Inside illegal ‘Hobbit hole’ basement flat landed owners with £83,000 fine

Owners of an unfit flat have been ordered to stump up some £83,000 after renting out the "dark" and "unpleasant" basement.

The tiny, "Hobbit-sized" flat contains a small kitchen and bathroom, with a set of stairs leading up to a bedroom.

Inspectors found that the window into the property is very small and let in very little light, describing having an outlook onto the street as "impossible", BirminghamLive reports.

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Two defendants were ordered to pay £4,000 each with two months, or else they would be imprisoned, as well as being granted three months to pay a confiscation order of £67,000, or be locked up for 16 months.

The order will recoup some of the ill-gotten gains the two defendants had made from renting out the flat illegally, with both also facing costs of £4,000 to Birmingham City Council.

This brings the total amount of payment to £83,000 of fines and costs.

The city council served the defendants with a standing order when they discovered that the flat was being let out illegally, this stopped them from making any further lettings.

But the defendants ignored the standing order, and were subsequently taken to court over the property.

Cllr Martin Brookes, Chair of Birmingham Planning Committee said the defendants had been given more than enough time to cease their activity and eventually action was needed.

The news comes ahead of a new scheme, expected to start in June, which would see landlords in Birmingham required to pay for a licence to show they are providing adequate accommodation.

Under the scheme, landlords will have to pay £700 for a licence and face criminal action if they breach conditions or fail to get a licence.

The Selective Licensing Scheme will cover 25 wards in the city, totalling around 50,000 properties.

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Up to 130 staff will target wards under the scheme where the private rented sector is above 20% of properties and there are high levels of deprivation and/or crime.

Birmingham has around 8,000 'exempt' houses and hostels, which offer accommodation for people who might usually encounter problems when trying to find a property.

They include recent prisoners, drug and alcohol addicts, those struggling with mental ill health, young care leavers, refugees and abuse survivors.

Describing the recent court case against the defendants in Selly Oak, Cllr Martin Brooks said: "On the 15th December the planning enforcement team had a successful prosecution in Selly Oak which included a confiscation order under the proceeds of crime act.

"The property was insufficient in size, had insufficient windows and low ceiling height.

"It was a very unpleasant living environment. With the costs awarded to the city council and the fines taken the total against these defendants was £83,000.

"We do hear from members from time to time of concerns and difficulties over planning enforcement and I just wanted to make people aware of a very successful prosecution that took place.

"This is an important victory for the city and demonstrates how the city is dealing with rogue landlords.

"This is a message that letting out that kind of property is very serious, and the city will take severe action against rogue landlords.

"This is a warning to these people that letting out unfit properties is not acceptable."

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