Record fine handed to ‘lost at sea’ criminal landlord in South Gloucestershire

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A photograph of a shared kitchen located in a passageway of a house

A landlord who rents out homes in the South Gloucestershire and Bristol area has been ordered to pay over £44,000 after a court found him guilty of a serious housing offence and for contravening a Local Government Act.

Mr Giuseppe Sutera, also known as Joe Sutera, attended Bristol Magistrates’ Court on Monday 26 June for the prosecution brought by South Gloucestershire Council, but he refused to identify himself stating only that he was “a man” and that Joe Sutera was “lost at sea”. As he had not properly identified himself the court decided that Joe Sutera was not in fact present, and he was found guilty in his absence. He was ordered to pay a total of £44,270.26, which is a record fine secured by the council’s Public Sector Housing Team.

The court heard how Sutera had breached an Emergency Prohibition Order (EPO) served by South Gloucestershire Council’s Private Sector Housing Team by continuing to let a property where there were serious fire safety issues and where tenants’ lives were being put at risk. Sutera had also failed to respond to a notice served by the team requiring him to provide his address and details of the property he rents. Sutera has consistently refused to provide his home address and his uncooperative attitude at court served to highlight the way he has hampered the investigations of the Private Sector Housing Team.

The council was first alerted to the property in Eagle Drive in Patchway on 26 August 2022 following a complaint from the tenant occupying the House in Multiple Occupation (HMO). An unannounced inspection was carried out to assess whether any hazards were present that posed a risk to the health and safety of the tenants or visitors to the property.

Following this inspection, a high category 1 hazard for fire was established as there was the potential for serious injury or death to the occupants due to there being no safe escape route in the event of a fire. The shared kitchen was located in the middle of the main escape route of the property. There were no fire doors to any of the bedrooms and there were no working smoke alarms in the property. The secondary escape route was located in a bedroom where there was also a makeshift kitchenette located in the porch, effectively also blocking access to that escape route.

On the 25 October 2022, two notices were served. An EPO under section 43 of the Housing Act 2004 and A Requisition for Information, under Section 16 of the Local Government Act (Miscellaneous Provisions) 1974. The notices were hand delivered. The Private Sector Housing Team were aware of several other properties owned by Sutera, and as he had not provided his home address, copies of these notices had to be hand delivered to all of those addresses.

The EPO required Sutera to ensure that the property was not occupied until the fire risk was removed. This would involve a reconfiguration of the premises, including ensuring the shared kitchen was separated from the stairwell with a suitable fire door. It also required that the kitchenette in the ground floor front bedroom was either re-located to a more suitable location, or removed, and there be adequate fire protection throughout the residence.

The Section 16 Requisition for Information notice was served to establish ownership and to identify those people with an interest in the property and their home address(es).

With the full knowledge that the EPO had been served prohibiting occupation of the premises, Sutera continued to let the property putting his tenants’ lives at risk. The Private Sector Housing Team provided evidence that they had inspected the property on several occasions following service of the EPO. They found that, not only were existing tenants continuing to live in the property, but that Sutera had also set up new tenancies and new tenants had moved into the property since the EPO had been served.

Councillor Leigh Ingham, cabinet member with responsibility for environmental health at South Gloucestershire Council, said: “South Gloucestershire has approximately 17,000 privately rented properties, and we will not tolerate landlords failing to meet their legal responsibilities in relation to the conditions of the homes they offer for rent.

“Our Private Sector Housing team always try to work with landlords to bring their properties up to standard, but where this informal approach fails, we will look to take enforcement action. The level of the fine in this case serves as a serious warning to all landlords 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, the council will take action.”

The council’s Private Sector Housing Team are aware of at least eight other properties which Sutera owns within South Gloucestershire and will continue to investigate these properties to ensure the safety of the tenants. According to Bristol City Council, Sutera owns a further four licenced HMOs in the Bristol local authority area.

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 South Gloucestershire Council’s Private Sector Housing team by emailing psechousing@southglos.gov.uk or visiting their local One Stop Shop.