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Agency must pay over £50,000 after letting overcrowded flat

An overcrowded property let by an unlicensed company with inadequate fire precautions and unheated rooms has led to a £46,620 fine and costs of £7,000.

Thames Magistrates awarded the fine - claimed by Tower Hamlets council to be one of the largest ever sums awarded against an estate agent - related to five offences under the Housing Act 2004.

The agency - SDV HQ Limited, trading as Sterling De Vere, of Poplar in east London - pleaded guilty to failing to apply for a landlord licence and breaches of safety regulations at the property, which it let to tenants.

The property, a three bedroom former council flat, had been sold and the owner had entered into a guaranteed rent arrangement with SDV.

The flat was converted into a five bedroom HMO accommodating up to six people sharing bathroom, toilet and kitchen facilities. The living room was changed into a bedroom and another room was divided into two bedrooms.  

The court heard that the monthly rental income that SDV received from the five rooms totalled £3,520.00

Officers from the council’s environmental health and trading standards department visited the property in the spring of 2017 as part of an operation to track down unlicensed rented properties.  

They made contact with the residents who complained about the living conditions in the flat and that their landlord, SDV, had ignored their requests to carry out repairs.

The officers inspected the flat in June 2017 and confirmed that it had operated for nine months without the required licence, that there were too many occupiers for the facilities provided and that one of the rooms lacked any means of heating and did not meet council space standards.  

Officers found that fire precautions were inadequate, the boiler was leaking and malfunctioning, there were insufficient rubbish bins and sash cords to the windows were broken.

At the court the district judge commented that in today’s overheated housing market, affordable accommodation is in very high demand hence tenants have little choice but to accept sub-standard accommodation and undersized rooms.  

He said that the licensing requirement should have been obvious to SDV and commented that if the council had not come knocking the property may still not be licensed today.  

The council now says it is “using the licensing regime to closely monitor SDV’s activities” and that the agency has been issued with probationary licences to operate. 

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