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May 6, 2011

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Landlord put profit before safety

A landlord has been given a six-month suspended prison sentence for allowing a tenant to live without hot water or heating for two years.

Coventry Magistrates’ court heard that Steven Boote, 40, who owns 45 rental properties, failed to carry out annual gas-safety inspections at a house in Rothesay Avenue, Tile Hill, Coventry, during the five years that he owned the property.

David Whorlow, who had lived there all his life, had repeatedly complained to Boote that the property had no heating or hot water since 2007. Mr Whorlow made a complaint in June 2009 to Coventry City Council, which pays his rent, and it sent a member of its housing service department to visit the property.

The Council found the house had severe damp and mould, electrical hazards and inadequate cooking facilities. Officers immediately issued an Improvement Notice to Boote, which required him to make the relevant improvements to the house to make it habitable. It subsequently contacted the HSE, as it believed the property did not have any gas-safety certificates.

The HSE visited the property and issued an Improvement Notice on 8 September 2009, instructing Boote to present gas-safety certificates. It also arranged for a gas engineer to inspect two gas fires at the house, which were subsequently condemned.

HSE inspector Gareth Langston revealed that Boote failed to provide any evidence that he was in possession of a gas-safety certificate and subsequently failed to attend a PACE interview. He said: “Mr Boote completely disregarded the warnings about the state of his property –  and showed an appalling lack of concern for the safety of his tenant. All he seemed to care about was money.

“All landlords must have a valid gas-safety certificate in place. A gas leak or faulty appliance can cause an explosion, or lead to carbon-monoxide poisoning, potentially killing their tenants.

“Tenants have the right to check the gas certification when they move in to rented accommodation. Landlords have an obligation to make the certificates freely available to tenants who ask for them, and, if they don’t, they should be reported to the authorities.”

Following a two-day trial in April, Boote was found guilty of breaching reg.33(1)(g) of the Health and Safety at Work, etc. Act 1974, for ignoring an Improvement Notice, and reg.36(3) of the Gas Safety (Installation and Use) Regulations 1998, for failing to carry out annual gas-safety checks. On 5 May, he was sentenced to six months in prison, which was suspended for one year, plus 200 hours’ community service. He was also ordered to pay £30,000 in costs.

In mitigation, Boote said he was not residing at an address in Nuneaton at the time when legal notices were served, and that he had been refused access by Mr Whorlow to carry out remedial works.

Following the hearing, Coventry City Council senior housing enforcement officer, Steve Chantler, commented: “The costs issued are extremely high and reflect the seriousness of the offences and the disregard shown by Boote to the law and the safety of his tenant. We always endeavour to avoid legal action if at all possible. In this case the landlord was given ample opportunity to carry out the repairs informally. Unfortunately, we were left with no other option but to take statutory enforcement action.”

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