A letting agent has been fined £30,000 after managing an HMO which a court heard was so dangerous that the tenants had to be moved out.
One tenant had no electricity at all and five of the eight bedsits in the building had no supply of hot running water.
Five tenants were running electrical leads into the bathrooms for lighting and heating as the mains electricity was not working.
The whole property was inadequately heated, the fire alarm panel showed multiple fault lights and a washing machine had been placed on the first floor hallway which was a fire escape route, the local authority claimed.
The property was allegedly so dangerous that housing officers from Salford City Council served an emergency order preventing the house being rented out.
Dav Kumar, a representative of Pinetree Lettings, of Chester Le Street, County Durham, pleaded not guilty at Salford and Manchester magistrates court in August to one offence of managing a HMO without a licence.
However, according to the council’s website, this week the firm was found guilty and fined £10,000 for not having a licence and £5,000 for each of the other offences – a total of £30,000. The agents were also ordered to pay £2,251 costs at the hearing on Monday.
The court heard that the three-storey house had been rented out as five bedsits for several years and was licensed by the council as an HMO. The previous owner had been issued with an improvement notice to rectify 15 separate hazards and eight separate fire hazards which included no working fire detection system to alert tenants, a safe fire escape route, no electrical supply to both bathrooms and one of the flats, no hot water supply to five of the bedsits and an inadequate heating system throughout the property.
The owner failed to carry out any improvements and sold the property on, in June 2015, to a business called Il Cartoni Ltd.
Salford City Council sent letters to the owners and their new managing agents Pinetree Lettings explaining that they were now responsible for complying with the improvement notice and must apply for an up-to-date HMO licence.
In October 2015 the letting agents returned a partially completed form, without the licence fee and key documents including the fire alarm test certificate, electrical installation condition report, portable appliance test certificate and a copy of the tenancy agreement. Despite numerous requests and meetings with the letting agents none of this paperwork has been submitted.
In February this year, Pinetree Lettings were asked to attend an interview to explain why they had not made a valid application for a HMO licence and had failed to comply with HMO regulations. They did not attend but sent an email in which Simon Levy, director of Il Cartoni Ltd, claimed he thought the improvement notice work had been completed.
Officers from Salford City Council pointed out they had made the letting agency aware of the notice soon after the purchase of the property through a number of telephone calls, meetings and email about the outstanding works. In a meeting in October 2015 with the letting agent, they had agreed a timescale of three months to complete the required improvement notice works.
In February 2016, two housing officers visited the house again and found none of the work had been completed and the house had deteriorated even further, to the point where it was dangerous and an emergency prohibition order had to be served closing it down as a rented property.
Speaking after the case Cllr Paul Longshaw, lead member for housing and neighbourhoods, said: “Letting agents have a clear and unequivocal duty to make sure the properties they manage are properly licensed and fit and safe to live in.
“This company ignored the law and put people’s lives at risk. They have paid a high price for this but the house was so dangerous the tenants could have paid the ultimate price in a fire.
“I hope this sends a clear message that Salford will take action against any rogue landlords to make sure homes they manage are to a decent and safe standards.
“Rogue landlords and some rip-off letting agencies are very eager to take money from people, yet provide a rubbish rented offer to those same people. It’s basically daylight robbery and those rogue agencies are not welcome in our city.”
Salford City Council said it has also applied for a rent repayment order. If granted, it will allow the council to claim back up to 12 months’ rent paid to the letting agent.