Councils are sending a clear message to house in multiple occupation (HMO) landlords who put tenants at risks by failing to licence and maintain their properties to legal standards.
After a string of prosecutions across the country which have cost landlords hundreds of thousands in fines, courts are cracking down on rogue shared house landlords by hitting them in the pocket.
The latest landlord who ignored HMO laws is Alfred Katona, 75, of Chadwick Road, Westcliff, Southend on Sea, who must pay £20,000 in fines and costs for flouting the rules.
Katona pleaded guilty to five HMO licensing and management offences before the town’s magistrates.
The magistrates told him they would have imposed a maximum £25,000 fine if he had not admitted the offences.
Council housing officers told the court that Katona had rented out properties for more than 30 years but claimed he was unaware of HMO housing law.
Living conditions were so awful in a shared house he owned that social services rehoused the tenants as they feared for their safety.
Southend Council enforcement officer David Colwill said “Conditions were totally unacceptable and posed a significant threat to the safety of tenants.
“Landlords have a clear duty to inform themselves of the full extent of their responsibilities.
“The rest of Katona’s property portfolio is now also subject to inspections.”
The court was told wiring in the property was installed and a fire hazard.
A fire escape in the basement was padlocked shut and blocked with rubbish, while corridors and hallways were littered with rubbish and furniture.
Smoke alarms did not work and fire extinguishers were not properly maintained.
Inspectors found toilets and water tanks balanced on lumps of wood, ill-fitting skylights and a loose manhole cover letting in rats.
Katona was fined 19,625 and ordered to pay £1,125 costs.
Katona told the court he was sorry, but blamed tenants for failing to look after his property.
He confessed he only carried out repairs when tenants complained and said he had no idea about housing laws.