20 Jan 2020

A judge has ordered two landlords to pay a total of £14,858 for illegally renting out an unlicensed house without working smoke alarms to tenants whose teenage son died after it caught fire.

Firefighters attended the scene in Thornton Heath, south London, last March but 13-year-old Kuzi Matope went on to die in hospital in April. The cause of Kuzi’s death has yet to be determined at an inquest, but neither of the two smoke alarms found at the house worked.

At Croydon magistrates’ court landlords Innocent and Clementia Mukarati, from Leatherhead in Surrey, pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to license the property in Camden Gardens under section 95 of the Housing Act 2004.

Croydon council brought the prosecution against the couple after the fatal fire led to the discovery the couple had not applied for a licence, despite this being a legal requirement for all privately-rented homes in Croydon since 2015. 

Ordering the married couple to each pay a £787.50 fine, a £78 victim surcharge and £6,563.42 in court costs – £14,858.84 in total – District Judge Nicholas Easterman said: “The licensing scheme was introduced by Croydon some time ago to improve the quality of rented premises in the borough. The council has done what it could appropriately to bring the scheme to the attention of landlords. Where people rent out property – whether commercial or otherwise – it is incumbent on them to find out what the regulations are.

“It is clear that the smoke alarms were not working; it is not possible to know how long for. Had the defendants known of the licensing provisions they might have been more active in the care taken over these sorts of matters. This did not have a material effect on the tragic events which unfolded.”

The council will now add the Mukaratis to the Mayor of London’s rogue landlord database, and it will consider applying for them to be listed on a similar national database run by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.

London Fire Brigade borough commander for Croydon, Andy Williams, said: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Kuzi Matope. We support and praise Croydon council in bringing this prosecution and call on all landlords in the borough to register their property before they are rented out.”

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