Keeping your tenants safe is a serious business. You need to make sure that the flooring is in good repair so they don’t fall to a long lingering death in your oubliette. The wiring has to be in decent condition to prevent little Timmy to transforming himself into crispy bacon while attempting to retrieve his Pokemon from behind the kickboards. And you’ve an obligation to ensure that the water pipes aren’t giving your tenants lead poisoning and dooming the kids to a life of Forrest Gump style marathons and historical coincidences.
Oh yes. And you need to take care that no-one dies of carbon monoxide poisoning, or perishes in a fire because of poorly maintained gas appliances.
The government has been quite effective at forcing landlords to comply with regulations – mandating regular inspections, and imposing reasonable fines on offenders.
But not everyone has been playing ball. The headlines of local papers are filled with incidences of yet another ‘rogue landlord’ being forced to pay up because their gas certificate was out of date.
But it’s not enough. People are dying.
“Landlord faces action after tenants die from carbon monoxide poisoning,” screams the banner on Landlord Today.
They’re being fined for operating an unlicensed HMO.
The Guardian tells us that a faulty boiler is to blame, and it’s not unreasonable to assume that if the landlords were operating an unlicensed property, they probably weren’t lodging their gas safety certificates with the local authority.
No charges have been brought so far, which is why we’re able to publish this without being in contempt of court.
But if landlords dodge their legal responsibility to ensure that the tenants are safe, and people die as a result, surely a fine and a slap on the wrist isn’t an appropriate legal response.
Realistically, this should already be in court.
Tradesmen who do shoddy work which result in death are routinely sent down for manslaughter. Corporations and businesses which dodge their responsibilities and end up killing someone are investigated for corporate manslaughter.
Why is it that landlords are treated as a special class? Here’s a similar case from 2013, where a landlord’s negligence resulted in death by carbon monoxide poisoning. The landlord ended up paying £21,500, but served no time. Here’s one where a tenant burned to death in 2015. The landlord was fined £160,000, but walked away from court a free woman.
There are more.
In 1999, Harpal Singh escaped jail time (although he was later locked up for perjury) when two tenants burned to death in a barred ‘death trap property’. It was this incident which led to the introduction of the HMO regulation we’re used to today. And this month, he was investigated by Glasgow city council for more fire safety breaches on a shocking 14 other properties.
He faces a £50,000 fine, which he can probably afford. And he’s barred from being a landlord in Glasgow, but not nationwide.
The landlords who are going to be discouraged from reckless behaviour by fines, are probably not going to engage in it anyway. For the landlords who can shrug off fines of £50,000 or £150,000 need to be discouraged some other way.
No. Not discouraged – they need to be punished.
One happy ending was that of Michael Billings, the notorious Norwich property behemoth who was eventually sentenced in 2010 after multiple court appearances and fines for safety violations in his 600 properties (including £100,000 for crippling a child). Granted, the two and a half year custodial sentence was drastically reduced after he agreed to pay a further £20,000 out of his spare change to an 80% burn victim , but the lesson seems to have been learned, and Billings hasn’t been in the headlines since.
Image credit: Manchester Fire