A landlord has been ordered to pay over £44,000 in fines and costs for serious fire safety defects at a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) in Bristol.
In a prosecution case brought by South Gloucestershire Council, Giuseppe ‘Joe’ Sutera was found to be in breach of an Emergency Prohibition Order (EPO) after “continuing to let a property where there were serious fire safety issues and where tenants’ lives were being put at risk”.
Issues were first discovered at the HMO in August 2022, in response to a complaint from a tenant who had been occupying Sutera’s property. The council proceeded to carry out an unannounced inspection where it found a lack of fire doors, no working smoke alarms, and no safe means of escape for tenants and visitors:
“The shared kitchen was located in the middle of the main escape route of the property. There were no fire doors to any of the bedrooms and there were no working smoke alarms in the property. The secondary escape route was located in a bedroom where there was also a makeshift kitchenette located in the porch, effectively also blocking access to that escape route.”
A high category 1 hazard for fire was subsequently issued due to the severity of the risks posed. In October 2022, two notices were served – an EPO under Section 43 of the Housing Act 2004 and a Requisition for Information, under Section 16 of the Local Government Act (Miscellaneous Provisions) 1974. Under the rules of the EPO, the property had to remain unoccupied until the fire risks were removed. The improvements required a “reconfiguration of the premises, including ensuring the shared kitchen was separated from the stairwell with a suitable fire door”. Additionally, adequate fire protection was needed throughout the residence.
The council’s Private Sector Housing Team were able to acquire further evidence that Sutera continued to let the property out to new and existing tenants despite the EPO being in place. He also failed to provide details of his home address, thus contravening a local government act. On 26 June, at Bristol Magistrates’ Court, Sutera was given a record fine of £44,270.26.
South Gloucestershire Council member and councillor Leigh Ingham said: “South Gloucestershire has approximately 17,000 privately rented properties, and we will not tolerate landlords failing to meet their legal responsibilities in relation to the conditions of the homes they offer for rent.
“Our Private Sector Housing team always try to work with landlords to bring their properties up to standard, but where this informal approach fails, we will look to take enforcement action. The level of the fine, in this case, serves as a serious warning to all landlords that they have a legal responsibility to protect their tenants and provide a safe and decent property for them to live in, and if they fail to do this, the council will take action.”
It is believed that Sutera owns at least eight other properties in the South Gloucestershire area, plus an additional four licensed HMOs in Bristol. The council confirmed that it will continue to investigate these properties in relation to their fire safety measures.
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