Letting agent hit with £41,000 bill after HMO offences

A letting agent has been ordered by a court to pay £41,200 after admitting 13 offences at five Houses in Multiple Occupation.

Strats Estate and Letting Agents of Hatfield, Hertfordshire, was taken to court by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council.

It is the first time the council has prosecuted an agent rather than a landlord. The council also said it was unusual to take action over so many properties.

The charges included fire safety offences. In some properties there was inadequate smoke detection, while fire doors to several rooms and areas of the properties were defective, a handrail to the stairs was not securely fixed to the wall and some exit doors were a fire safety hazard as they could be kept locked.

At Watford Magistrates Court, Strats was fined £16,200 for 13 breaches of the Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation Regulations 2006, and ordered to pay costs of £25,000 to the council.

Cllr Roger Trigg, executive member for housing and community at the council, said: “We are delighted with this outcome, which is a great result. These offences related to fire safety, and if not dealt with, could have led to serious injury and even death.

“Our aim is to protect the safety of tenants in the borough and the council wants to work with private landlords and agents as much as possible.

“We regard prosecution as a last resort, but we would like to send out a clear message to landlords and agents who do not respond to the advice, information and support that we provide, that we will take enforcement action against those who do not comply with the law.

“We run a Private Landlords’ Forum in partnership with the National Landlords Association three times per year, which aims to provide landlords with a networking opportunity. This also gives key information about local issues, changes in the law and good practice.”

Cllr Trigg added that the council also runs an annual seminar for letting agents as well as a Landlord Accreditation Scheme (PAL), in conjunction with the local university. This scheme aims to recognise landlords who are managing their properties to a good standard, and to encourage these properties to be improved and maintained to a high standard.

The council said there were 300 licensable HMOs in the borough, but added that while the vast majority of HMOs are not ‘licensable’ they are still subject to the Management Regulations. 

Two of the properties involved in this prosecution are not ‘licensable’ HMOs because they do not meet that criteria. The council said it should be made clear to all landlords and managing agents of HMOs locally that the regulations apply to all HMOs and the council has an inspection regime that includes inspections of both licensable and non-licensable properties.