Sheffield Council has promised to carry on targeting rogue landlords after bringing its highest-ever number of successful prosecutions.
Seven individuals and companies were sentenced for various housing offences by the city’s courts in November.
Among them was Mark Cashin, who was ordered to pay a combination of fines and costs of £29,200 after being found guilty of 56 offences.
Leading the charge against rogue landlords at Sheffield Council is service manager for private housing Michelle Houston.
She said it was important to engage with tenants to make sure they were aware of how the law applied to their landlords.
“One of the things that we do want to get across is that private rented tenants have the right to live in a safe and well-maintained house,” she said.
“Sometimes they think ‘What can you expect? A private landlord doesn’t have to do repairs’ – but they do.
“We want to get that message across to tenants so we can then get it across to landlords.
“Often tenants have quite low expectations.”
The council deals with about 2,000 complaints in the private housing sector each year. Roughly 10 per cent of those result in a formal investigation or enforcement action, because most landlords comply with what the council asks them to do.
Only a small number of cases end up in court – about 10 a year since 2014. But in November this year the council successfully prosecuted seven individuals and companies.
Among the offences were failing to licence properties, breaching regulations for houses of multiple occupancy (HMOs) and unlawful evictions. Several landlords were deemed ‘not fit and proper’, and will not be granted a licence by the council as a result.
Mrs Houston said the private rented sector had doubled to about 35,000 properties over the last decade – about the same as the number of council houses.
“Unless people know what the modern standards are, it makes it difficult to make sure people are safe,” she said.
“The vast majority of landlords – more than 90 per cent – are fine. They might not be gold star, but they are safe and the landlords do what they are supposed to do.
“We don’t want every private rented property to be gold star because we don’t want everything to be top of the scale. We are very happy to have a basic but safe private rented property. But sometimes we go out and it’s multiple problems.
“We have got issues where landlords are bullying tenants, letting themselves in at any time of night. There we really want to target that landlord.
“We are doing more and more work to get people like that in court, and we get good results. But if people are having problems and not contacting us, we can’t help.”
The biggest prosecution in November was that of Mark Cashin, for crimes relating to five properties on Abbeydale Road, Violet Bank Road, Vincent Road, Fieldhead Road and Glover Road. The 47-year-old, of Over Lane in Baslow, was in court for the second time in a year.
Among the offences of which he was found guilty were failures to supply gas safety certificates, fire alarms and fire escape signs, failure to ensure common areas were maintained, and failure to install adequate fire doors.
Damage found at the properties included broken windows, severe damp and holes in the ceiling.
Speaking after his conviction, Cashin continued to maintain his innocence – saying he would appeal his sentence – and accused the council of targeting him specifically.
He blamed others for some of the problems with his properties, claiming he had tried to work positively with the council.
He said his company, Hallam Rooms, had gone ‘above and beyond’ and the council wasn’t interested.
But Mrs Houston said Cashin had ‘set out to take money from vulnerable people knowing that he’s not going to do these repairs and not treat these people properly’.
“On the face of it some of the issues might be that the fire alarm might not be in the right place – that’s irrelevant,” she said. “When you are prosecuting someone for 56 different things there is something really wrong with that landlord.
“It says they have got a disregard for their legal obligations.”
She added: “Some of the worst situations we have seen are when there is a mixture of landlords refusing to do repairs – not just being a bit lackadaisical but where they are setting out their properties to let and knowing they are not going to make sure they are safe.
“We have been to flats above shops or restaurants which have had metal bars on the windows. If there is a family in there and there is a fire, it’s really difficult to get out.”
The council’s key message for tenants is to get in touch if something is wrong.
“If the landlord is constantly texting a tenant, we can take action,” said Mrs Houston. “That carries a custodial sentence. We put landlords in prison.
“You can’t underestimate the powers we have. We can close a property down.
“Often when we go out to properties and we tell a landlord they have to do something, they do what we ask. Some either don’t believe us or think they can get away with things. Sometimes there is criminal activity going on there too. We uncover all sorts of things.
“It’s more than we have ever had in court in November. That’s because more and more people are getting in touch with us than ever before, and also because we are taking a targeted approach.”
Mohammed Sajid Bashire, Page Hall Road, Sheffield, August 25 – found guilty at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court of failing to licence a property in a selective licensing area – Page Hall. Fine £1,200, costs £3,059, victim surcharge £120.
Jamie Ross, no fixed abode, September 19 – pleaded guilty at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court to harassment of tenants. Sentenced to 12-week custodial sentence suspended for 12 months and 120 hours of community service, costs £150.
Naji Rames, Firshill Close, Sheffield, October 27 – accepted formal caution at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court for contravening HMO regulations. Costs £1,000.
Mark Cashin, Over Lane, Baslow, November 8 – found guilty of 56 offences. Total fines and costs £29,200, deemed not fit and proper.
Global Property Management Limited, Owler Lane, Sheffield, November 14 – Pleaded guilty at Sheffield Crown Court to unlawful eviction. Fine £1,500, £1,500, deemed not fit and proper.
Nasir Sherazi, Clarkegrove Road, Sheffield, November 15 – found guilty at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court of failing to licence an HMO and five offences of mismanagement of an HMO. Fine £3,000, costs £1,020.
Altaf Hussain, Silverdale Road, Sheffield, November 15 – pleaded guilty at Sheffield Magistrates’ Court of failing to licence a property in a selective licensing area (Page Hall). Fine £200, costs £570, victim surcharge £30, ordered to pay enhanced licence fee of £1,200.
Pavel Danko, Brathay Close, Sheffield, November 18 – pleaded guilty to unlawful eviction. Twelve month conditional discharge, costs £3,434.
Munir Mahmood, Spital Hill, Sheffield, November 22 – pleaded guilty to non-licensing and 10 HMO management contraventions. Fine £3,000, costs £1,880, victim surcharge £120.
Nazia Bibi, Wansfell Road, Sheffield, November 29 – pleaded guilty to unlawful eviction.Sentenced to 200 hours of community services, costs £1,140, victim surcharge £60.