A letting agent has to pay more than £41,000 in fines and costs after a council took the unusual step of prosecuting them as house in multiple occupation (HMO) managers rather than the property investors who own the homes.
The firm, Strats Estates and Letting Agents, of Hatfield, Hertfordshire, faced 13 breaches of HMO fire safety regulations involving five properties in the town.
The letting agent, with an office in Harpsfield Broadway, Hatfield, pleaded guilty to all offences and was fined £16,200 and ordered to pay costs of £25,000 for Welwyn and Hatfield Council.
The costs do not include the firm’s own legal bill.
Watford magistrates heard that the council was concerned about the safety of tenants in the homes.
The council inspected the properties and discovered poor fire safety standards, including broken smoke detectors, insecure handrails and locked fire exits.
Councillor Roger Trigg, executive member for housing and community 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.
“Our aim is to protect the safety of tenants 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.”
The council licences 300 HMOs, and Strats Lettings is the first letting agent they have prosecuted for HMO management offences.
One point raised by the case is the council prosecuted the letting agent for safety offences at shared homes that are not subject to HMO licensing.