Bedsit landlord sees nothing wrong

NINETEEN people have been living in terrible conditions, some without light or ventilation, and yet the landlord can't see anything wrong with it.

NINETEEN people have been living in terrible conditions, some without light or ventilation, and yet the landlord can't see anything wrong with it.

Robert Charles Bowden, of Crabbe Street, was fined £1,000 by magistrates after pleading guilty to operating a house of multiple occupation without a licence, yet today insists the house was safe and that he was doing the community a good service.

After various complaints made by neighbours, and inspections by council officers, the authorities stormed the property and found 19 people living in the house, a converted garage and two portable buildings in the garden.

Among the problems found were minimal fire precautions, a converted attic on the second floor only accessible via an unsafe staircase and one woman living in an inner room with no natural lighting or ventilation.

Today Ipswich Borough Council is hoping this case sends out a stern message to other landlords of properties who run illegal HMOs that they will be caught.

Bowden said: “It seems a ridiculous thing to go to court about. It's something over nothing.

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“Yes, I should've had a licence to rent a third floor, but I wasn't aware I needed one. The house had a converted attic area which the council classed as a third floor. I was told in court that ignorance is no excuse.

“I've given people a roof over their heads that they otherwise couldn't get. Some people can't afford a deposit so I asked for very little. In some respects I was helping the council out but obviously they took a different view - I think I was doing the community a good service. Perhaps they were using me as an example or a scapegoat.

“There's nothing wrong with the safety of the house and I am currently updating the property.”

Tim Clarke, senior environmental health officer at the council said: “This case is quite unique. We knew about this house for many years and got him to put fire regulations in but we never felt he was upfront about how many people lived there. This property did not have a licence and wasn't up to standard for those 19 people.

“We are hoping this sends out a message that we will find out about these properties and take action where necessary.”

Do you think there are a lot of HMOs in Ipswich? Write to Your Letters, Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, IP4 1AN, or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

Ipswich Borough Council took action after neighbours complained about the number of people living in the house in Crabbe Street. When environmental health officers made an appointment with the owner, Mr Bowden, to visit the house, it is believed he made sure his tenants were out for the day.

The electrical installation was also found to be unsafe and the gas supply meter had been bypassed. The gas supply was later cut off by National Grid.

After a few visits of this kind, a warrant was issued and five council officers, together with the police, stormed the property and found.

As well as the £1,000 fine, Bowden was also ordered to pay costs of £1,500 to Ipswich Borough Council when he appeared at South East Magistrates' Court.

The council has since served an improvement notice and ordered improvements to the electrical installation. The portable buildings and converted garage are now subject to an enforcement order.

There have been 41 HMO licences issued since licensing came into force in April 2006. Licensable HMOs are those that are occupied by five or more tenants and have three or more storeys.

There are around 900 HMOs in Ipswich (including licensable and non-licensable ones) although the figure is constantly changing as properties are returned to single occupancy or new ones are brought into use as HMOs.

Landlords looking to set up an HMO are urged to contact the council for advice before going ahead with anything. There are additional fire precautions required as the fire risk in an HMO can be up to six times greater than in a single occupancy house.

HMOs bring additional problems for landlords in terms of management and the Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation Regulations 2006 place landlords under a duty to ensure the property is looked after.

A proactive HMO inspection programme to ensure the regulations are adhered to and adequate fire precautions are in place.