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Landlord put the squeeze on
11:53am Friday 18th November 2011 in News
A LANDLORD from hell crammed complete strangers into tiny rooms at a squalid house while pocketing tens of thousands of pounds in housing benefits.
Pavlos Chatzinopoulos packed seven tenants into rooms as small as 5.7m squared without any fire precautions, smoke alarms or means of escape. He also had a room in the house.
Residents had to eat off a pool table and a cupboard underneath the stairs was crammed with combustible material. Some doors were sealed shut with padlocks.
A female tenant raised the alarm after she was put in the same room as a man she did not know.
Swindon council environmental health inspectors visited on March 16 last year and found atrocious conditions at the five-bedroom property in Tudor Walk, Walcot.
Residents were observed wandering out of rooms looking sleepy and the only communal surface to eat meals on was a pool table. The house was given an A rating for overcrowding – the highest category possible – and was also deemed a significant fire hazard.
Chatzinopoulos, 45, completely disregarded repeated warnings and notices to reduce over-crowding and take measures to make the house safe for tenants.
Pictures of the grim and cluttered conditions, with makeshift bedding piled up in rooms, were used as evidence at the landlord’s trial yesterday.
The conditions on one of the inspections were described as “appalling” and “dreadful” by District Judge Simon Cooper at Swindon Magistrates’ Court.
He said: “That shows in my mind the care and attention Mr Chatzinopoulos gave to his sole investment. It seems in a condition in which no reasonable person should be allowed to live.”
Chatzinopoulos was found guilty of one count of failing to comply with a notice to reduce overcrowding and another of failing to carry out remedial work at the house.
Both charges related to one of the final visits made by council officers in November 2010. He was ordered to pay £2,500 costs and a surcharge of £15 to go to victims of crime.
Earlier at the trial prosecutor Paul Cook told the court that senior environmental health officer Susan Maggs had visited the house in March last year after a complaint from a tenant.
He said: “Visits were paid throughout the summer, in May, in July and on August 3. Following these visits Miss Maggs served an improvement notice on Chatzino-poulos requiring him to deal with the fire hazards and reduce these hazards to a satisfactory level.”
Mr Cook said housing benefit paid by Swindon council to accommodate the residents amounted to £36,861 over two years– which would have gone to Chatzinopoulos.
He said: “The tenants’ rent gets paid directly to him by the department.” .
Miss Maggs told the court that one room was well below the acceptable standard for habitation. She said: “This room was 5.7m squared and was occupied by an adult male. The minimum size for any room in any property is 6.5m squared.
“Below that standard is statutory overcrowding.”
Miss Maggs said that as well as a lack of smoke alarms, fire doors and other precautions the front door had a key lock which risked trapping the tenants inside in the case of emergency.
She told the court: “If a tenant keeps the key in their room or the landlord has the key in their room in the event of a fire there have been many people trapped inside properties.”
Mr Cook asked Miss Maggs if she found a room where a female occupied one bed and a man unknown to her occupied the other. She replied: “That is correct, yes.”
Mr Cook asked the officer if she gave Chatzinopoulos advice about the situation.
She said: “I confirmed statutory overcrowding. With two unrelated persons of opposite sex sharing a room he would have to legally evict or rehouse one of the occupants to comply.”
Chatzinopoulos, who was representing himself, said: “I can make a mistake, my Lord, I did not do anything wrong. I work hard just how to make happy tenants, how to make happy myself. I personally have given house to people sleeping in the road. I have said we have faith, we are tolerant.”
Chatzinopoulos was asked by Judge Cooper not to address him as “my Lord”.
The landlord said he disputed measurements taken of his own room in the house and produced written letters he said were from some of his tenants.
But he was told by Judge Cooper: “It is plain you’re guilty. It is silly to dispute measurements of the room, I’m satisfied they were properly measured.”
Judge Cooper said he had no powers to suspend Chatzinopoulos from renting housing to private tenants.
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