No hiding place from courts for Lincolnshire landlords in hot water

Raymond Singleton-McGuire who was ordered to pay more than �13,000 by Lincoln magistrates after admitting 10 charges relating to his responsibilities as a landlord for a property in Main Ridge West, Boston.
Raymond Singleton-McGuire who was ordered to pay more than �13,000 by Lincoln magistrates after admitting 10 charges relating to his responsibilities as a landlord for a property in Main Ridge West, Boston.

Over the last two months, three landlords in Boston, Market Deeping and Sleaford have been handed bills totalling almost £20,000 for failing their tenants.

Raymond Singleton-McGuire, former deputy leader of Boston Borough Council, was told by Lincoln magistrates to pay just over £13,000 after admitting ten charges, including four relating to fire safety.

The property in Main Ridge West, Boston, which Raymond Singleton-McGuire admitted charges for, including four matters relating to fire safety.

The property in Main Ridge West, Boston, which Raymond Singleton-McGuire admitted charges for, including four matters relating to fire safety.

Just six days earlier, Michael Lovett was prosecuted by South Kesteven District Council for failing to comply with an improvement notice over a four-year period, ending up with a £1,600 court bill.

Both cases followed one involving Sleaford landlord John Ellis who was told to pay more than £5,000 by Lincoln magistrates after pleading guilty to nine charges relating to the management of houses under multiple occupancy, including a failure to have fire alarms tested.

Grant Shackleston, partner at Maples Solicitors in Spalding, said: “The Housing Act 2004 places a statutory duty on local authorities to keep housing conditions under review.

“Local authorities use a Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) to assess the condition of such residential premises.

Grant Shackleston, partner at Maples Solicitors, Spalding, with managing partner Anita Toal and fellow partner Gemma Mayer.  Photo by Tim Wilson.

Grant Shackleston, partner at Maples Solicitors, Spalding, with managing partner Anita Toal and fellow partner Gemma Mayer. Photo by Tim Wilson.

“It is a risk-assessment type system which leads to a hazard being given a numerical score based on a statutory formula which then correlates to a banding system.

“A hazard which falls within Bands A, B or C is a Category 1 hazard and a hazard falling within Bands D to J is a Category 2 hazard.

“When a Category 1 hazard is found, the local authority is under a duty to take enforcement action, whilst it has discretion to take action regarding a Category 2 hazard.

HHSRS separates hazards into four groups, ranging from damp and mould, carbon monoxide and asbestos to food poisoning, pest control and fire risk.

Anne-Marie Coulthard, business manager for environmental health at South Kesteven District Council.

Anne-Marie Coulthard, business manager for environmental health at South Kesteven District Council.

In the Lovett case, the landlord had been served with an improvement notice by South Kesteven District Council in September 2010 after environmental health inspectors found issues with excess cold, electrical hazards and mould at his property in High Street, Market Deeping.

Anne-Marie Coulthard, the district council’s business manager for environmental health, said: “Despite serving Mr Lovett with an improvement notice, subsequent tenants complained to the council about leaks in the roof, damp, mould throughout the property and fire safety deficiencies.

“Work still went uncompleted as he claimed of ongoing issues over gaining access to the property due to tenants’ behaviour during 2011.”

The affair dragged on during what the council called “a period of vacancy”, with a new tenant moving from April 2014 when improvements had still not been made.

“We know the vast majority of landlords provide a great service for their tenants in South Kesteven,” Anne-Marie said.

“However, the fine for Mr Lovett shows that landlords cannot simply ignore problems and orders such as improvement notices and our officers will always persist in ensuring that housing law is strictly adhered to in rented properties in order to protect tenants in the district.”

Under the law, local authorities have a range of weapons at their disposal, ranging from hazard awareness notice - a formal record of hazards at a property given to landlords, to a demolition order where improvement works are impracticable, too costly or detrimental to neighbouring properties.

The most common sanctions used are improvement notices, where there is no imminent risk of harm and where a timescale for completion is given, and prohibition orders which prevent the use of all or part of the premises.

In the case of Singleton-McGuire, prosecutor Ruth Bala alleged that the landlord had been notified by Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue of their concerns over a property of his in Main Ridge West, Boston, in April 1998, although steps had subsequently been taken by the landlord to address them.

A spokesman for South Holland District Council said: “We actively support and work with landlords to ensure that properties are of the correct standard.

“However, we will consider taking enforcement action against landlords who have failed to comply with improvement notices or committed other offences under the Housing Act 2004.”