13 Jan 2021

A LANDLORD has been slapped with a £66,000 fine over ‘serious’ safety breaches including plug sockets next to the shower, and repairs that risked residents being trapped in a fire.

In a record attempt by Reading Borough Council (RBC) to clamp down on landlords of HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupation) failing to reach required standards, it is hoped that last month’s prosecution will serve as a message to others.

Mohammed Naseer Zamir, 41, had failed to comply with RBC’s written requests for information about a property before he was brought to Reading Magistrates’ Court on December 18, 2020.

Between October 2019 and February 2020, the council’s private sector housing team made several visits to the property in Short Street – which Zamir claimed to consist of two self-contained flats, each one occupied by a single household.

But the visits revealed that each flat was in fact in multiple occupation, and a number of breaches of HMO Management Regulations were identified, including serious security and fire safety concerns, as well as general disrepair, including the fact that:

  • The main external entrance door to the HMO was insecure and in poor repair, leaving the property vulnerable to intruders
  • The means of escape out of the property was not fire resistant and was in poor repair – and fire precautions in the property were not being maintained, leaving occupants vulnerable to becoming trapped in the event of a fire
  • There were other safety concerns such as socket outlets adjacent to shower cubicles, taped up electric cable to a fridge freezer, disrepair to socket outlets, and no current gas safety certificate was supplied when requested by the council

Despite being given the opportunity to address matters informally, Mr Zamir failed to carry out the necessary work.

As the concerns around fire safety were so serious, this also lead to a joint inspection with Officers from the Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service in February last year.

The court subsequently found Mr Zamir guilty of one charge of failing to comply with s16 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976, and 13 charges of failing to comply with HMO Management Regulations made under s234 of The Housing Act 2004.

Fines totalling £66,000 were issued, plus a victim surcharge of £181 and costs awarded of £4,480, sending out a clear message to landlords in the borough that appropriate standards must be maintained.

The council’s private sector housing team investigates complaints of disrepair across the private rented sector, and enforces the HMO licensing scheme with 1,296 licensed HMOs in the borough currently.

Routine inspections are carried out to ensure room sizes and amenities are appropriate, and to assess hazards, including fire safety.

Where is there is serious or persistent non-compliance by a landlord, the team undertakes prosecutions in conjunction with the RBC’s Legal Services.

As an alternative to prosecution, for certain offences the council can issue financial penalties of up to £30,000 per offence.

In the financial year 2019-2020, the council issued nine such penalties relating to HMO licensing offences and management regulation breaches.

RBC’s lead member for Housing, John Ennis, said: “We are delighted that the hard work and diligence of the council’s housing team has led to the successful prosecution of a landlord who did not meet the required standard of accommodation we expect all residents of Reading to enjoy.

“More importantly, it serves as a stark warning to landlords all over the borough that they must do more to ensure they comply with the rules, or we will take action to protect their tenants.

“Our Reading Rent with Confidence scheme is also helping by awarding gold, silver and bronze standards based on quality of accommodation and good management practices. Successful candidates are helped with the promotion of their properties and advice about regulatory matters.

“By providing good landlords with a market advantage and potential tenants with confidence, along with prosecuting substandard landlords, we are driving up living conditions for Reading’s residents.”

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