Council puts tenants welfare first as Foxtons is fined £38,000 for not providing safety information

Tower Hamlets Council has fined Foxtons, one of the UK’s biggest estate agents, as part of its wider work to protect private tenants.

Tower Hamlets has one of the largest number of rental properties in London with 46,000 properties available to rent privately. The fine is part of Tower Hamlets Council’s wider approach to support private tenants at a time when many are suffering from high rents, overcrowding or potentially unsafe conditions. 

In Tower Hamlets alone there are 9,000 Houses in Multiple Occupation, (HMOs). By law, the council must licence any property that is more than 3 storeys high where bathrooms or kitchens are shared by 5 people or more. The council’s Environmental Health and Trading Standards Service make regular checks on HMOs to ensure they have a licence or safety certificates. As well as inspecting properties, the council has also introduced a Private Renters Charter which sets out  clear expectations for the condition of properties for rent.

In Foxton’s case, the estate agent failed to provide basic safety information. At Bow Magistrates Court last week, Foxtons pleaded guilty and was fined £35,000 and ordered to pay £3,603 in costs.

The court heard how Environmental Health and Trading Standard officers were investigating a house in Newark Street, Whitechapel, to see if it had a license as a house in multiple occupation.  For 18 months, Foxtons were asked to provide certificates showing that the gas, electrical and fire alarm installations had been checked, details of who received the rental income from the property and details of the people living there. The court heard that although the property was believed to be in good condition, Foxtons failure to comply with the council’s basic request demonstrated a lack of regard for their duty to comply with legal requirements and wasted many council man-hours which could have been used dealing with unsafe and dangerous residential accommodation. 

The Deputy Mayor and Cabinet Member for Housing, Councillor Sirajul Islam said:

“This case has sent a very strong message out to local landlords and agents. They must cooperate with the Council so we can check safety certificates and issue licences for houses in multiple occupation.

“The Council works hard to support good landlords and agents in providing a service to local residents.  However, we will take robust action against their competitors, large or small, who consistently fail to meet their legal obligations or exercise professional diligence. ”

Foxtons told the court that they were previously of good character and pride themselves on their reputation, being one of the county’s largest estate agents.  They said they were ashamed and remorseful of the failings that lead to the offence.  In sentencing, the Court made clear that the fines took into account of the size of the company, its profits and the ease with which they could have provided the information to the council.

The charge falls under Section 236(1) of the Housing Act 2004: failing to comply with a notice served under Section 235 of the Housing Act 2004.  Such a notice will require a person with a relevant interest in a property to provide documents to the Council for any purpose connected with hits housing enforcement functions.

Posted on Monday 4th December 2017