Watford landlord fined £30,000 for housing 12 tenants in five-person flat

A landlord who made almost £27,000 a year by cramming 12 tenants into a property meant for five – with some sleeping in storerooms – has been fined £30,000 after pleading guilty to overcrowding.

Zuo Jun He admitted 11 charges under the Housing Act when he appeared before Watford magistrates on Monday reports The Guardian including two of allowing more people to live in the property than were covered by his House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) licence.

Watford council officials found 12 people, including a child, inhabiting the flat above a Chinese restaurant. Some of the tenants were in bedrooms that were so small they were listed on the HMO licence as storerooms.

The council said because there was no communal living space tenants were in their rooms all of the time, despite there being no room to walk around. One room was shared by a family, including a seven-year-old child.

Zuo Jun He was fined a total of £30,000 plus £5,326.54 in costs to the council, court costs of £150 and a £120 victim surcharge, although the maximum fines for the separate offences could have totalled up to £70,000.

The tenants shared one small kitchen, which was said to be in a filthy state when the council arrived, and the fire exit from the property was obstructed.

When questioned, the landlord said he was taking £515 a week in rent for the property, the equivalent of £26,780 a year.

Council officers had information suggesting that the landlord would clear the property ahead of council inspections to make it appear there were fewer people living there then there actually were. After the officers had left, the landlord would move them back again or bring in new tenants.

The overcrowding came to light after a tenant complained.

The elected mayor of Watford, Dorothy Thornhill, said: “Most landlords are excellent and we’ll always do our best to work with them, not against them. Those few landlords who flout the law and take advantage of vulnerable tenants out of greed will be targeted and we will take action against them.

“To help tackle this issue I hope that Magistrates will continue to make the penalties reflective of the money rogue landlords make out of abusing their position. As housing demand continues to increase we’re going to see more of this across the UK – we need to act swiftly and decisively.”

Recently research by Environmental Health News found that between 2006 and 2014 there were just 2,006 convictions of rogue landlords, resulting in fines totalling £3m. Many of those convicted were still trading as landlords.

The council ruled that Zuo Jun He, who had not responded to a request for comment by the time of publication, can remain a landlord but will not gain a future HMO licence. He has since evicted all the tenants.