A SWINDON landlord will be more than £7,000 out of pocket because he put the lives of friends staying at his house at risk.

Jose Francisco De Sousa, 45, of Gooch Street, Swindon, appeared before Wiltshire Magistrates sitting at Swindon on Monday and pleaded guilty to three offences under the Housing Act 2004 applying to homes of multiple occupation.

The offences were failing to comply with a prohibition order not to use a ladder to the second floor of 11 Gooch Street, failing to carry out remedial work to eliminate fire hazards and managing a house in multiple occupation without a licence.

Prosecuting on behalf of Swindon Borough Council, Phil Wirth told the court that Environmental Health officers from the council had visited the house at Gooch Street on December 17 last year after receiving a complaint about poor conditions at the property.

The officers found a catalogue of health and safety hazards, including three of the most serious Category 1, at the house which was occupied by De Sousa himself and more than three unrelated tenants.

The hazards were a loft ladder leading to a bedroom occupied by a tenant in a loft conversion on the second floor of the building, inadequate fire precautions and excessive cold.

Other hazards included overloading of electrical sockets, trailing of extension leads through the ceiling into the bathroom and damp and mould in the kitchen and bathroom.

Numerous visits later Environment Health officers issued an improvement notice requiring De Sousa to put right the hazards.

De Sousa neither appealed against the order nor took the necessary steps to adequately carry out the improvements.

Mr Wirth told the court that among the hazards found were an attic space used as a bedroom which had not been converted to the standard required by current building regulations and access to which was through a hatch via a loft ladder, creating significant hazards to the tenant occupying the room.

Smoke detectors had either not been fitted or were not working, fire doors were either poorly maintained or had not been fitted and there was no heating or hot water because the boiler was broken.

The means of escape for tenants through the front door was inadequate because there was no corridor from the bottom of the stairs to the door.

Officers issued a prohibition order in January of this year prohibiting the use of the ladder to the loft bedroom but on a visit a month later found the ladder was still in place and the room was occupied. The boiler, however, had been repaired, Mr Wirth told the bench.

He went on to say that De Sousa had made a number of improvements to the property, including sealing the loft room and taking away the ladder and enforcing walls in the house to increase resistance to fire but the work had been poorly carried out and inadequate to protect the tenants.

De Sousa, representing himself in court, told the magistrates that he was not a landlord, nor had he been charging rent to the people staying in his house.

He explained to the bench that when friends came to England from his native Portugal they often had no job and nowhere to live. He therefore put them up in his house and only charged them about £100 a week to cover the electricity costs.

“I am not a professional landlord and I own no other properties,” he said, adding that he had not understood that if he had more than two friends staying with him in a building with more than two floors he had to have a licence.

Chairman of magistrates Gray Gilbert told De Sousa that the council had done everything by the book, having visited, assessed and warned him of the scale of the offences.

“The reason the council goes to this trouble is that people do not want to read the headline ‘Fire in Gooch Street, six dead’ in the Swindon newspaper,” Mr Gilbert said.

De Sousa was fined £2,000 for failing to comply with the improvement notice, £1,000 for not having a licence for a house of multiple occupation and £500 for continuing to use the ladder to the loft conversion.

He was also ordered to pay Environmental Health costs of £1,445.25 and legal costs of £2,392, a total in fines and costs of £7,337.