Friday, December 19, 2008

Convicted HMO landlord – doing the community a service?

This is the sort of attitude that Local Authorities have to put up with. Mr Bowden in Ipswich, who recently pleaded guilty convicted in the Magistrates Court to operating a house of multiple occupation without a licence (reported here), considers he has done nothing wrong. However,

- The property had 19 people living in it
- There were minimal fire precautions
- A converted attic was only accessible via an unsafe staircase
- A woman was living in a room with no natural light,

to name just a few of the problems. Yet Mr Bowden claimed "It seems a ridiculous thing to go to court about. It's something over nothing. Yes, I should've had a licence to rent a third floor, but I wasn't aware I needed one. … I've given people a roof over their heads that they otherwise couldn't get. Some people can't afford a deposit so I asked for very little. In some respects I was helping the council out but obviously they took a different view - I think I was doing the community a good service."

There is of course some force in what he says. It is generally better for the homeless person to be in an unsafe building than on the street. However an unsafe building threatens everyone around it. If there was a fire, all of the 19 occupants could have been killed, along with those living in adjacent properties. It cannot be allowed.

Mr Bowden, despite his protestations, is no doubt aware of this. Apparently when Environmental Health Officials made an appointment to view the property he made sure his tenants were out of the way.

It is good to see that there are more and more reports of Local Authorities using their powers under the Housing Act 2004, for example a report here of a landlord fined in Oxford.. I firmly believe that Local Authority action is the best way to deal with defective property, and that it should not be up to individual tenants to do this.

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