Lawyers take unusual step after council allegedly failed to act on infestation
Housing officer in jail threat over ant infestation
One of the England’s highest paid housing officers is being threatened with jail for contempt of court for allegedly failing to carry out agreed pest control work on a tenant’s home.
In a highly unusual move, law firm Anthony Gold secured a court order on behalf of the tenant in April requiring Sue Foster, director of housing, regeneration and environment at Lambeth Council, to attend court for the council’s alleged failure to deal with a Pharaoh ant infestation.
The alleged failure to act could have amounted to a contempt of court with the potential penalty of a prison sentence, court papers state.
A judge ruled in November last year that the south London authority had to eradicate the pest problem as part of a disrepair case, which was settled with a ‘formal agreement’. Anthony Gold converted the agreement into a court order in February after Lambeth allegedly failed to act. The April order demands Ms Foster attend court to explain why the council has not dealt with the problem. A hearing has been set for 10 June. Lambeth began tackling the infestation at the end of last month.
Timothy Waitt, a solicitor at Anthony Gold, said he expected law firms to increasingly use such strong measures against landlords that fail to comply with court orders in disrepair cases. ‘Our experience is that local authorities are very poor at carrying out the repairs,’ he added.
‘With government cuts, this will happen more frequently,’ he added. ‘With limited staff to do these jobs, limited funding to do the repairs and unwise cost savings, more people will suffer and the only way will be to enforce the orders of the court.’
Michael Donnellan, a partner at law firm Trowers & Hamlins, said he had only ever seen a single - failed - attempt to impose a penal notice on a client in a disrepair case.
A spokesperson for Lambeth Council said: ‘Unfortunately, our pest control team has been having difficulties in gaining access to some neighbouring properties to complete the work, and steps have been put in place to obtain warrants of entry.’
Ms Foster was revealed as one of the highest paid housing officer in England in an Inside Housing survey of 20 local authorities, earning £152,190 a year.