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Negligent landlord ordered to pay up under Proceeds of Crime Act

A landlord has been ordered to pay £53,500 after being prosecuted for putting his tenants at risk. Of that money, £40,000 has been ordered to be paid under the Proceeds of Crime Act.

At Norwich Magistrates Court, Joseph Howman pleaded guilty to nine offences under the Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006, and not meeting the standards required of a landlord in the Licence Conditions, breaching part 2 of Housing Act 2004.

He was fined £5,000 plus £135 victim surcharge and £8,500 costs, plus £40,000 under the Proceeds of Crime Act  2002.

Norwich City Council is the first local authority in the country to use the Proceeds of Crime Act against a landlord who failed to comply with HMO licence conditions.

The court heard that the house in Unthank Road, Norwich, was let as ten bedsits with shared bathrooms.

An inspection by council officers in November 2010 found that rooms had no heating, the main bathroom had no hot water, communal bathrooms were dirty, the fire doors were in poor condition with many not working, and there were electrical hazards, including hanging wires and defective lighting.

Ellen Spencer, private sector housing officer, said: “The landlord risked the safety of tenants by cutting corners and refusing to make improvements.

“We are pleased that the court recognised the serious nature of the offences and hope that this will send out a message that rogue landlords will not be tolerated in Norwich.”

In a separate case, another landlord escaped jail despite the judge describing his fire safety as ‘the worst case’ she had ever seen.

Preston Crown Court heard how Neal Gilligan’s appalling upkeep of his seven properties came to light when a fire broke out at one of the flats on Park Road, St Annes, Lancashire.

The fire service found dozens of life-threatening safety breaches as a result. All seven properties had serious issues which the landlord repeatedly failed to rectify, the court heard.

Fire alarms were switched off or damaged, extinguishers and emergency lighting were in poor condition and exits were blocked by obstructions, including a motorbike. Enforcement notices were served on all seven properties, but none were adequately complied with. Prohibition notices were also served on two of the properties, preventing the buildings from being used until work had been carried out, but these notices were also breached.

Joe Hart, prosecuting, told the court that people were put at risk of death or serious injury as a result of Gilligan’s failure to consider fire risk assessments in any of the premises.

Judge Susan Beech said photos taken by the fire service painted a horrendous picture of ‘dilapidation and dangerousness’.

She told Gilligan, who pleaded guilty to 13 offences: “It is a miracle no-one was injured or put in harm’s way as a result of your failures.

“You showed a careless, if not wilful disregard for the safety and lives of your tenants, putting rental income before the safety of those whose rent you were only too keen to take. I am satisfied you simply wished to extract the maximum profit from the rent, rather than spend any money to ensure the safety of your tenants.

“It is perhaps a blessing you are now bankrupt, because that will prevent you from being in a position where you can risk the lives of others in the future for financial gain.”

Gilligan, of Lytham, was given a six-months prison sentence, suspended for 18 months, with a six-months curfew from 7pm to 7am, and must pay £200 towards prosecution costs.

After the case, Lancashire’s assistant chief fire officer Dave Russel said Gilligan’s actions could have caused multiple deaths.

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