Woman fined after dividing flats into more bedrooms
Thursday 21st June 2012
A woman has been successfully prosecuted for serious health and safety breaches in two properties that she let out as unlicensed HMOs.
Camden Council in London said Mrs Alba Lopez had divided the flats to create extra bedrooms, without installing safe fire exits and fire alarms.
Camden Council described Mrs Lopez initially as a landlord but later clarified that she is a letting agent, who in this case acted for the father and son owners.
It said that Mrs Lopez, who operates from a commercial unit near Euston station, had signed agreements to let two former right-to-buy flats, and had constructed a partition to divide each flat’s living room into two separate bedrooms.
The design of the two flats was the same, and the unauthorised adaptations meant that the only escape route for five of the six tenants was via the shared kitchen.
The two flats had no operational fire detection and alarm system. Room doors were thin, and were not made of half-hour fire-resisting material, and were not self-closing. The shared kitchen in each flat had no doors, said the council.
Mrs Lopez was prosecuted for failing to apply for a licence in respect of each flat, and management offences relating to the lack of fire precautions and shortcomings with respect to the wiring. She pleaded guilty to the failure to license each flat in multiple occupation and for failure to provide adequate structural fire precautions in one flat.
The corresponding offence for failing to install structural fire precautions in the other flat, and failure to install suitable fire detection and alarm systems in both flats, were taken into consideration by the Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court.
She was fined a total of £2,000 and was ordered to pay £1,000 towards the council’s costs plus £15 victim support payment.
Cllr Abdul Hai, cabinet member for Community Safety at Camden Council, said: “We do not want flats, designed for families, to be altered and sub-let in multiple occupation. We take the health and safety of our residents extremely seriously and will use the strongest powers possible to prosecute unscrupulous landlords. Negligent landlords who flout the law will not be tolerated in Camden.”
After the case, the council said that its environmental health officers have encountered several instances where a landlord has entered into an Assured Shorthold tenancy with an individual operating a letting agency.
A council spokesperson said: “Then in order to make a profit, that individual or agency packs the property with as many tenants as they can, charging each individual a rent.
“Often they advertise on websites, and do not operate from premises with their name and business displayed. In some instances, the sub-let property has been altered, without consent, by dividing rooms, but little regard has been had to the safety of the tenants.
“In this case the flats were designed to be occupied by one family, and if a fire starts in a family home, a member of the family usually knows who else is in occupation and where they are likely to be. In a flat let to six separate tenants, each tenant comes and goes independently. Therefore it’s even more important to comply with health and safety regulations and apply for proper licensing which protects people living this way.
“Owners of ex right-to-buy properties are subject to the ‘permitted use’ clause in the lease which requires them to keep their property as a self-contained residential flat.
“There are important management reasons for including this clause within the lease. Whilst all applications to carry out structural alterations to properties are considered on their merits, any application to subdivide an ex right-to-buy flat or use it as a House in Multiple Occupation is unlikely to be agreed.”
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