More than 40 tenants have spoken out against the Edinburgh landlord, Mark Fortune, with most claiming they were not returned their deposits and subjected to squalid living conditions when staying at properties run by his companies.
The Mark Fortune Investigation (MFI) campaign group, formed to expose the landlord’s operations, asked why the convicted criminal had not “been fully reprimanded” by authorities for “his disregard of tenant rights and housing laws” for more than a decade. They are urging Police Scotland and the City of Edinburgh Council to take action in order to protect tenants.
MFI received more than 40 responses from a survey to other former tenants who claimed to have lived in multiple different properties operated by Fortune’s companies between 2008 and 2020.
They shared hundreds of images showing broken windows, black mould, disabled smoke detectors, water leaking through a light fixture, crumbling walls and rusty appliances. The Ferret visited one property in 2018 where several tenants now raising the alarm, have lived. We are publishing the results of our years-long investigation alongside BBC Scotland.
Some tenants also shared emails, text messages and phone call recordings showing that requests for their deposits to be returned, each worth several hundred pounds, were ignored. In a December letter seen by The Ferret, Police Scotland told a tenant that it was investigating the “criminal behaviour” of “a landlord in the Edinburgh area.”
MFI wants the police and the council to “offer increased support to tenants and neighbours, allocate more resources into investigating [Fortune’s] operations, and take stronger action when he fails to abide by key legislations and procedures”.
Edinburgh council said it didn’t comment on individual housing cases but offers “advice and guidance” and takes “appropriate action” when tenants make complaints. Police Scotland said it was unable to search its systems for cases related to individuals but that “a number of reports” related to Fortune had been submitted to Scotland’s prosecution service.
The tenants’ union Living Rent said that all complaints made to Edinburgh City Council and Police Scotland had not “not resulted in material changes”. Fortune’s “continued preying on vulnerable tenants in a city where rents are sky high is permitted by the inaction of responsible authorities”, they argued.
The housing charity Shelter Scotland stressed that the contracts supplied to tenants by Fortune’s companies referred to “inapplicable or out of date law” and attempted “to exploit the vulnerable position of people desperate to find homes”.
Fortune has a notable criminal record. In 2016, he admitted assault, threats of violence, fraud and attempting to pervert the course of justice. He was taken off the council’s landlord’s register in 2013 after allegedly making violent threats to tenants who asked to be reimbursed for repair work costs.
The landlord has long continued to operate, however, with his companies advertising lets to tenants via platforms like Gumtree and Spare Room under the guise of ‘holiday lets’. But tenants say they were given month-to-month rolling contracts, and were allowed to stay in the flats long-term.
It is unclear how many properties Fortune’s companies currently operate as holiday lets, but in 2017, the landlord told the Daily Record he owned 70 flats.
In 2019 Living Rent warned that Fortune’s companies and other landlords were using holiday lets to bypass tenants’ rights, and called on the Scottish Government to “close this loophole”. Holiday let tenants lack the same rights as those with short-assured tenancies or Scottish private residential tenancies, the union stressed in a 2019 report.
Landlords or agencies offering holiday lets do not need to register with their local authority, secure HMO licensing, or put their tenants’ deposits into third-party protection schemes. The report added that holiday let properties are also not subject to the same fire safety and repair standards as typical lets, and there are less safeguards in place to stop operators from evicting their tenants.
Told to leave for requesting repairs
Hailey LaSarre and her husband moved into a Fortune flat on Lonsdale Terrace in October 2020 after spotting an ad on SpareRoom. She was given a holiday let contract from a company called Edinburgh Rent Limited, of which Mark Fortune is the sole director.
When the couple moved in, LaSarre said the flat was in a “disgusting” state and required deep cleaning. She shared images of black mould, several disabled smoke detectors, a broken skylight sealed by bubble wrap, and extensive water damage.
On 9 November 2020, LaSarre’s husband, Gergely Farkas, created a group messaging chat with their flatmates and the mobile number listed on the tenancy contract given to the couple. He then asked for the broken skylight and ceiling lighting circuitry to be repaired.
In a response, Farkas was told that their tenancy contract would not be renewed. “The other flatmates never had any issue with contact or being contacted”, the unnamed respondent told him. “Therefore as you appear to have such there will be no further licence to occupy granted to Hailey on 26th November when it expires. It’s not working with a couple”.
The respondent then immediately left the chat group.
LaSarre later messaged the same number to apologise for any offence caused. She was told in a response: “It’s clear you thought you’d be the ‘boss’ and dictate what was going to happen.”
After asking whether the couple would be able to continue renting the flat, LaSarre was again told that the contract would not be renewed. The respondent claimed that other flatmates had complained that the flat was too full and that the room was now needed for “workmen and storage”. But LaSarre said her flatmates told her they had never made such complaints to the landlord.
After contacting Police Scotland, Farkas and LaSarre told The Ferret that they were advised to move out of the flat. The couple moved out on 26 November and were able to find new accommodation at short notice.
Edinburgh Rent Limited later returned LaSarre’s deposit, which she believes was the result of a police investigation into the landlord. A letter sent to LaSarre by Police Scotland, dated 23 December 2020 stated that an officer was “investigating a number of reports of concerning behaviour committed by a landlord in the Edinburgh area. This includes criminal behaviour aimed towards (ex)-tenants and neighbouring residents at the landlord’s rented address.”
Broken windows, leaking ceilings and black mould
Alessandro Carosi said he rented a room in a flat on Bruntsfield Place from March 2019 until February 2020. The contract he was given, dated 30 April 2019, said he was licenced to stay from 5 May until 5 June 2019. The contract was supplied by Edinburgh Holiday and Party Lets Limited (EHPL), a company which had been dissolved nearly two years earlier in 2017 and listed Fortune as its only director.
He later joined the Mark Fortune Investigation campaign group along with other tenants who he spoke with on Reddit, after he reported his “horrible experience” on the platform. Carosi shared images and videos with The Ferret of a broken window, a crumbling wall, water dripping through a ceiling into a light fixture, water damaged ceilings, and black mould in the property.
“It was a very old flat in a dangerous condition with cracks, mould and damp everywhere”, said Carosi. “I have since been complaining and reporting him to the local authority.”
Along with other former tenants, Carosi is demanding that authorities take action. “I know Mark Fortune was banned from renting and his landlord licence was removed, so how come he’s still renting and exploiting tenants?” he asked.
“How is it possible that he still puts tenants, and the people living in the buildings where he owns flats, at risk? Something needs to be done to stop Mark Fortune because it’s unbelievable that he’s able to do this”.
Tempted by a cheap room in the capital
A student, who asked to remain anonymous, moved into a room in an EHPL flat at Edinburgh’s Bruntsfield Place in January 2020. The room, which she said was advertised on Gumtree by a user called Alex, was cheap in comparison to other prices in the capital.
“I was quite desperate”, she said. “I really needed a place. So I allowed myself to be pushed in the corner and just paid the deposit.”
But the student said her £275 deposit was never returned. Text messages and emails shared with The Ferret show that prior to moving out, requests about the return of her deposit were ignored. After moving out, she then sent further requests to the same number, but received no response.
In a recording of a phone call to the same number, the student can be heard asking a man about the deposit. The man tells her to send any questions via text or email. The student stresses she has already sent multiple messages, but the respondent quickly hangs up.
After sending further text messages asking for her deposit to be returned, the student received replies from an unknown respondent telling her that the number did not belong to Fortune, and that she should cease contact.
The final response, on 16 March 2020, read: “Vodafone Auto Reply message:- Please note due to Corona Virus the offices are closed. A reply to your message will be issued as soon as possible”.
Léo Colisson was completing an internship in Edinburgh when rented a room from EHPL on Brougham Street for a month in 2017. He shared a receipt from EHPL which showed that £550 had been paid to an account named “mefortune” to cover a month’s rent and his deposit. But Colisson says his £250 deposit was never returned to him.
In an image of Whatsapp messages regarding rent payments, Colisson was apparently told on 6 April 2017 that there was no limit to how long he could stay. “As it’s my flat I’ll decide the length of a contract”, the message said. “You can leave any day u want but you pay for the month.”
After asking for his deposit to be returned, Colisson was told on 4 July 2017: “An invoice has been issued for charges and balance sent- take it up with your French bank”. Colisson responded, asking what was meant by “charges”, and said his bank had not received any transfer requests from Scotland.
Having received no reply, Colisson again demanded his money back. He received a message on 3 October 2017, which read: “Refresh me with your details. Your account appears closed”. Colisson again shared his bank details, but his request, and a string of follow-up messages received no reply.
Authorities must ‘take stronger action’
The Ferret asked housing charity, Shelter Scotland, to analyse three contracts given to tenants by Edinburgh Holiday and Party Lets Limited and Edinburgh Rent Limited between 2017 and 2020. Shelter found the contracts “make reference to inapplicable or out of date law”.
All the agreements referred to the Housing (Scotland) Act 1988, which is no longer relevant to the 2020 contracts, while two referred to the Protection From Eviction Act 1977 instead of the relevant Rent (Scotland) Act 1984, Shelter highlighted.
Edinburgh Rent Ltd contract
EHPL Ltd contract
“Put simply, it is not a holiday let just because the written agreement calls it a holiday let”, said a Shelter spokesperson. “More alarming is the attempt in these agreements to expressly undermine the rights people might have to legal protections as tenants. Individuals who are unsure about what rights they have to their occupation can get advice on the Shelter Scotland website.”
The Shelter spokesperson added: “We don’t know the particular circumstances of the individuals concerned so we cannot make any conclusive remarks in relation to them, but what we appear to have here is an attempt to exploit the vulnerable position of people desperate to find homes, by offering them accommodation with very few rights.”
The tenants’ union Living Rent said that despite being struck off the landlord register, Fortune “is still able to operate with impunity”. The group called for better systems in place to protect tenants.
“One of these solutions would be the regulation of short-term lets”, said a spokesperson. “Living Rent members have also supported fellow members in winning back deposits and tribunal cases which show that, although his tenants appear to be in month-month rolling leases, they are in fact fully protected by Private Residential Tenancy legislation.
“However, this recognition would have not been won without a fight and is so time consuming that it offers no immediate protection to tenants living in unsafe conditions or threatened with illegal evictions.”
The Mark Fortune Investigation (MFI) said it was collaborating with Living Rent “to empower tenants by creating awareness of their legal rights, and providing legal and practical assistance when possible”. A spokesperson said. “We are also engaging with the council and the police: sharing relevant information and linking them in with tenants and neighbours when assistance is required.
“We believe that, in order to produce long lasting change for tenants and neighbours of Mark Fortune, the council and police must offer increased support to tenants and neighbours, allocate more resources into investigating his operations, and take stronger action when he fails to abide by key legislations and procedures.”
An Edinburgh City Council spokesperson said: “We don’t comment on individual cases but if a complaint is reported to us we would always look into it and offer advice and guidance and take appropriate action where required.”
Police Scotland said that due to data protection, it was unable to search its systems for cases related to individuals. It highlighted that “a number of reports” related to Fortune had been submitted to the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service (COPFS), which is responsible for the prosecution of crime in Scotland.
COPFS confirmed on 25 March 2021 that there were no active cases related to Fortune.
The Scottish Government said there were “a range of legal protections” for private rents in Scotland. “It is essential that tenants and prospective tenants are aware of their rights and the standards their landlord should adhere to”, said a spokesperson.
Where a landlord fails to comply with their legal requirements or lodge a deposit, “tenants can make an application to the First Tier Tribunal for Scotland (Housing and Property Chamber) to rectify the issue”, they said.
“Where the Tribunal finds the landlord has failed to comply, they can order the landlord to pay the tenant up to three times the amount of the deposit. In addition, the three Tenancy Deposit Schemes operating in Scotland all have resolution services available to manage deposit disputes.”
The spokesperson added: “Unregistered landlords are committing a criminal offence, subject to a maximum fine of £50,000 and / or six months imprisonment. Unregistered landlords can be reported to Police Scotland and reported to the relevant local authority.”
The Ferret repeatedly tried to contact Mark Fortune via the company email address and phone number listed on a contract issued in October 2020, but did not receive a response.
Fortune’s criminal history
2010 – Fined £650 for breach of the peace when he threatened tenants who asked to be reimbursed for repair work to their flat, according to the Daily Record. Previously fined £1,000 for running an unlicensed house in multiple occupation. Officials withheld his permit after claims of verbal abuse and threats to tenants and staff.
2011 – Edinburgh Sheriff Court heard that Fortune told tenants: “You go and find out who my friends are, OK? Three of them have just been locked up for shooting somebody”, the Record reported. Fortune also used a blue badge that didn’t belong to him in order to park his Ferrari in a disabled bay for five hours outside the Crown Office.
2013 – Fortune’s record saw the council refuse to put him on the landlord’s register, according to the Record. In a fresh court case, Fortune was alleged to have threatened both a lawyer pursuing him for unpaid council tax, and the rector of Edinburgh Academy after his son was removed from the school.
2013 – The landlord admitted assaulting a tenant by holding their hand to a radiator to prove it was hot, sending threatening emails, trying to pervert justice and four counts of obtaining money by fraud. Fortune had taken deposits from prospective tenants via Gumtree adverts for accommodation which never materialised.
2013 – Fortune got 250 hours of unpaid work and was forced to pay £2,425 compensation. Fortune’s neighbours also claimed that the landlord routinely failed to carry out repairs and maintenance. Fortune told The Record at the time that all his tenants had contracts. He denied making any threats, claimed repairs were done swiftly and defended his use of holiday lets.
2019 – Fortune avoided a legal bid to recover almost £1.2 million in alleged crime profits after Crown officials ordered police to destroy the landlord’s business computers, according to The Sun.
2020 – Fortune was again pursued by prosecutors for crime profits under Proceeds of Crime Act legislation. Due to Fortune’s complex financial affairs, the bid to seize his assets took more than three years, the Record reported. Crown Office experts had at one stage believed Fortune to have had up to £4.6 million in assets potentially subject to seizure.
Header image by Lorenzo Dalberto. Credit: Deadline News
This story was updated on 1 April 2021 to correct the street name of the flat that Alessandro Carosi stayed in, from Brougham Street to Bruntsfield Place. We also corrected a line to clarify that Carosi joined the MFI campaign group, rather than having co-founded it.