09 Oct 2019

Fire at one of the properties triggered the prosecution of Orange Living Ltd – which trades as Loc8me and provides for students

A letting agent which counts students among its customers has been fined £80,000 for failing to license shared houses it rented out.

A council investigation was triggered after a fire in the attic of one of the properties in Loughborough leased out by Orange Living Ltd, trading as Loc8me.

It led to Charnwood Borough Council officials discovering the Loughborough-based firm had four three-storey homes in the town which should have had houses of multiple occupation (HMO) licences but did not.

The firm admitted four offences under the Housing Act 2004 at Leicester Magistrates’ Court last week after it was prosecuted by the council. It was fined £20,000 for each.

Orange Living accepted it had failed to license the properties, as required by the legislation.

On October 17 last year, the council was informed that Leicestershire Fire and Rescue had been called to a fire in the attic of a three-storey building in Forest Road.

Firefighters discovered the smoke detection was battery-only and that some of the batteries were missing.

The detector in the attic had sounded, but not very loudly, and there were no fire doors along the protected escape route from the second floor.

A council environmental health officer visited the property with a representative from Loc8me.

The official noticed there were several internal doors which should have been fire doors.

One of the occupants told the officer they emailed Loc8me’s maintenance team twice in the days leading up to the fire with concerns about the faulty fire detection and lack of fire doors. No one visited.

There were no telephone numbers for Loc8me displayed in the property and tenants had to rely on email or a WhatsApp group.

Council officers also found an application for an HMO licence for the property had been received on October 1, 2018. But it was incomplete so the property was not licensed.

A number of other HMO licence applications had also been received by the council from Loc8me but most of them had information and supporting documents missing.

These included applications for three-storey properties in William Street, Fearon Street and Arthur Street, Loughborough.

Loc8me confirmed it had full management of the properties for more than a decade.

Raffaele Russo, one of the directors of Orange Living Ltd, was interviewed by council officers and he confirmed none of the four properties had a licence.

He stated the lack of HMO licensing was a clerical error.

Russo said the fire alarms had been tested on a number of occasions.

With regards to failure to provide name, address and telephone number in a prominent position in the HMO, Russo did not know whether emergency contact details were displayed in the property. He said that tenants used a WhatsApp group.

During the court hearing, Russo accepted that there should have been mains-connected smoke alarms on an interconnected circuit and fire doors where needed.

The company was ordered the company to pay costs of council costs £3,690.

Following the hearing, councillor Margaret Smidowicz, the council’s lead member for licensing, said it was a significant sentence and that she was glad the courts had taken the matter seriously.

“I hope this case sends a message to landlords that they have a significant responsibility to make sure their properties are safe and proper places for people to live,” she added.

“Licensing is there to ensure living and safety standards are met and we will not hesitate to take action and use the full force of the law to make sure those standards are being met,

“I would encourage landlords to make sure they are complying with the legislation.

“If they are not sure, then please get in touch with the council, as we would much rather work with people than use the courts.

“We are happy to give advice and everyone benefits when we work together.”

Following the court case, Loc8me said: “As a responsible letting agent we take the safety of our tenants really seriously.

“It is our number one priority.

“In this case, the fire alarms at the property had been checked four times in the previous 12 months.

“We discovered that the HMO paperwork was missing as part of our own audit process, and we immediately submitted applications to the council on a voluntary basis.

“These four properties represent less than one per cent of our managed portfolio, and we have done everything needed to put this right..”

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