A landlord who failed to properly look after two HMOs has been fined £70,500 by an Essex council.
Lystra Dorval, of Ilford, was given 10 penalty notices relating to poor management of the HMOs in Clacton.
Tendring council contacted Dorval in April 2019, setting out remedial works needed to make the sub-standard properties acceptable, which was followed up with meetings in May and August 2019.
Tenants also reported to the council they were threatened with eviction for pointing out issues, while numerous complaints about anti-social behaviour and the condition of the property were made by neighbours and others.
In August 2019 Dorval was told to make immediate repairs to the fire alarm, but when two days later the work was not done an Emergency Prohibition Order was issued – shutting down the HMOs – with council officers working to re-home tenants.
Formal enforcement was begun with a final notice of work which needed completing. This was to address issues such as the faulty fire alarm, blocked fire escapes, insecure entrance doors, broken staircases, toilets not working, water leaks and dangerous electrics.
The following day a gas leak and flooding was detected after pipework was stolen, and during clear-up work further damage to the properties was revealed including floors at risk of collapse, drains blocked with rubble, and rotting waste.
The penalty notices were issued due to non-compliance and breaches of regulations covering the management of HMOs, following the earlier informal requests.
The council says that with slow and unsatisfactory progress on repairs to the building prior to their closure, in September last year Dorval was issued with penalty notices and had her HMO licences removed; the council determined her no longer a ‘fit and proper person’ to run the properties.
Dorval appealed against the penalty notices, but a First Tier Housing Tribunal reached a similar decision.
The fines were reduced slightly from the original £90,000.
During the tribunal hearing Dorval stated some work had been carried out and later damaged by tenants, and that she was a victim to the occupiers – while also claiming managing agents had failed to act.
In its findings, the tribunal ruled there was not enough evidence to support that claim, with no evidence of work being carried out, and that the argument fell as Dorval herself signed up some of the occupants.
The ruling added that Dorval was “primarily culpable” and went on to say: “Multiple offences had been committed, and it was in the public interest to impose such a financial penalty.”
In adjusting the fines it noted “some element of obstruction of justice… and some anecdotal evidence of providing sub-standard accommodation” but also that Dorval had no previous convictions.