Repeat offending criminal landlord fined over £36,000

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The shared kitchen in Sutera’s Stroud Road property

A South Gloucestershire landlord that has repeatedly flouted housing rules has been fined a further £36,000 following a prosecution brought by South Gloucestershire Council’s Private Sector Housing Team.

Mr Giuseppe Sutera appeared at Bristol Magistrates Court earlier this week (15 April) for a second prosecution pursued by the council. The total fine level has now reached over £80,000 after Sutera was first ordered to pay over £44,000 for serious housing offences in June 2023. He has now been found guilty of additional housing offences relating to two of his properties in Patchway and is subject to further fines totalling over £36,000. The new offences include operating an unlicensed house in multiple occupation (HMO) and ongoing breach of an Emergency Prohibition Order.

Mr Giuseppe Sutera, also known as Joe Sutera, received widespread media attention last year when he was first prosecuted. At the hearing in June 2023 he attended court but refused to identify himself stating only that he was “a man” and that Mr Joe Sutera was “lost at sea”. This time Sutera attended court and pleaded guilty to the offences.

During this week’s hearing, the court heard how Sutera was operating an illegal HMO from a two storey semi-detached house on Stroud Road in Patchway. South Gloucestershire Council’s Private Sector Housing Team were first alerted to the property in March 2023 when they came across an arbitrary payment without an HMO licence application. Sutera was approached numerous times and invited to make a full and valid HMO licence application for the property but he failed to do so.

An inspection of the property was arranged, and council officers found a total of 13 tenants including children living in the property in overcrowded rooms. There was no fixed heating in the property, inadequate and unhygienic kitchen facilities, inadequate fire precautions and, in one room, severe damp and mould made worse by high density living, lack of heating and poor insulation.

An assessment using the Housing, Health & Safety Rating System under Part 1 of the Housing Act 2004 confirmed that there were Category 1 hazards for Crowding and Space, Excess Cold, Fire and Food Safety and Category 2 hazards for Damp & Mould and Domestic Hygiene, Pest and Refuse.

Sutera had not made the necessary application for a HMO licence and also failed to engage with officers to discuss the condition of the house. Therefore two notices were served under the Housing Act 2004 – an Overcrowding Notice to limit the number of people permitted to occupy the property and an Improvement Notice to require Sutera to undertake works to improve the condition of the property.

The offence of failing to apply for a HMO licence where one is needed, is an absolute offence to which there is no defence under the Housing Act 2004. Sutera showed he had knowledge of the HMO licence process as he made the HMO licence payment and he has licenced HMOs in the Bristol City Council area. It was clear to South Gloucestershire Council’s Private Sector Housing Team that, despite a previous prosecution, Sutera was determined to flout housing legislation and run his properties in a manner that puts his tenant’s health, safety and wellbeing at risk.

The court then went on to hear how Sutera was committing an ongoing and flagrant breach of an Emergency Prohibition Order (EPO) served by the Private Sector Housing Team relating to a property on Eagle Drive, Patchway. The EPO was originally served on the 25 October 2022 under section 43 of the Housing Act 2004 and required Sutera to ensure that the dwelling was not occupied until a serious fire risk was removed. This would involve a reconfiguration of the premises, including removal of a shared kitchen located in the fire escape route of the property. Sutera was first prosecuted for breach of the EPO in June 2023 and has continued to flout the Order over 18 months after it was initially served.

The Private Sector Housing Team provided evidence that they had inspected the property on several occasions following service of the EPO, and since the prosecution in June 2023. They found that Sutera was allowing existing tenants to continue to live in the property, and that he had set up new tenancies and new tenants had moved into the property even since he had been prosecuted for breaching the EPO.

Despite Sutera’s obvious lack of concern, the Private Sector Housing Team were anxious for the safety of his tenants and carried out visits to check they understood the risks of living in the property and provide advice to them on re-housing options. However the property remained occupied and Sutera made no apparent effort to improve the safety of the property.

Shaun Fudge, service manager for Private Sector Housing at South Gloucestershire Council, said: “There are approximately 17,000 privately rented properties here in South Gloucestershire, and it’s unacceptable when landlords fail to meet their legal responsibilities in relation to the conditions of the homes they offer for rent.

“The council’s Private Sector Housing team always endeavor to engage with and work with landlords to bring their properties up to standard, but where this informal approach fails, we are left with no option but to take enforcement action.

“The level of the fines handed out to this landlord acts as serious warning to others disregarding the rules that they have a legal responsibility to protect their tenants and provide a safe and decent property for them to live in, and if they fail to do this, action will be taken.”

Tenants of privately rented properties in the South Gloucestershire area can report issues of disrepair that are not being addressed by their landlord by contacting the Private Sector Housing team by emailing psechousing@southglos.gov.uk or visiting their local One Stop Shop.

More information and advice on the licensing requirements and how to apply can be found by visiting www.southglos.gov.uk/hmo