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Letting agent fined £80,000 over unlicensed properties

  • Cllr Smidowicz quote

A letting agent has been fined £80,000 for failing to license four houses of multiple occupation in Loughborough.

Orange Living Ltd, trading as Loc8me and based in Loughborough, pleaded guilty to four offences under the Housing Act 2004 at Leicester Magistrates’ Court.

The company accepted it had failed to license four properties as houses of multiple occupation (HMOs) as required by the legislation.

The prosecution was brought by Charnwood Borough Council.

Since 2006, all properties in England and Wales which are three storeys or more and occupied by five or more people who are not all related must be licensed by the local authority.

On October 17 last year, the borough council was informed that Leicestershire Fire and Rescue had been called to a fire in the attic of a three-storey building in Forest Road.

The fire service discovered the smoke detection was battery only; some of the batteries were missing; the detector in the attic had sounded but not very loudly and there were no fire doors along the protected escape route from the second floor.

A Council environmental health officer visited the property with a representative from Loc8me and noticed there were several internal doors which should have been fire doors.

One of the occupiers told the officer they emailed Loc8me’s maintenance team twice in the days leading up to the fire with concerns about the faulty fire detection and lack of fire doors. No-one visited. There were no telephone numbers for Loc8me displayed in the property and tenants had to rely on email or a WhatsApp group.

Upon further investigation, Council officers found an application for a HMO licence for the property had been received on October 1, 2018 but it was incomplete so the property was not licensed.

A number of other HMO licence applications had also been received by the Council from Loc8me but most of them had information and supporting documents missing. They included applications for three-storey properties in William Street, Fearon Street and Arthur Street, Loughborough.

Loc8me confirmed it had full management of the properties for more than 10 years.

Raffaele Russo, one of the directors of Orange Living Ltd, was interviewed by Council officers and he confirmed none of the four properties had a licence.

He stated the lack of HMO licensing was a clerical error.

Mr Russo said the fire alarms had been tested on a number of occasions.

With regards to failure to provide name, address and telephone number in a prominent position in the HMO, Mr Russo did not know whether emergency contact details were displayed in the property but said that tenants used a WhatsApp group.

In court, Mr Russo accepted that there should have been mains-connected smoke alarms on an interconnected circuit and fire doors where needed. 

Magistrates fined Orange Living £20,000 for each of the four offences and ordered the company to pay costs of £3,690.

Following the hearing, Cllr Margaret Smidowicz, the Council’s lead member for licensing, said: “This is a significant sentence and I am glad the courts have taken it very seriously.

“I hope this case sends a message to landlords that they have a significant responsibility to make sure their properties are safe and proper places for people to live.

“Licensing is there to ensure living and safety standards are met and we will not hesitate to take action and use the full force of the law to make sure those standards are being met,

“I would encourage landlords to make sure they are complying with the legislation. If they are not sure, then please get in touch with the Council as we would much rather work with people than use the courts. We are happy to give advice and everyone benefits when we work together.”