The landlady of a house where a tenant died from carbon monoxide poisoning after he reconnected a dangerous boiler has avoided being sent to jail.
In the tragic case, Victoria Martindale, 39, admitted seven charges that she failed to maintain a boiler and other gas appliances at her property over a four-year period. The boiler had not been checked since the letting agent who had found the tenant had arranged a gas safety certificate.
No agent had been used to manage the property and the judge described her as an ‘amateur landlord’ who had not known her responsibilities. Martindale is now herself living on benefits in the property where the tenant died and is ostracised by neighbours.
Derby Crown Court was told how Stephen Newton died after he reconnected a faulty gas boiler that had been condemned, disconnected and labelled ‘dangerous’ 18 months previously – in May 2008 – by an engineer.
He and his partner had been living in the unheated property until he took matters into his own hands the month before he died. His partner, Susan Davies, nearly died of carbon monoxide poisoning and a neighbour was also made ill.
Judge Michael Elsom gave Martindale a 16-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, fined her £4,000, ordered her to pay £17,500 prosecution costs and told her to do 200 hours of unpaid work.
Judge Elsom said: “This is a tragedy that has affected a number of people both directly and indirectly. This boiler was a potential death trap from the moment it was installed but I accept that the defendant was not the owner of the property at the time and would not have known that.
“She is someone who is, frankly, an amateur landlord, and there were serious breaches in her responsibilities to her tenants, but I am not satisfied that she ever received notification that the boiler had been condemned.”
Adam Farrer, prosecuting, said Mr Newton and his partner, Susan Davies, had returned to the rental property that had been their home for four years on December 28, 2009, after going to the pub on what was Mr Newton’s 51st birthday.
Mr Farrer said: “Stephen put the heating on. After some time, Susan went into the kitchen, where she fell over.
“Stephen helped her up and she went to bed, leaving him downstairs on the settee. The next thing she remembers is waking up in hospital. Mr Newton was found dead sat on the settee.”
Mr Farrer said the boiler had been condemned by a National Grid engineer in May 2008.
Annual safety checks on the boiler that were required by law had not been carried out.
Mr Newton had failed to tell Martindale that he had reconnected the boiler.
Mr Farrer said: “The prosecution say the defendant wholly failed in her statutory duties as a landlord. She made no attempts to get the boiler serviced. She said she was not fully aware of her legal duties as a landlord.
“We say the sad death of Stephen Newton was completely avoidable and was directly attributable to her failure of duty as a landlord.”
Kevin Waddingham, for Martindale, said his client was now living in the property where Mr Newton died.
He said: “It brings her all the regret and all the shame. She is trapped in her property, trapped on benefits with significant debts and living somewhere where she is reminded daily about what happened to Mr Newton.
“All the same neighbours are still there and she is alienated from them.”
An earlier court hearing heard that before renting out the property, Martindale employed a letting agency to find a tenant.
The agency arranged for a gas safety check to be completed before the tenants moved in. However, the agency was not employed to manage the tenancy and no further gas safety checks or servicing of the gas appliances were completed after the tenants moved in.
An earlier inquest heard how, after Mr Newton’s death, a safety assurance engineer for British Gas conducted tests in the house to establish the levels of carbon monoxide.
The reading was so high that the test had to be stopped and four neighbouring houses evacuated.
The boiler was said to have dated from the mid-1980s, and was not expelling gas properly because of the faulty placing of the flue. Gas was coming back down the chimney and into the house. The boiler was also very sooty.
Source: Letting Agent Today