A private landlord who illegally modernised an historic house in Brighton has been told by a judge to pay out more than £82,000.
Grade II-listed Ewhurst Manor, built in the late 16th century, was acquired by Lars Vestergaard for £3m in 2014.
The landlord, who lives in Roedean Way, BN2, failed to secure panning consent for the alterations he made to the Grade II listed building, such as ripping out original features, including a stone fireplace, along with walls, floors and beams.
Officers from Horsham District Council attempted to inspect the property when they were made aware of the work towards the end of last year, but were denied entry by Vestergaard, in spite of the fact that they presented him with a warrant.
Despite the warning, work continued on the house on the estate, which also includes three cottages which he rents to four tenants for a total of £7,200 per month.
Prosecuting on behalf of the council and Historic England, Nicholas Maggs said: “By the time they were allowed inside, it was dark and it was difficult to see precisely what had been done, but there was no doubt that significant work had been undertaken.
“They were told the defendant was carrying out repairs and restoration, but it was clear that the work went significantly beyond that. A large section of the upper floor had been removed, plaster lathe wattle and daub had been torn out, part of the ground floor, walls and fireplaces removed.”
Vestergaard, a Danish non-dom, said that he had been ill-advised in terms of this project and was not aware that planning permission was needed to make alterations to the house.
He said: “If I look back I can see that I haven’t been informed correctly, but if I have done something wrong then it was not done intentionally.”
But district judge Tessa Szagun said she did not accept that Vestergaard had been “completely transparent”.
She said: “Listing buildings is an effective protection of the historic environment and sustain its heritage values and ensure it remains for future generations to enjoy.
“I find it difficult to accept that being a resident of Roedean Way where the immediate surroundings are renowned locally as a heritage site that he wouldn’t be aware of this.
“It’s extraordinary that he would commission builders and works without establishing conditions and establish a proper scheme.
“It’s inconceivable that, knowing that this is a listed building, he would not have known this was a kind of work which would require planning permission or that that required proper oversight.
“To embark on such a project without was clearly a deliberate closing of his eyes to cut corners and costs.
“Having been informed of the requirements, work should have stopped.”
Despite poor advice from his architect, the judge said it was ultimately Vestergaard’s responsibility to ensure the work was conducted “in a professional manner”.
He was fined £22,000 for the two charges of executing works, plus a £120 victim surcharge, plus £60,592.48 in costs.