Published: 08:49, 12 November 2018
| Updated: 17:43, 12 November 2018
A buy-to-let property tycoon has been found guilty of failing to comply with an enforcement notice ordering her to supply hot water to a disabled tenant.
Judith Wilson, 68, wife of controversial landlord Fergus Wilson, 70, must now reveal her wealth before a judge sentences her to an unlimited fine.
Ashford Borough Council served the notice after Mrs Wilson’s ex-tenants, one of whom is wheelchair bound, alleged hot water to the upstairs of their property was faulty over a five-month period.
In a previous hearing, prosecutor Sophie Gray accused her of “fabricating” attempts to restore the boiler and showing “clear disregard” for tenants Mark Manser, who uses a wheelchair, and partner Sarah Manser.
However, defence barrister Ben Leb argued Mr and Mrs Manser denied Mrs Wilson access to the property in Kingsnorth and caused damage to the water system, causing the home to flood.
In his verdict last Wednesday, District Judge Justin Barron told Folkestone Magistrates' Court how Mrs Wilson would suffer a “punitive fine” for the crime.
He also described how the council took aim at her husband, who deals with complaints, for failing to assist them with the enforcement order.
He said: “I find the reason hot water wasn’t fixed was because Mr and Mrs Wilson did not address the problem.
“Mr Wilson and Mrs Wilson had every opportunity to resolve the issues but Mr Wilson was consistently difficult and stubbornly refused to make any genuine commitment to the council to get the work carried out.
Summarising, he added: “The fine is designed to impact you.”
Giving evidence in a previous hearing, Mr Wilson argued he gave the council the green light to carry out the emergency repairs itself.
However, Judge Barron ruled in Miss Gray’s favour who said it is unreasonable to expect a council to carry out emergency works on 300 homes.
'This successful prosecution against a high profile landlord shows that we have teeth and we are not afraid to fight for the rights of tenants who live in our borough...' - Cllr Gerald White
Now Judith Wilson, previously of good character, must comply with a financial circumstances order.
It is so Judge Barron can get a better picture of her wealth before sentencing – including assets, banked money and joint accounts.
He added: “As a consequence of my findings my decision is that Mrs Wilson failed to comply with the requirements of the abatement notice, and did not have a reasonable excuse for that failure.
“I find her guilty of the offence.”
The case was adjourned for sentencing on Tuesday, December 11 at Folkestone Magistrates' Court.
The ruling will “accelerate the rate” tenants are evicted as the couple look to sell up their housing empire, Mr Wilson said.
In a statement issued outside the court, he added tenants will not be served a notice to quit until after Christmas.
“Let’s see what happens with the fine, but it means we will be selling more properties," he said.
"We were selling up anyway because of our age - I could drop dead tomorrow.
“We won’t be giving people notice to quit over the Christmas period and to be honest we would sell the whole lot tomorrow if we could.
“We won’t put all the homes on the market at once because that would mean house prices will drop.”
The council said the ruling is a "powerful reminder" to private sector landlords that there will be serious consequences if they fail to deal fairly with their tenants.
Cllr Gerald White, the authority's portfolio holder for housing, said: “This successful prosecution against a high profile landlord shows that we have teeth and we are not afraid to fight for the rights of tenants who live in our borough.
“What a lot of private sector tenants don’t realise is that if they have trouble with their landlord they can come to us for help.
"Mr and Mrs Manser didn’t know that until they were recommended to speak to us.
“The council champions the rights of tenants and we make sure that landlords in the private sector remain accountable and live up to their responsibilities under the law.
"If they don’t then there are consequences."