TENANTS’ lives were put at risk by a couple who rented out rooms above a town centre bar having ignored repeated warnings from council and fire officers.
Dean Dunkley and Ilze Dauksta face a whopping £21,000 legal bill after they were both charged with a string of housing safety offences following a joint investigation by Rugby Borough Council’s housing enforcement team and Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service.
The couple had responsibility for running AJ’s Bar, a four-storey building in Dunchurch Road which was formerly the Royal Oak public house.
Mr Dunkley contacted the council in September 2014 to outline his plans to rent out rooms on the first and second floor of the building.
He was given advice on safety standards for houses in multiple occupation (HMOs), particularly in relation to fire safety.
However, following a complaint from a member of the public in July 2015, the council carried out an inspection of the building under a warrant and discovered a range of safety breaches.
The fire alarm was broken, escape routes were blocked, large holes were found in ceilings and floorboards were missing.
Fire doors throughout the property were also in poor condition, with one missing completely and another off its hinges and propped up in the frame of the doorway.
Due to the serious nature of the fire safety risks, the council contacted Warwickshire Fire and Rescue Service and a joint investigation was launched.
The couple were served with numerous enforcement notices detailing the improvements which needed to be made in order for the property to meet safety standards – including the need to produce certificates for the electrics, gas appliances and fire alarm.
But when further inspections were carried out in October and November, a number of fire safety issues remained unresolved – leading the council to prosecute the couple and the company which operated the business.
Dunkley, who had responsibility for the day-to-day running of the property, was charged with 25 offences under the Housing Act 2004.
Dauksta, as sole director of AJ’s Bar (Rugby) Limited, was charged with 24 offences.
AJ’s Bar (Rugby) Limited, registered to the couple’s address in Dunchurch Road, was charged with 25 housing safety offences and a charge of failing to provide waste transfer notes.
Both the couple and the company pleaded guilty to all charges during a hearing at Nuneaton’s Warwickshire Justice Centre on Tuesday (26 April).
Magistrates heard 13 tenants were living in nine occupied rooms at the property when the council first inspected the property in July.
By the time of the follow-up inspection in October, and despite the enforcement notices being served on the couple, a total of 15 tenants were living in ten rooms.
Magistrates were also told documents seized by the council during the investigation revealed the rental income of the property was more than £3,000 a month.
In mitigation, the court was told by Dunkley and Dauksta’s solicitor the couple had run out of funds after taking on the new business.
Dunkley was fined a total of £4,800 and ordered to pay £3,404 costs and a £30 victim surcharge. Dauksta was fined a total of £4,650 and also ordered to pay £3,404 costs and a £30 victim surcharge.
AJ’s Bar (Rugby) Limited was fined a total of £5,080.
Speaking after the hearing, Sean Lawson, Rugby Borough Council’s head of environmental services, said: “This was one of the most serious cases our housing enforcement team has dealt with in recent years, with the lives of many tenants needlessly put at risk due to a flagrant disregard for fire safety.
“We’re happy to help landlords in Rugby understand the legislation and meet the necessary safety standards for HMOs, and the majority of landlords do work with us.
“However, landlords who decided to ignore our advice and flout the law must understand we have a duty to investigate and, when necessary, prosecute.”