Couple who illegally converted office block into flats must pay £150,000 or face prison sentence
A couple from Newham who illegally converted a Barking town centre office block into 14 flats have been ordered to pay back more than £150,000.
Soorippilla Balasingham, 62, told Barking and Dagenham Council officers he and his wife, Bavany, 53, had collected between £8,000 and £10,000 per month in rental income from the property.
At a hearing at Snaresbrook Crown Court on Friday 23 November, the pair were ordered to pay £72,447.50 each as part of a confiscation order under the Proceeds of Crime Act. If they fail to do so they could each face a 15-month prison sentence.
Councillor Margaret Mullane, Cabinet Member for Enforcement and Community Safety, said: "It is truly unbelievable that the Balasinghams thought they would get away with ignoring planning processes and simply do what they want, when they want – particularly when the building is a stone's throw away from our planning offices.
"We have rules in place to make sure homes in our borough are of a decent, quality standard and despite having permission for 10 flats that wasn’t enough, they wanted more."
The couple purchased Cambridge House, a former security firms office situated on Cambridge Road, close to Barking Underground Station, for £1.21 million back in 2008.
Despite submitting 10 applications between 2013 and 2016 to the council’s planning department to change the three-storey building to residential use, and although some requests were granted, the proposed work wasn’t carried out.
However, when council officers visited the premises in August 2014, they issued an enforcement notice ordering the building be restored to its original purpose.
When the couple’s appeal was dismissed, the Balasinghams were given until July 2016 to undo any alterations, but they ignored the order and officers discovered the block had been divided into eight flats on the ground-floor and six flats on the first-floor. Officers also identified safety concerns with the flats, including fire risks.
Around 30 per cent of all properties are private landlords
Cllr Mullane added: "Around 30 per cent of all properties in our borough are privately owned and a lot of them are houses in multiple occupation, so we have strict rules in place to protect landlords and most importantly, tenants. Hopefully the Balasinghams have learned an expensive lesson that will teach them about putting profit ahead of people."
In addition to the confiscation order, the couple were ordered to pay £3,329.62 in costs each, with Mr Balasingham also being fined a further £3,000. He will also receive a two-month prison sentence if he doesn’t pay to fine.
Mrs Balasingham was conditionally discharged for 12 months to reflect her lack of involvement in managing the property.
The pair had been found guilty earlier this year at Barkingside Magistrates Court under Section 179 of the Town and Country Planning Act.