A landlord who was originally threatened with a £31,499 fine over breaches at a House in Multiple Occupation has had the penalty cut to just £3,300.
Tan Sandhu – described as an estate agent – had a semi in Coventry which came to the city council’s notice as part of a campaign of inspections designed to improve the quality of HMO housing near Warwick University.
The inspection revealed four breaches, including an insecure rear door, the removal of a smoke/heat detector in the kitchen and no fire blanket, the need for keys to get out of individual rooms, and no display of the contact details of the property manager.
The landlord was notified of the breaches in November 2018, and the council re-inspected the property in March this year.
It found several breaches had not been rectified, including the rear door, keys were still needed to exit rooms, and there was no notice of the manager’s details.
The inspection also found workmen in the building.
The council decided to impose a penalty totalling £31,499 – £2,100 for the lack of notice and £29,399 for the safety breaches.
The landlord appealed, saying this was excessive, and the council reduced it to £24,649.
The landlord appealed again, saying that the penalty was not in line with the council’s policies or with government guidelines, and that his financial circumstances had not been taken into account.
The case went to a First Tier Tribunal, where Sandhu admitted to the breaches, but said he had worked to correct them. The second council inspection found contractors in the property, with works still under way.
The tribunal was scathing about the council’s penalty calculations.
For example, it had originally fined Sandhu £2,100 over the lack of the property manager details notice.
The tribunal said the sum should have been £200 for a first offence, although it added 10% to this, saying that as an estate agent/mortgage broker, Sandhu “should have known better”.
In relation to the safety issues, the tribunal said it was not persuaded that the amounts demanded were “in any way reasonable or reflect the actual failures” of the landlord.
The tribunal cut the sum to £5,000, and then halved this for a first offence. However, it again added 10% because of the landlord’s professional status.
After the case, compliance expert Phil Turtle of Landlord Licensing and Defence, said: “Whilst we cannot condone a landlord not knowing or failing to comply with the HMO Management Regulations, this case is a clear example of a council mis-applying the legislation for its own purposes.
“Coventry City Council had originally tried to extract £31,499 from this landlord when in fact, as the Tribunal determined, it was only entitled to fine the landlord a total of £3,300: an attempted over-charge of £28,199.
“Whilst there is no actual proof of causality in this case, it is however interesting that whereas court fines go to central government, councils get to keep these landlord fines as an income stream, which may affect their objectivity.”