A judge has ordered two private landlords to pay a total of £14,858 for illegally renting out an unlicensed house without working smoke alarms to tenants whose teenage son died after it caught fire.
When fire broke out at the Matope family home in Thornton Heath on 25 March 2019, the illegally-let house did not have a Croydon Council landlord licence, which includes fire safety checks.
Firefighters attended the scene, but 13-year-old Kuzi Matope died in hospital on 2 April.
The cause of Kuzi’s death has yet to be determined at an inquest, but neither of the two smoke alarms found at the house worked.
At Croydon Magistrates’ Court today (Monday 27 January), landlords Innocent and Clementia Mukarati, of Hatherwood, Leatherhead, Surrey, pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to license the property in Camden Gardens under section 95 of the Housing Act 2004.
Croydon Council brought the prosecution against Mr Mukarati, aged 50, and Mrs Mukarati, aged 47, after the fatal fire led to the discovery the couple had not applied for a licence. This has been a legal requirement for all privately-rented homes in Croydon since 2015. The council introduced the scheme to raise housing standards for local renters, and it now covers over 35,000 properties.
Landlord licensing teams monitor these properties via proactive inspections, online checks, responding to tenant complaints or answering public queries. One of the scheme’s key licence conditions is the need for landlords to put in place stringent fire safety measures.
Ordering the married couple to each pay a £787.50 fine, a £78 victim surcharge and £6,563.42 in court costs, or £14,858.84 in total, District Judge Nicholas Easterman sent his condolences to the Matope family, adding that the case was about a failure to license the property and that he could not consider the fire.
He said: “The licensing scheme was introduced by Croydon some time ago to improve the quality of rented premises in the borough. The council has done what it could appropriately to bring the scheme to the attention of landlords. Where people rent out property – whether commercial or otherwise – it is incumbent on them to find out what the regulations are.
“It is clear that the smoke alarms were not working; it is not possible to know how long for. Had the defendants known of the licensing provisions they might have been more active in the care taken over these sorts of matters. This did not have a material effect on the tragic events which unfolded.”
The council will now add the Mukaratis to the Mayor of London’s rogue landlord database, and it will consider applying for them to be listed on a similar national database run by the Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Councillor Alison Butler, Croydon Council’s deputy leader and cabinet member for homes and Gateway services, said: “My thoughts are first and foremost with Kuzi’s family, who have lost their son in terrible circumstances. Croydon Council’s licensing scheme makes sure private landlords give their tenants decent and safe homes, and this tragic case underlines why it’s important.
“I hope this prosecution serves as a warning to Croydon landlords that privately-let homes in our borough must be licensed or we will take appropriate action.”
Kuzi’s father, Patrick Matope, said: “It is heart-breaking to look back. Kuzivakwashe was a son we loved so much; we miss him every day. He was a very kind, happy, loving, active, well-behaved son who loved going to church. He loved his two younger brothers so dearly and they both miss him too.
“It’s good that the council has come up with this scheme as we think it ensures that landlords take their responsibility seriously and we would encourage private tenants to check if their property is on the register.”
London Fire Brigade borough commander for Croydon, Andy Williams, said: “Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Kuzi Matope. We support and praise Croydon Council in bringing this prosecution and call on all landlords in the borough to register their property before they are rented out.”
The council is currently running a public consultation until 9 March on proposals to renew the landlord licensing scheme after its current five-year term expires on 30 September. To view the consultation, visit the council website.