In news making headlines in the UK this weekend, Mail Online reports: “A ‘slum’ landlord has been fined for illegally cramming 30 tenants into a disused crumbling care home.”
According to the report: “Desperate residents were packed into the Grade II listed site in leafy Colchester, Essex, which had blocked fire escapes, drains overflowing with sewage, exposed wiring and collapsing staircases.
“Shockingly one room in the property even had bins labelled ‘clinical waste’ which inspectors say gave off a ‘foul odour’.
“Pictures from inside the century-old converted rectory – which residents paid up to £315 a month for – show peeling floors next to tiny beds in stark rooms full of broken furniture.
“They were exploited by Camelot Guardian Management Company as part of a property guardianship scheme – where people live in empty commercial buildings for reduced rents.
“The firm also ignored residents pleas for repairs and did not fix a faulty fire alarm system, sealed doors, blocked toilets, and bathrooms with no hot water.
“When the breaches were uncovered in January 2018 the tenants were evicted and forced to find a new home as a prosecution was launched.
“Camelot was found guilty of 15 offences relating to the licence and the dangerous condition in March.
“But the company has since gone into administration and escaped with minimal fines for what officials dubbed ‘serious’ offences.
“They are now trading under a new name, Watchtower Security Solutions, also known as Watchtower Property Management, with the same company director.
“On Friday District Judge Barron had no alternative but to issue a nominal fine of £1,500 – £100 for each of the 15 offences – and ordered the company to pay the council’s full costs of just under £10,000.”
One resident, Niclola Gillin, 34, a university research assistant slammed the sentence.
“It is rubbish, it is not a deterrent at all, but it is what these companies do – it is an absolute scam,” she said.
“The conditions were really bad it was like a slum, it is not what I signed up for.
“When I turned up it was smelly and dirty but improvable – I was living there on my own when I first moved in.
“I was very clear what I was signing up for, however it was the overcrowding issue that was the problem.
“They just started putting loads of us in there until there were 30 people living there and the house started deteriorating.
“We had sewage leaks, we had 30 people sharing one kitchen – it was appalling.
“A lot of people in that house had social issues too and problems with alcohol and drugs, what you would class as vulnerable members of society.
“It is not just the slum conditions I had a problem with, it was also about the violation of my privacy.”
“They treated us like we didn’t have any housing rights, they feel like they have the right to come into your room at any time if they have a key.
“It was disgraceful behaviour, from the top to the bottom they were absolutely rotten people.”
Despite the light sentence, “council officials have pledged to crack down on criminal landlords”.
Councillor Adam Fox, portfolio holder for housing, said: “Property guardian companies have a duty to licence HMOs and follow the regulations to protect residents.
“Camelot Europe’s failure to do so in relation to the Old Rectory in Lexden left 30 tenants living in unsafe living conditions, which put them at risk in their homes.
“It is unfortunate that the company went into administration during the legal process leaving minimal assets, such that the Judge had no option but to issue nominal fines for what were serious offences.
“Colchester Borough Council is committed to improving standards of private sector housing accommodation across the borough.
“When accommodation is not being responsibly managed and regulations are breached, we will work with those involved to resolve the issues – but, if this proves to be unsuccessful, we will take legal action to remedy the situation and ensure tenants can enjoy a safe and healthy home which meets regulations.”