A letting agent has been fined £41,200 (GBP) by Watford Magistrates court after they failed to comply with safety regulations and admitted a string of offences at five Houses of Multiple Occupation (HMO’s).
It is the first time Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council has prosecuted a letting agent rather than a landlord and the council also said it was unusual to take action over so many properties.
Strats Estate and Letting Agents of Hatfield, Hertfordshire admitted failure to comply with local authority and Government safety legislation and faced 13 charges for breach of the law, including fire safety offences.
In some HMO properties there was inadequate smoke detection, defective fire doors to several rooms and other areas of the properties were also defective, including an insecure handrail to the stairs and some exit doors were a fire safety hazard as they could be kept locked.
At Watford Magistrates Court, the letting agent was originally fined £16,200 (GBP) for 13 breaches of the Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation Regulations 2006, and ordered to pay costs of £25,000 (GBP) to the council.
Cllr Roger Trigg, executive member for housing and community at Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council, said: “We are delighted with this outcome, which is a great result. These offences related to fire safety, and if not dealt with, could have led to serious injury and even death of a tenant. Our aim is to protect the safety of tenants in the borough and the council wants to work with private landlords and agents as much as possible. We regard prosecution as a last resort, but we would like to send out a clear message to landlords and agents who do not respond to the advice, information and support that we provide, that we will take enforcement action against those who do not comply with the law. We run a Private Landlords’ Forum in partnership with the National Landlords Association (NLA) three times per year, which aims to provide landlords with a networking opportunity. This also gives key information about local issues, changes in the law and good practice.”
Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council run an annual seminar for letting agents as well as a Landlord Accreditation Scheme (PAL), in conjunction with the local university. This scheme aims to recognise landlords who are managing their properties to a good standard, and to encourage these properties to be improved and maintained to a high standard.
Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council said there were 300 licensable HMOs in the borough, but added that while the vast majority of HMOs are not ‘licensable’ they are still subject to the Management Regulations.
Two of the properties involved in this prosecution are not ‘licensable’ HMOs because they do not meet the set criteria.
The council said it should be made clear to all landlords and managing agents of HMOs locally that the regulations apply to all HMOs and the council has an inspection regime that includes inspections of both licensable and non-licensable properties.
Sim Sekhon, spokesman for specialist landlord and letting agent service providers, Legal 4 Landlords commented on the prosecution saying:” Landlords and letting agents have a duty of care to protect the health and safety of tenants residing in rental properties and it is vital to comply with all local authority regulations as well as Government legislation regarding tenant safety. Failure to obey these laws and regulations will result in prosecution by the authorities and ignorance is no defence for property professionals, it is up to them to keep up with all local authority and government legislation that affect their business.”