Council action sees estate agent handed huge fine

Sterling De Vere

An overcrowded property let by an unlicensed landlord with inadequate fire precautions and unheated rooms led to a £46,620 fine and costs of £7,000 following council intervention.

Over the summer, Thames Magistrates awarded the fine, one of the largest ever sums awarded against an estate agent related to 5 offences under the Housing Act 2004.

SDV HQ Limited (SDV), trading as Sterling De Vere, of Chrisp Street, Poplar pleaded guilty to failing to apply for a landlord licence and breaches of safety regulations at 17 Benson House, Ligonier Street, London E2 7HH, a property it rented to tenants.

The property, a 3-bedroom former Council property had been sold and the owner had entered into a guaranteed rent arrangement with SDV.

The flat was converted into a 5-bedroom house in multiple occupation (HMO) accommodating up to 6 people, sharing bathroom, toilet and kitchen facilities.  To maximise the rent that could be charged, the living room was changed into a bedroom and another room was divided into two bedrooms.  The court heard that the monthly rental income that SDV received from the five rooms totalled £3,520.00

Officers from the councils Environmental Health & Trading Standards department visited Benson House in the spring of 2017 as part of an operation to track down unlicensed rented properties.  They made contact with the residents at 17 Benson House, who complained about the living conditions in the flat and that their landlord, SDV, had ignored their requests to carry out repairs.

The officers inspected the flat in June 2017 and confirmed that it had operated for  nine months without the required licence, that there were too many occupiers for the facilities provided and that one of the rooms lacked any means of heating and did not meet Council space standards.  Officers found that fire precautions were inadequate, the boiler was leaking and malfunctioning, there were insufficient rubbish bins and sash cords to the windows were broken.

In sentencing District Judge Clark commented that in today’s overheated housing market, affordable accommodation is in very high demand hence tenants have little choice but to accept sub-standard accommodation and undersized rooms.  He said that the licensing requirement should have been obvious to SDV and commented that if the Council had not come knocking the property may still not be licensed today.  Operating a home in multiple occupation under the radar is an abuse of the system, leaving tenants vulnerable.

Tower Hamlets Mayor John Biggs said: “I want to pay tribute to the great work that our Environmental Health & Trading Standards teams do to protect tenants. This case shows our determination to prosecute even the biggest landlords who flout the rules. We are driving up standards in the private rented sector through our Private Renters Charter, and  landlord licensing scheme. I urge the Government to give us the powers to extend landlord licencing across the whole borough”.  

Statutory Deputy Mayor Councillor Sirajul Islam said, “I am delighted with the outcome of this case.  This large fine sends a clear message to all landlords, large and small, who have avoided licensing or are delaying their licence applications that they are taking a huge risk.  The many responsible landlords who have come forward to licence their properties and are doing their best to comply with the law can be confident that the Council will take strong action against their less scrupulous competitors who try to avoid their responsibilities. I applaud our trading standard officers who took this action.”

As a result of this case the Council is using the licensing regime to closely monitor SDV’s activities.  They have been issued with probationary licences and are licensed property they manage is being inspected. 

Any tenants with concerns about their safety or welfare should  contact the Environmental Health Department by calling 020 7364 5000 or email Environmental.Health@towerhamlets.gov.uk.

If tenants believe that their rights have been infringed they can all the Housing advice service on 020 7364 3558 or email on Email:housing.advice@towerhamlets.gov.uk.

Posted on Wednesday 19th September 2018