Gangmasters probe leads to property firm and director’s huge fines

18 December 2020 | Renting

Gangmasters probe leads to property firm and director’s huge fines

Restaurant staff were kept in “dangerous and overcrowded” conditions by a property company and its landlord-director, a court has heard.

The company and individual have been fined a total of £60,000 after being convicted of operating without HMO licences.

Shen Residences Ltd has been fined £40,000 by Colchester magistrates, and its former sole director Zhiqiang Shen – who has now stepped down from the firm – has been fined £20,000.

The trial followed a lengthy investigation by environmental health officers from Ipswich council’s private sector housing team which started 18 months ago after a local authority inspector complained about the poor condition of two neighbouring homes.

The council alleges the landlord initially attempted to mislead the investigation, but it has now been confirmed that the addresses were used to house workers from Ipswich’s Spoon World Buffet restaurant.

One room, containing four bunkbeds and personal belongings, was found to be so dangerous that environmental health officers were forced to serve an emergency prohibition order banning its use for sleeping with immediate effect.

The council goes on to allege that in the absence of co-operation from the landlord, the two premises and a further building were visited during early morning operations with police and the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority on separate dates in 2019 and this year.

On all visits, the houses were found to have unacceptable living conditions which breached HMO management regulations and all three premises were being run without HMO licences.

Shen Residences and Shen himself must pay £8,931 in legal costs and a £190 victim surcharge.

An Ipswich council spokesman says: “My message to the sector is that we welcome well-managed and licensed HMOs but will act with all our powers against those who flout the law.”

This post has originally been featured in Letting Agent Today.