A property management firm chief who had to pay over £20,000 after being found guilty of nine offences relating to an HMO has had all findings of guilt and financial penalties overturned.
At the end of last year Cyril Thomas, a landlord who runs property management company Platinum Crown Investments Ltd, was fined £1,000 for each offence and ordered to pay over £11,000 costs and a victim surcharge of £100 by Colchester Magistrates; the total bill was over £20,000.
That court finding referred to inspections two years earlier, in December 2015, which according to Colchester council revealed that the accommodation had been poorly converted without Building Regulations approval. Last year the council claimed this contributed to breaches of HMO management regulations including health and safety issues.
Thomas made it clear to Letting Agent Today after the court case that he would appeal - and he has now been completely vindicated by appeal judges at Chelmsford Crown Court.
In addition to having been acquitted and the fines and financial penalties returned, Thomas has also been given the right to have some of his legal costs refunded.
Speaking after the hearing, he said: "Naturally I'm delighted that Chelmsford Crown Court has decided to dismiss all nine charges brought against me by a few individuals within the council. It has been a costly, emotionally draining, and time consuming process for all involved.
“The judge stated that all charges were to be dismissed due to insufficient evidence from the council. One of the main reasons why I was able to successfully defend myself was that over the last several years I had invested significantly in bespoke software systems that enabled me to provide the necessary evidence when required. It is important for property managers and landlords to invest in systems that help them to stay on top of all the legal requirements that are now in place.”
The appeal appears to have suggested that one of the charges failed to state what Thomas was being convicted of doing, while others alleged offences which took place on dates which were incorrect. Some other offences were down to tenant negligence, Thomas says.
But Thomas adds: “The main reason for the dismissal was the fact that the council never had sufficient evidence to prosecute me in my personal name from the beginning but for whatever reason still decided to push the case forward.”
He continues: “The outcome of this case gives rise to questions surrounding the processes that were followed which led to Colchester Borough Council reaching a decision to attempt to place criminal convictions against me. For this reason, certain individuals may still have a case to answer to. I am currently taking advice on this matter.”
He concludes: “Platinum Crown understands that being a large provider of HMO rooms in Colchester places extra responsibility on us to be a positive example to other landlords and property businesses in the area. This experience has helped make the business stronger and we're already helping a number of similar businesses with their business structures and property management software systems to help reduce the chances of others having to go through the struggles that we have had to endure.”
A spokesman for Colchester council told Letting Agent Today this morning: “The earlier decision by Colchester Magistrates’ Court to judge Mr Thomas, rather than his company Platinum Crown Investments Ltd, had a key bearing on the case and means no party has been convicted for the breaches identified. However, the appeal was upheld on the basis that Mr Thomas, in his capacity as landlord, was not the person responsible – not that violations did not exist – and we therefore maintain that it was right to take the action we did against serious breaches of the regulations.
“While we will continue to work closely with local landlords and letting agents to improve standards of accommodation in the private rented sector, we remain committed in our duty to pursue legal action whenever accommodation is not being responsibly managed.”