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Guidance on sentencing for breaches of HMO Regulations on matters including fire safety

Welwyn Hatfield v Neil Carroll: DJ Pilling sitting at St Albans Magistrates 30/11/16

David Lintott appeared for the prosecuting local authority. DJ Pilling sitting at St Albans sentenced Mr Neil Carroll for breaches of the Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation Regulations 2006. He was sentenced to a total of £33,950 for 20 charges over two separate dates relating to various matters including inadequacy of a fire wall, failure to provide handrails, failure to maintain all means of escape from fire and a lack of intumescent strips and cold seals on doors. The case provides useful guidelines on factors to be taken into account when sentencing in such cases.

The offences were charged under s.234(3) of the Housing Act 2004 and Mr Carroll, the landlord, was sentenced after a guilty plea on the morning of the trial. He was also ordered to pay £25,000 costs and £120 surcharge making a total of £59,070. In passing sentence DJ Pilling noted:

  • In relation to assessing culpability she derived assistance from the recently adopted Health and Safety offences definitive Guideline (01/02/2016). Mr Carroll's culpability was assessed as medium to high. He had been a landlord for many years and must have been aware of his obligations under the 2006 Regulations. He had owned the property in question, 3A Manor Parade, Hatfield for four years and some of the breaches were obvious from the outset. He had put his own expenses ahead of the expense of complying with the Regulations.
  • Although it had been hard to get a picture of his personal circumstances, the Court was entitled to conclude that he could pay any fine imposed unless the offender produced evidence to the contrary.
  • Mr Carroll had been a landlord for 22 years and had amassed a portfolio of 30 properties.
  • He had no previous convictions.
  • Although he limited his income from the properties to in the region of £40,00 p.a., he used the rental stream to maintain the properties and increase the equity. On his evidence the equity stood at in the region of £3 million. This was a factor to be taken into account.
  • In 2011 3A Manor Parade was added to the portfolio. In 2015 an inspection by the Council revealed the property to be in need of a complete overhaul, not just in respect of the offences for which he was being sentenced. Throughout he had been taking money from those who needed somewhere to live.
  • Although a schedule had been served which, in respect of some breaches, did not give a full month before the second visit which gave rise to the charges in relation to the second set of offences, some of the offences were obvious and were pointed out at the first inspection.
  • Some credit was given for a guilty plea but it was reduced on the basis that there had been no indication of such a plea prior to the first day of the trial.
  • Character references were taken into account.
  • Any punishment should hit the Defendant in the pocket and send a message to other landlords that it was not more cost effective to avoid their obligations under the Regulations than take appropriate precautions.
  • The approach adopted had been to arrive at a figure for each offence reflecting the level of culpability, then to go back over each offence and determine whether the overall figure (including any award of costs) was proportionate. As a result no additional penalty had been awarded for some offences.

In relation to some of the more serious offences the levels of fine were:

  • £3,600 in respect of a door which would need to be used as a means of escape from fire and which needed a removable key in order to exit;
  • £4,500 in respect of an inadequate partition wall which did not offer 30 minutes fire protection;
  • £5,400 for each of failing to maintain all means of escape from fire, a missing door catch to a kitchen door which was a means of escape from fire, and a lack of intumescent strips and cold smoke seals;
  • £2,250 for each of missing handrails and an inadequate balustrade.