18th Jan, 2020

Damning tribunal verdict rules Coventry council fleeced student landlord by overcharging £28k in fines

John Carlon 12th Dec, 2019 Updated: 12th Dec, 2019

A LANDLORD was overcharged £28,500 in fines by Coventry City Council when it took enforcement action on a student home.

A tribunal has condemned the local authority for unreasonably fining Tan Sandhu well beyond the legal maximum of £4,000 for the problems found at the property.

It also found the council had applied enforcement action in a “somewhat blinkered fashion” without taking into account the circumstances and Mr Sandhu’s limited income – or ability to pay.

Council inspectors had found a faulty fire door and failure to display personal details in the house in Canley.

In relation to the safety issues, the tribunal said it was not persuaded the sums levied were “in any way reasonable or reflect the actual failures” of the landlord.

Critics say councils are using landlord fines to keep as an income stream.

A penalty of £31,500 was handed to Mr Sandhu by the council, but he won an appeal on October 24 to reduce his penalty to £3000.

Mr Sandhu, who co-owns the house in Walsall Street with his mother, had his property investigated by the council’s housing enforcement.

It found doors providing a fire escape route required a key to be opened, and a door frame in a fire escape was damaged.

At the time of the investigation, Mr Sandhu said he was a self-employed estate agent who was on reduced income as he cared for his sick wife.

Mr Sandhu admitted breaching fire safety rules.

Mr Sandhu took his appeal to a tribunal at Coventry Magistrates Court, claiming the council’s fines did not follow government guidelines.

The tribunal found against the council, as it found it had used a penalties policy which was too ‘simplistic’.

Phil Turtle, a compliance consultant with Landlord Licensing and Defence, advising Mr Sandhu, said: “While we cannot condone a landlord not knowing and or failing to comply with the HMO management regulations, this case is a clear example of a council mis-applying the legislation for their own purposes.

“Coventry City Council had originally tried to extract £31,499 from this landlord when in fact, as the tribunal determined, they were only entitled to fine the landlord a total of £3,300. An attempted over-charge of £28,199.”

He added local authorities were, unlike court fines, allowed to keep the proceeds of such fines as income to supplement their budgets.

The tribunal also decided the council submitted no evidence to prove that the value of the property was above the price of the ‘Coventry average’.

In their summing up of the hearing, tribunal members Mr Freckelton and Mr Wilson said the council’s concept of ‘Financial Gain’ by Mr Sandhu “appeared somewhat nebulous.”

The council’s penalty starting point of £2500 was judged to be arbitrary and high.

Coventry council admitted it was mistaken in having claimed he was the sole owner of the house.

Mr Sandhu was also fined £2,100 over the lack of the property manager details notice, which the tribunal members said should have been around £300.

We have approached the council for comment.

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