Public funds have been wasted according to a letting agent that has been hit with a £41,000 fine following offences in relation to a HMO. The agent claims a large number of the charges were not proceeded with due to the fact that the letting agent was not managing the property. Originally there were approximately 120 charges laid out, the agent claimed nearly all of the charges should never have been brought to action.
At Watford Magistrates Court, Strats was fined £16,200 for 13 breaches of the Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation Regulations 2006, and also ordered to pay costs of £25,000 to the council. The council said it was the first time it had prosecuted an agent rather than a landlord and that it was unusual to take action over so many properties.
Strats Estates (the agent in question), has hit back at the council via their website stating that of the 60 charges originally brought forward, 47 related to when they were not managing the property. “For some reason (which Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council has never explained) no charges were brought against the owners of the properties or the managers of the properties,” Strats says on its website.
“Nevertheless Strats regrets that these matters had occurred and adopts a very closely managed approach to the houses it manages,” says the firm on its website.
It goes on: “In addition, sixty charges were brought against George Stratis, director of Strats, personally. No evidence was offered by WHBC on these charges and the judge awarded Mr Stratis his costs out of public funds. Those costs are likely to be very substantial.
“The judge considered awarding Strats costs out of public funds in relation to the 47 charges but concluded that the law does not permit a judge to make a cost order in favour of a company in these cases.
“The judge said: ‘I think that the best mitigation is evidence as to the way in which it (Strats) operates now … it has learned from its failures and this is to its credit.’”
Strats says on its website that the cost of the case has not been fully recovered by the council, and public funds were wasted on “unnecessary prosecutions”.
George Stratis, managing director of Strats, said: “This was an astonishing waste of public money by Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council.
“Strats have admitted to 13 breaches, and rectified those breaches, but it should be borne in mind that some of which were caused by the damage done by the tenants.
“To launch a prosecution with 120 charges when ultimately only 13 of which were proceeded with was unfair, quite wrong and a shocking waste of public resources.”
William Taylor, Director of Martin & Co Hudderfield (Huddersfield Letting Agent, Estate Agent Huddersfield and Property Management Huddersfield), gave his thoughts on the case stating “The HMO rules can be very confusing at times and the advice from councils I have dealt with is often conflicting with either the guidelines or the advice of other council professionals. I think this only indicates there needs to be more legislation and regulation of the industry.”