Watford Borough Council has successfully secured a conviction against a letting agent who has been fined for putting his tenants at risk with a number of offences...
On 25 February 2019, Muhammad Siddique of Francis Road, Watford was found guilty by St. Albans Magistrates’ Court of 15 separate offences relating to three illegally established houses in multiple occupation dating back to December 2017. He was instructed to let these properties to single families but unbeknown to the property owners, let the rooms individually and turned them into houses of multiple occupation (HMOs). He was fined a total of £72,090.65 including prosecution costs and a victim surcharge.
The purpose of licensing, especially for HMOs, is to ensure that residential accommodation within the Private Rented Sector (PRS) is safe and well managed. There are many landlords in Watford who meet the requirements and provide a property of good quality with a particular focus on safety. However, when there are cases of dangerous HMO’s and the landlord fails to comply with the requirements, the council will take action.
Siddique, who was purporting as a franchise of Open House at 12-14 Whippendell Road, Watford, did not carry out any of the upgrade works required to safeguard tenants from fire safety risks. There were no safe escape routes in the properties and inadequate fire detection, with one of the properties not having a single working smoke detector. Inspections by the council’s environmental health officers also uncovered other health and safety breaches including a blocked and overflowing drain, waste accumulating, dirty toilets and signs of damp. Siddique also failed to comply with requests to supply gas and electrical safety certificates and other information about the properties to the Council.
The Council worked with the property owners to improve standards in the properties. Two of the property owners and the Managing Director of Open House supported the Council’s action.
Elected Mayor of Watford, Peter Taylor: “Residents deserve a safe place to live and in cases of unlicensed houses with multiple occupation they are being put at risk with unsafe living conditions. We must do all we can to provide more support for those living in private rented accommodation in our town. People renting a home have the right to expect it is maintained to a decent standard and not be exploited or put at risk of harm. We work with many responsible landlords who provide great places for people to live but we will take action when a landlord fails to comply with the requirements.”
Alex Morrison, Director at Open House Estate Agents, said: “We terminated Mr Siddique’s Open House franchise back in 2016, due to his repeated failure to adhere to our strict customer care and compliance procedures. However, he has illegally continued to trade in the Watford area since then, using our brand, and a number of unlawful and unethical practices came to our attention which were then reported to Watford Council. We have been working closely with the Council’s environmental health team to take action against Mr Siddique and we are extremely relieved that this rogue agent has now been convicted.”
HMOs must meet certain standards relating to fire safety and amenities provided. If a HMO is occupied by five or more tenants, a licence from the Council is required. More information about the required standards and licensing can be found on our website at www.watford.gov.uk/HMO