Oxford letting agent fined £11,500 for breaking HMO and fire safety laws

Published: Friday, 30th April 2021

A letting agent has been fined £11,500 for breaking houses in multiple occupancy (HMO) and fire safety rules at a property he managed in Oxford.

Benjamin Jacob-Smith, 34, of Pemberton Field, Rochford, Essex, signed a ‘rent to rent’ contract with the owner of a house in Donnington Bridge Road on 15 July 2019.

The contract saw Jacob-Smith pay £3,100 rent each month to the owner of the property. Jacob-Smith then issued individual tenancies to unrelated occupants.

On 7 February 2020 an Oxford City Council housing officer visited the property and found it was occupied by four tenants and was an unlicensed HMO.

Three fire safety failings were also found in the property:

  • There was no fire blanket in the kitchen
  • The kitchen fire door was faulty
  • The front door lock was not a keyless operation on the inside, meaning in the event of a fire tenants may have needed to search for a key to get out

The City Council charged Jacob-Smith with four offences: one charge for failing to licence an HMO, and a charge for each of the fire safety failings.

In a hearing at Oxford Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday (28/4), Jacob-Smith admitted all four offences.

For the offence of managing an unlicensed HMO he was fined £10,000, and for each of the three fire safety offences he was fined £500.

Jacob-Smith was also ordered to pay costs of £1,385.

Ian Wright, Head of Service for Regulatory Services and Community Safety at Oxford City Council, said: “Oxford City Council takes the safety of tenants extremely seriously. This case shows that we will take action against those who are putting lives at risk.”

An HMO is a house with shared amenities (toilet, bathroom and/or kitchen) that is occupied by three or more people who are not from the same family.

The City Council has required that all HMOs in Oxford receive a licence since 2011. The HMO licensing scheme was renewed earlier this year and will recommence on 10 June.

The licence ensures:

  • The HMO meets the Government’s minimum safety standards for homes, including the amount of space per person, the heating of the property, fire and electrical safety, and that the property has suitable kitchen, toilet and washing facilities for all the tenants
  • The landlord, or their property manager, is a ‘fit and proper’ person – i.e. that they have not committed any housing-related offences or crimes involving fraud, violence, drugs and certain sexual offences
  • The landlord, or their property manager, complies with the City Council’s waste collection scheme for the storage and disposal of household waste at the HMO                                                                                                 

Landlords or managers of properties in Oxford can apply to the City Council for an HMO licence by visiting: www.oxford.gov.uk/hmo.

People can report suspected unlicensed HMOs in Oxford using the same link.