Landlord (97) fined £28K for lack of fire certificates
A 97-YEAR-OLD landlord has been fined £28,000 after two of his properties were found to be operating as boarding houses which lacked basic fire-prevention measures.
Alfred Samuel John de Gruchy, his company Continental Developments, and his daughter Veronica Scott (69), who did administrative work for the business, admitted two charges each of failing to have the correct fire certificates in place for the respective properties.
The offences related to two houses in the First Tower area which had been leased out as private single dwellings but converted to multiple-occupancy residences housing 12 people – which the landlords claimed was done without their knowledge.
The Royal Court heard that Mr de Gruchy – a landlord of more than 70 years who owns 58 properties – was ‘mortified’ to find himself in court for the offences.
Outlining the case, Crown Advocate Conrad Yates said officers from the Jersey Fire and Rescue Service went to Dunell House in St Aubin’s Inner Road in June 2017 and ‘inspected it with a view to it being a house of multiple occupancy’.
The officers found the house contained seven bedrooms arranged over three floors, with three bathrooms, two main kitchens and a third smaller kitchen on the second floor.
All the bedrooms were padlocked and officers found unsafe electrical cables running through the house, wires carpet-taped and many electrical adaptors being used for three-pin sockets.
‘These posed a hazard because of a higher risk of mechanical failure which can lead to sparking,’ Crown Advocate Yates said.
Fire officers also found ‘dangerous activity’ from fully loaded electrical extension cables in the property and a ground-floor cupboard filled with ‘combustible material’ including furniture, portable electric heaters and cardboard.
A tenant at Dunell House told Fire Service officers that a nearby property, 2 Roadside Villas, was also being used by multiple tenants.
That property, which was found to be in ‘better condition’ than Dunell House, contained five bedrooms with shared cooking and bathroom facilities over three floors.
The bedrooms did not have fire doors, socket adaptors were again being used and two of the upper bedrooms had walls covered in flammable fibreboard, which is not permitted in houses of multiple occupancy.
Neither property had the fire certificate necessary for a house of multiple occupancy.
Prohibition notices were served, forcing most of the resiwnts to vacate that day.
The landlords maintained the properties had been modified without their knowledge, although they admitted they had no written leases in place and had not carried out any inspections, defending counsel Advocate Nuno Santos-Costa told the court.
He said the defendants accepted their responsibility for the ‘statutory failings’ but had been left ‘highly distressed’ by the 18-month ordeal leading up to their court appearances.
He said Mrs Scott, in particular, had not paid a major role in letting the properties and worked only on the ‘periphery’.
Mr Santos-Costa said he did not offer mitigation in the hopes of reducing the fines his clients might pay, admitting that Mr de Gruchy was ‘a wealthy man’ who could pay whatever fine was imposed. Rather, he said, his clients wanted to explain their position to the court.
And he said Mr de Gruchy had now engaged a management company for his properties after conceding that he was ‘a little too old to do it himself’.
In announcing the sentence of the court, Deputy Bailiff Tim Le Cocq said the breaches were serious, and ‘people could have been killed or injured’. He added that landlords should not take a ‘cavalier view’ of their obligations.
In addition to the £28,000 in fines, the defendants were order to pay £5,000 towards the Crown’s costs.
Jurats Sally Sparrow and Geoffrey Grime were sitting for the case.