30 Aug 2019

A landlord has been hit with a £2,000 penalty for fire safety breaches at a two-storey property housing nine people in a landmark case for Birmingham City Council.

Officers visited the house in multiple occupation (HMO) in Small Heath in November and found there to be no interlinked fire alarm, fire doors or fire blanket, and a lack of fire separation in the building.

The council stated the landlord co-operated with the investigation and swiftly completed the necessary work to a high standard meaning the penalty was reduced to £2,000 after it was originally set at a higher a figure.

The property owner is the first to be punished under new civil penalty regulations in Birmingham after the council updated its policy earlier this year.

The move gave them powers to issue penalties of up to £30,000 for offences such as overcrowding and failure to comply with management regulations.

The council said it was not allowed to provide the exact address of the Small Heath HMO or name the landlord saying the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government had issued ‘strict guidance’on what information could be released.

A spokeswoman added: “The ultimate goal of civil penalties and our BCC policy is to prevent any further offending but to also help ensure that the landlord fully complies with all of their legal responsibilities in the future.”

Now, all rented buildings occupied by five or more people from two or more households require a HMO licence from the council.

A law change in October saw a three-storey threshold scrapped.

There are around 1,900 licensed HMOs in Birmingham but the council estimates there are more than 4,000 unlicensed properties.

The authority stated it is working to raise awareness of the October law change and encourage landlords to proactively apply for a licence as opposed to taking immediate enforcement action at this stage.

The council charges a £1,150 fee for a new licence application, which is typically granted for five years, with income ring-fenced to cover costs associated with issuing licences and finding other unlicensed HMOs.

While money from penalties will be spent on housing matters.

The Small Heath property was not licensed at the time of the inspection but was not penalised for this due to a three-month grace period from October for landlords to apply.

Cllr Sharon Thompson, cabinet member for homes and neighbourhoods, said: “While there are a great many landlords who provide excellent accommodation, inevitably there are some who will only respond and make necessary improvements on threat of financial penalties or legal action.

“With that in mind, I’m delighted that the recent change in policy has improved our effectiveness and ultimately enabled us to take enforcement action against landlords who are letting substandard accommodation.

“HMO properties have a massive role to play in providing affordable housing to people in Birmingham, particularly as we are in the midst of a national housing crisis.

“However, these properties must also meet building and fire safety standards, be properly regulated, appropriately licensed and ultimately provide good quality housing for citizens who are paying a monthly rent.

“We’ll continue to work closely with the private-rented sector to ensure that people have a broad range of choice for housing in Birmingham.”

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