On 1 March 2012, 57-year-old David McCabe pleaded not guilty to 26 breaches of housing regulations and two counts of failure to comply with improvement notices issued with regards to two homes in Plymouth, which he had split into six bedsits. Magistrates found him guilty of all 28 counts, however, and he was ordered to pay £1,000 for each.
McCabe, who lives in Stoke, was also ordered to pay £4,500 towards Plymouth City Council’s legal costs.
The court heard that McCabe’s tenants – most of whom were single men on benefits – lived “in a state of Dickensian squalor”. Problems highlighted by inspections carried out earlier this year included debris on hall carpets, rotten skirting and flooring, windows seized shut, inadequate fire safety equipment, clutter in the rear yards including tyres, furniture and wood, and even mouse droppings in the sink of one property.
The council are now petitioning to issue McCabe with an Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO), which will prevent him from renting rooms to tenants on housing benefit. The first hearing will take place in January. It is believed that McCabe’s ASBO will be the second of its kind to be issued (should it be so) in Britain, after Camden landlord Catherine Boyle was issued with the order in January 2011 for failure to comply with fire regulations for a house in multiple occupation (HMO).
The majority of good landlords will no doubt be pleased to see punitive measures taken against poor landlords whose disregard for the safety and comfort of their tenants undermines the reputation of the private rented sector. However, Guardian journalist Penny Anderson does not believe that the ASBO goes far enough.
In an article published last Thursday, she argues that landlords should receive “thorough and obligatory training” in the legalities of letting one’s property, and for those who flout legislation to the degree exhibited by McCabe to be “prosecuted and jailed”.
As a landlord of 30 years or more, it is difficult to believe that McCabe was unaware of his statutory obligations. Whatever the case, had he taken steps to ensure that he was a good landlord, he would not be £32,500 poorer and his rental business would not be under threat.