A landlord who failed to properly look after two Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) has been fined £70,500 by Tendring District Council (TDC).
Lystra Dorval, of Oaks Lane, Ilford, was given ten penalty notices relating to poor management of the HMOs in Hayes Road, Clacton.
TDC’s Private Sector Housing team began engaging with Dorval in April 2019, setting out what remedial works were needed to make the sub-standard properties acceptable, which was followed up with meetings in May and August.
Tenants also reported to TDC they were threatened with eviction for pointing out issues, while numerous complaints about anti-social behaviour and the condition of the property were made by neighbours and others.
In August Dorval was told to make immediate repairs to the fire alarm, but when two days later the work was not done an Emergency Prohibition Order was issued – shutting down the HMOs – with TDC’s Housing team working to re-home tenants.
Formal enforcement was begun with a final notice of work which needed completing. This was to address issues such as the faulty fire alarm, blocked fire escapes, insecure entrance doors, broken staircases, toilets not working, water leaks and dangerous electrics. Requests for work to be completed had been issued in April and May on an informal basis, prior to the closure in August.
The following day a gas leak and flooding was detected after pipework was stolen, and during clear-up work further damage to the properties was revealed including floors at risk of collapse, drains blocked with rubble, and rotting waste.
The penalty notices were issued due to non-compliance and breaches of regulations covering the management of HMOs prior to and on 6 August 2019, following the earlier informal requests.
With slow and unsatisfactory progress on repairs to the building prior to their closure, in September last year Dorval was issued with the penalty notices and had her HMO licences removed as TDC determined her no longer a ‘fit and proper person’ to run the properties.
Dorval appealed against the penalty notices, but a First Tier Housing Tribunal reached a similar decision to TDC following a hearing held on Friday, 9 October.
The level of fines were reduced slightly from the original £90,000 levied by TDC.
During the tribunal hearing Dorval stated that some work had been carried out and later damaged by tenants, and that she was a victim to the occupiers – while also pointing her out managing agents had failed to act.
In its findings, published on 9 November, the tribunal ruled there was not enough evidence to support that claim, with no evidence of work being carried out, and that the argument fell as Dorval herself signed up some of the occupants.
The ruling added that Dorval was “primarily culpable” and went on to say: “Multiple offences had been committed, and it was in the public interest to impose such a financial penalty.”
In adjusting the fines it noted “some element of obstruction of justice… and some anecdotal evidence of providing sub-standard accommodation” but also that Dorval had no previous convictions.
Paul Honeywood, TDC Cabinet Member for Housing, said the case would send a strong message to landlords who thought they could not maintain their properties.
“We have a duty to our residents to make sure they have proper housing, whether our own tenants or those who are renting privately,” Councillor Honeywood said.
“We work closely with landlords as the vast majority want the same thing – a decent property which is good for the tenant and provides them with rental income.
“Sadly this was not the case here, and in these instances we will not hesitate to take firm action – and issue fines using our powers – to clamp down on landlords who do not take care of their properties, and in turn their tenants.”
New powers were made available to councils in 2016 and adopted by TDC in September of that year which allows it to fine landlords who break rules such as failing to carry out repair works on properties. There is a maximum penalty of £30k per offence.
An HMO is where three or more tenants in more than one household live in the same building with an element of shared facilities. Large HMOs (with more than five tenants) in two or more households must be licensed and have certain additional obligations placed upon the landlord.
Dorval has 28 days to appeal the outcome to the Upper Tier Tribunal.