Landlords fined £3,800 in council’s first rented homes licensing prosecution

A council’s first prosecution over HMO licenses cost two landlords nearly £4,000.

Appearing at Worcester Magistrates Court, Bing Wang and Yan Shao, were both convicted of renting out an unlicensed HMO to students when the property did not meet key safety standards.

Wang and Shao were ordered to pay over £3,800 in fines and costs.

The case was the first prosecution brought by Worcester City Council over HMO licences.

Landlords of HMOs in the city are required to have a licence in order to demonstrate that they have adequate fire precautions and security measures in place in their properties.

The court heard that the three-storey property Wang and Shao owned was leased to at least three students, but the landlords had failed to apply for the legally-required licence.

A licence is required if a property is rented to three or more people who form two or more households sharing basic amenities such as a kitchen, bathroom or toilet.

Wang and Shao pleaded not guilty to charges of not having a licence, despite managing and controlling a property which is required to be licensed under Housing Act 2004.

The court heard that Worcester City Council’s housing officers had been tipped off by a neighbour that the property as being used as an HMO to house students.

Council officers made several visits to the property over two years and found that the legally required fire safety and fire exits were not in place, and neither were smoke detectors or emergency lights.

They also established that no HMO licence had been applied for.

The court heard how Wang and Shao were repeatedly asked to put the fire safety measures in place and to apply for a licence, but did not do so.

Shao was interviewed under caution by council officers in May this year when she claimed that the property did not need a licence.

In court, both defendants argued that they were not aware that the property qualified as an HMO as they only rented it out to two people.

But magistrates found “inconsistencies”  in the account Wang and Shao gave in court and the interview Shao had given under caution.

They stated that not being aware of the presence of additional tenants was no defence.

Found guilty, Wang and Shao were fined £1,370 each, and ordered to pay £421 towards Worcester City Council’s costs and victim’s surcharges of £137 each – a total of £3,856.

Speaking after the case, Cllr Roger Berry, Worcester City Council Cabinet member for Housing and Heritage, said the verdict sent out a “strong message” to rogue landlords.

The Housing Act 2004 introduced mandatory licensing of HMOs of three storeys occupied by five or more unrelated people sharing amenities.

But it also gave local authorities the power to extend the licensing of HMOs, to ensure they meet appropriate standards.

In Worcester, this “additional licensing” was brought into force on September last year, meaning licences are required for all city properties rented out to three or more unrelated people sharing basic amenities.

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