Ipswich landlord and company director to pay more than £50,000 in fines and costs for Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMO) offences at London Road, Ipswich building

Published14th April 2021

A landlord and that company’s sole director have been convicted and ordered to pay more than £50,000 in fines and legal costs following a trial at Ipswich Magistrates Court on Monday 12 and Tuesday 13 April for HMO-related offences. 

Francis Investments (East Anglia) Limited  - based at St Helens Street, Ipswich - and the company’s sole director and owner of the property, Ralph Bernard, were both convicted on 10 charges.

An investigation was started into the London Road property by Ipswich Borough Council in June 2019 after being alerted to the condition of the building by Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service who had attended an incident there and found a range of fire safety concerns including people sleeping in an illegal and unsafe basement flat. An employment agency was also concerned about the number of workers registered at the address.

It was revealed that although planning permission had been granted for the building to be converted to four flats in 1996, the building was actually converted into five flats including a flat in the basement that was specifically prohibited by the Council. Officers also found that the conversion works had not been signed off under Building Regulations and that a range of defects compromised safety in the building. 

Ipswich Borough Council’s investigation found:

  • An illegal, basement flat that relied on a poorly positioned skylight into the rear yard for natural light and ventilation
  • Electrical defects throughout the building and records of maintenance and testing not provided
  • A fire alarm system and communal lighting not working correctly because it was running on a pre-payment meter
  • Ventilation ducts, doors and walls not properly designed to protect the fire escape route from fire and smoke
  • Leaks and water damage throughout the building

Ipswich Magistrates returned guilty verdicts on 10 of 11 charges for both defendants.

Ralph Bernard was fined a total of £29,000.00 for 10 convictions. Francis Investments (East Anglia) Limited was fined £7250. Total costs of £16836.20 and a victim surcharge of £181 are also payable.

Says Ian Blofield, Head of Housing and Community Services at Ipswich Borough Council:

“Flats and HMOs play an important role in meeting the housing needs of Ipswich residents. However, they can pose additional risks to the health, safety and wellbeing of residents if they are not properly designed and managed.  This case demonstrates that the Council will hold to account those who disregard the law and put residents at risk”.