Landlord fined for ‘systemic failures’ at homeless hostel

A Liverpool landlord has been hit with a bill of almost £25,000 for exposing vulnerable tenants to serious fire risks in a House of Multiple Occupation (HMO).

Step One (NW) Limited were handed a £20,000 fine by Liverpool Magistrates Court on Thursday 17 March for failure to comply with the Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006.

The court heard that the property, Lower Breck House on Lower Breck Road, is a large House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) that houses a wide range of vulnerable tenants, many of whom have suffered homelessness, substance abuse and other issues. Liverpool City Council and its partners do not place people there.

Council officers attended in March 2021 as the result of an anonymous complaint, and discovered that the property had 43 defective fire doors throughout the building, increasing the risk of fire spread.

The fire alarm sounders installed at the building failed to meet the required decibel level, meaning that tenants may not have heard an alarm in the event of a fire.

In addition, fire extinguishers at the property had out of date service records, some appearing to have had their last service as far back as 2016.

There were also issues regarding excessive use of intumescent foam which exceeded the permitted amount to be used and the cellar staircase not being adequately fire protected.

The council told the court that there had been a systemic failure to ensure the property was safe and adequately fire protected.

District Judge Healey noted that the defects at the property had “raised the risk” of fire spread and following guilty pleas on five counts from the company, imposed a fine of £20,000 plus costs of £4,747.61 and a victim surcharge of £190.

A HMO licence requires the holder to comply with certain legal obligations, including ensuring appropriate fire safety protocols are in place. As a result of the prosecution, the council will undertake a review of the ‘fit and proper’ status of the licence-holder.

Councillor Sarah Doyle, Cabinet Member for Strategic Housing and Regeneration, said: “This case reveals a shocking disregard for the safety of vulnerable tenants.

“The landlord was taking rent for people to live in unsafe conditions and I dread to think what could have happened if a fire had broken out in the property.

“We are determined to take action against landlords if they put tenants at risk, which is why we are also about to launch a new Landlord Licensing scheme which will give us the tools to identify and tackle private rented properties as well as HMOs.

“All of these measures form part of our determination to raise standards and improve the city’s neighbourhoods for residents.”

Further advice regarding HMOs and HMO licensing can be found at https://liverpool.gov.uk/housing/private-rented-accommodation/multiple-occupancy-homes/ and https://liverpool.gov.uk/business/licences-and-permits/landlord-licensing/houses-in-multiple-occupancy/.

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