Date Published 15 August 2013
A letting agent that was hit with a bill for £41,200 after admitting 13 offences at five HMOs has hit back at the council which brought the prosecution, saying that public funds were wasted.
It says a large majority of charges were not proceeded with, because the agent was not even managing the properties. Originally, there were 120 charges – almost all of which, says the agent, should never have been brought.
As reported on LAT in June, Welwyn Hatfield Borough Council took Strats Estate and Lettings Agents to court after finding defective fire doors and smoke alarms, plus a handrail to stairs not securely fixed to the wall and some fire exit doors kept locked.
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.
However, Strats has now put its side of the case online, hitting out at the council which originally brought a total of 60 charges – 47 of which related to when Strats was not managing the properties.
Instead, Strats merely collected rent for the properties, which were managed by the landlord or by a person nominated to do so.
`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.
It goes on to say that the council offered no evidence in respect of these 47 charges. Of the remaining 13, Strats did plead guilty, but points out that the firm had only very recently become manager of the properties and that the problems were being remedied – within a matter of days, and in some cases, within hours of the defects being pointed out.
`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.`
The first link takes you to how LAT reported the case back in June. The second link takes you to Strats’ statement on its website.