planning to use as his retirement home
Before managing to have the Booking.com page taken down, Mr Williams informed Elmbridge Borough Council about the Reads letting out the house without his permission.
However, he received a letter saying officials had investigated the issue and were satisfied the property was still primarily being used for residential uses so no planning controls had been broken.
Meanwhile, Surrey Police told him it was a ‘civil matter’ so they could not get involved.
Booking.com kept the advert up for more than a year before eventually relenting to the demands made by Mr Williams.
Two weeks after moving in the couple requested a six-month short let, which began on October 24, 2019, but soon stopped paying the rent (pictured is one of the sitting rooms in the house)
Then, to Mr Williams’ astonishment, on November 29, 2019 he noticed a review for the property on Booking.com, showing that they had begun sub-letting it
Last month, Mrs Read – who claims to be self-employed – told MailOnline she stopped paying rent because the house is a ‘fur coat with no knickers’.
She said: ‘I’m simply living a life here with a house which is in disrepair. We wouldn’t have taken it on if we weren’t able to let it. We stopped paying rent because of the repairs.
‘It was his suggestion to let rooms out – he said I don’t care how you get the money as long as you get the money. In terms of repairs I’ve always allowed access.’
An inspection report carried out before the Reads moved in – seen by MailOnline – states that the property is ‘in new and refurbished order throughout’.
Mrs Read sent MailOnline several pictures of damaged walls and fittings.
Mr Williams says she stopped giving him access to the house for repair work.
Mrs Read claimed to have paid the landlord £50,000. She described the suggestion she had made a near six-figure sum through Booking.com as ‘absolute codswallop’, adding: ‘I’ve just done my tax return and it’s £11,000, but because it’s Covid and no-one’s booking, and Booking.com won’t let.’
A second landlord, Redmond Walsh, has reported difficulties with the Reads, with whom he says he agreed a two-year tenancy at £2850 a month starting on April 1, 2016.
By September 19, 2017 they were £5,700 in arrears, according to a witness statement filed to Kingston County Court in support of Mr Williams’ claim.
He eventually secured a court order to evict them and they left the house in May 2018 after racking up more than £12,000 in unpaid rent. In court documents Mr Walsh branded the couple ‘nightmare tenants’.
Mr Walsh states in court documents that Mrs Read declared herself bankrupt to avoid paying the court judgement.
Booking.com said: ‘When accommodation providers sign up to list with Booking.com they must agree to our terms and conditions, verifying that they are legally permitted to rent out their accommodation.
‘In the very rare instance that we might be alerted to a concern about a specific property, we will investigate and can and have removed properties from our platform, as we have done in this case.’
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