The Independent London Newspaper
10th December 2018

Former mayor of Barnet watches in court as his company pleads guilty to housing offences

    Rat droppings found by council officials in the house in Hurdwick Place

    Published: 15 December, 2016
    EXCLUSIVE by WILLIAM McLENNAN

    A PROPERTY firm whose partners include a Tory politician has been fined for illegally letting out a terraced house where 14 people were found sharing a single kitchen and pest-control experts were making regular visits. 

    Kingscroft Estates, where Barnet Conservative councillor Mark Shooter is a partner, pleaded guilty to three charges brought by Camden Council at Highbury Corner Magistrates’ Court on Thursday. 

    The Town Hall launched its prosecution of the firm after discovering in June that the landlords did not have the necessary licence for a property where a large number of people share facilities – known as a “house in multiple occupation” (HMO).

    The firm also admitted two other breaches of housing regulations relating to a failure to prevent access to an unsafe roof and the discovery of rodent droppings in a ground-floor storage area in Hurdwick Place, near Mornington Crescent.

    Mr Shooter, who launched a failed leadership bid in Barnet three months after being elected in 2010 and served as mayor of the borough in 2015, attended the court hearing on Thursday. 

    When approached by the New Journal outside court, he said: “I had nothing to do with it.”

    Asked if he was a partner in the firm, he said: “Yeah, but I work in the City, I’ve got nothing to do with it. I never attended the property.”

    Mark Westmoreland Smith, representing Kingscroft Estates, told the court: “Of course my clients regret that they did not have the required licence. For that they are genuinely sorry.”

    He said the fact Camden Council dropped seven out of 10 original counts, “reflects the co-operation between my clients with the council”.

    Referencing a five-star hotel in Paris, Mr Westmoreland Smith said: “It’s not the George Cinq, but it is a property in reasonable condition.”

    He said rodent droppings were found in an external area, which was prone to having litter dropped in it from passers-by, adding that a pest-control company was under contract to make regular visits to the property.

    “There is no suggestion of infestation inside and there was a contract in place to keep the property clean,” he said.

    Of an unsafe roof, which was at a heighy of around 10 feet, he said: “Tenants are instructed not to access the roof through the window.” He admitted a lock, intended to prevent access, was broken at the time Camden Council inspectors visited, but said it was “immediately remedied”.

    Edward Sarkis, for Camden Council, told the court that the firm has since applied for and been granted a HMO licence, but that it allows the property to be occupied by four people as there is only one kitchen. Once further building works have been carried out, it can be increased to 13, he said. 

    Mr Westmoreland Smith directed the judge to two supporting statements written by current tenants who described it as a “good location” and a “good deal”. He said: “Support from tenants in this case should not be taken lightly. It’s actually a pretty notable thing that support has been forthcoming.” 

    The court heard that the property – which is divided into 14 bedsits with one kitchen, one bathroom and two showers – earned the company £84,000 a year in rent. 

    Judge Nicholas Rimmer ordered the firm to pay £4,000 in fines and £4,340 in costs within 28 days.

    Noting the support from current tenants and other mitigating factors, he said: “This isn’t a case where their company has been negligent or slow to try to correct the problem.”

    In a statement after the hearing, Camden housing chief Councillor Pat Callaghan, said: “As people get more and more desperate amid a London-wide housing crisis, we’re focused on protecting the rights of private tenants by ensuring their accommodation is suitable, safe and provides value for money.”

    She added: “We will vigorously prosecute any landlord who fails to respect their tenants.”

     

     

     

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