A criminal landlord who had tenants living and sleeping in “inhumane” conditions and ignored numerous warnings to improve his property has been fined £35,000 and ordered to pay over £4,000 in costs.
Mr Robert Crow of 19 Devereux Road, Southend-on-Sea was sentenced at Chelmsford Magistrates Court for fifteen breaches of HMO regulations.
The conditions were so bad that whilst sentencing, magistrates described the living conditions as “appalling, deplorable and inhumane” and they had “no place in a modern Britain of today.”
After ignoring numerous warnings and refusing entry to the property, the council’s private sector housing (PSH) enforcement officer enacted a warrant on 20th August 2015 with the support of five police officers.
During the visit they found that:
One man was sleeping in a bedroom with no windows that measured 90cm by 280cm (2.52m²). The national minimum room size is 6.5m² and the local Essex bedsit standard is set at 8.5m². There were also exposed electrical wires hanging out of the wall
Two people were living in the rear yard of the property under tarpaulin and next to an Anderson air raid shelter with no obvious signs of sanitation
The corridor leading from the front door to the rear of the flat which was the main fire escape was small and cramped with hoarded items including a pool table, two gas canisters and furniture cabinets.
There was a shower cubicle that opened straight onto the corridor and a separate toilet with no wash hand basin. Both were dirty.
To the rear of the property there was a shared kitchen for at least five people who live in the basement flat and rear yard of this property.
The kitchen was dirty and in a poor state of repair with broken cupboards and drawers, was cluttered with items such as chairs, soft furnishings and other miscellaneous items. The amenities within the kitchen were below the local Essex bedsit standards
A calculation evidenced that a category 1 hazard was present in the shared kitchen and there was a very high likelihood of food poisoning in the next 12 months
The gas boiler in the basement flat had been turned off, there was no gas safety certificate and the tenant said that no qualified work men had been to the property to fix it for over a year
The ground floor flat was filled with personal possessions and furniture. Due to the amount of items in the flat some of the rooms could not be entered.
Andrew Fiske, the council’s Group Manager for Housing, says:
“Our enforcement officer who led the case said it was one of the worst cases they had seen in their professional career and so this prosecution was vital and is welcomed.
“The police assistance and support was vital in this case, not only in order to gain entry to the property, but also with some of the information that they provided to help with the case, so we would like to thank them for that.
“Mr Crow was served numerous prohibition orders and improvement notices that were flagrantly ignored over a long period of time. Whilst we make every effort to develop good working relationships with private landlords, if rules are ignored so blatantly then we must and will take action to keep tenants safe.
“No-one should have to be living in conditions like this, and this has been recognised by the Courts with a large fine that reflects the seriousness of the offences.”
On the 27th July 2015 PSH Enforcement Officer wrote a letter to the landlord of the property advising of a routine HMO inspection on 3rd August 2015. The letter requested copies of gas safety certificate and electrical certificates. To date neither of these documents has been received by the Council contravening: Regulation 6: Duty of manager to supply and maintain gas and electricity, and Additional Regulation 7: Duty of manager to supply and maintain gas and electricity.
On 31st July, the landlord and owner of all four leases at the property, Mr Crow left an answer message on the Enforcement Officers phone refusing access to the property.
Co-incidentally; on the 29th July 2015 the PSH team received an email with photo attachments from the police stating that people were living under tarpaulin in the rear yard of the property with no obvious signs of sanitation.
On the 12th August 2015 Warrants of entry were obtained from Southend Magistrates Court for all of the flats (flats 1-4) at 19 Devereux Road.
The warrant was enacted on 20th August 2015 at 14:00 hours by the PSH enforcement officer and 5 Police Officers. An occupant of the basement flat allowed entry. The occupier then tried to phone Mr Crow and entry was later allowed to the ground, first and second floor flats.
A Prohibition Order and two Improvement Notices were served on the property.
A second warrant of entry was obtained to check on the Prohibition Order and the condition of the property. The warrant was enacted on the 16th October 2015.
Unfortunately the basement flat was still being occupied and the landlord had not done enough work to raise the standard of the property to minimum standards outline in the law. Therefore officers felt it prudent to prosecute for the serious and continual breaches of the law.
15 Charges for HMO management regulations = £2000 each.
Charge for the breaching the Prohibition Order = £5000
Total fines £35,000
Victim Surcharge £120
Total £ 39,323.28