City of Wolverhampton Council hope the conviction of a city landlord and his company will act as a strong deterrent to others who put their tenants’ health and safety at risk.
Harbhajan Singh Dhami, of Ednam Road, pleaded guilty to failing to put right 32 housing offences at a HMO (house in multiple occupation) in Merridale Lane.
He and his company, Dhami Accommodation Ltd, received fines, charges and costs totalling £33,995, at Wolverhampton Magistrates Court on Thursday. The property consisting of two sets of flats – 11 flats in total with seven in occupation – was inspected by council housing officers several times in March and April 2017.
With the assistance of colleagues from Building Control it was found no approval had been sought for the conversion of the property to flats, therefore confirming it was a HMO and should be regulated under the HMO regulations.
Further inspection in June revealed the landlord had also failed to deal with fire hazards, electrical issues, damp, and the large accumulation of waste to the rear of the property. As a result of the condition of the property and the risk it posed to the tenants the council served a Prohibition Order, which came into effect on July 28, 2017, to prohibit its occupation.
District Judge Murray’s summing up stated:
Mr Dhami was a good landlord, with the exception of this property, where the issues of disrepair go back longer than the summons period. Mr Dhami blamed the tenants for the damage to the property but accepted that the tenants in the property were vulnerable and therefore the duty of care that he owed to his tenants was much greater. From the company accounts provided to the Court it was clear that the company had made a substantial profit and the Judge had to consider the totality of the offending. He said that while Mr Dhami would be given credit for his guilty plea he would be sentenced on the high risk involved. It was clear that the property was a high fire risk and that candles were being used at the property which also had loose wiring. The fact that one of the walls was separating from the structure leaving a gap, together with the blocked means of escape, missing banisters, an inoperative fire alarm system and disconnected smoke detectors created a risk of smoke penetration and injury in the event of a fire. Apart from the fire risk the damp throughout the property posed a risk to health. There had been a lack of compliance from Mr Dhami when council officers had required him to correct these problems and a lack of response when he was given the opportunity to do so.
Councillor Peter Bilson, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for City Assets and Housing, said:
“We are determined to bring to task landlords who are not complying with housing laws and building regulations.
“Our residents’ health and wellbeing is of paramount importance to us and this case should act as a lesson to all landlords in the private sector.
“Thankfully, the majority of landlords in Wolverhampton abide by the rules and regulations and co-operate with the council.
“The council takes very seriously its commitment to monitoring the private housing sector and we will continue to do so to ensure tenants’ living standards are of the highest quality.”
City of Wolverhampton Council’s Rent with Confidence scheme to improve the quality of housing in the private sector is also making its mark. More than 1,600 properties and 700 landlords have been star-rated. The rating system is similar to the one used by the Food Standards Agency for restaurants and takeaways.
It is aimed at delivering improved health and wellbeing for residents, encouraging greater customer choice, longer-term stability in neighbourhoods, and gradually raising the bar for the quality of private sector rented housing in the city.
Stars are awarded to landlords who comply with the law and who rent out property above the minimum statutory standards, with financial incentives for five-star landlords.
Three to five-star landlords are given access to the property website portal, www.rentwithconfidence.org.uk, which is run by the council, and only advertises council-approved properties.