NRLA to back landlords over ‘unnecessary and unjustifiably expensive’ licensing schemes

18 May 2020

Recently-arrived Chief Executive says one of the organisations first jobs will be to look at whether selective and additional property licensing schemes truly deliver the benefits claimed for them, based on the facts.

The National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) has said that it is to focus its efforts on persuading ministers and local authorities that property licensing schemes do not raise standards and that, particularly for HMOs, they are thinly disguised revenue raising efforts.

Ben Beadle, the newly-formed organisation’s recently-arrived Chief Executive, made the comments during a webinar held by property legal expert Tessa Sanderson as part of her ongoing online conference.

“The UK seems hell bent on introducing legislation to regulate the housing market when often the measures are already in place,” he said.

“Take licensing – all of the things that landlords need to do in order to get a licence are already legal requirements including gas, electrical, fire safety and smoke detector rules – so why do you need a licence to hold it all together?

“The argument is that licensing raises standards and makes it easier for local authorities to enforce the rules, but I don’t really see an evidence to support this claim and the NRLA will be taking a very close look at licensing and assessing the impact, based on the facts.”

Beadle also says that landlords have become an easy target for legislators including licensing, despite many local authorities claiming it’s ‘not about the money’.

“If it’s not about the money, why does it cost up to £1,000 per property for a licence within some schemes,” he says.

“This is a source of great contention for landlords and it’s an issue that the NRLA is absolutely going to pick up and run with.”

Link to original article

Is Coventry City Council the next Goliath in the Additional HMO Licensing Battle?

27 Apr 2020

Phil Turtle of Landlord Licensing & Defence examines the Council’s motives, means and opportunity.

Coventry City Council continues to implement a new HMO Additional Licensing Scheme on 4th May 2020 – even though it has a backlog of more than 700 applications to process for normal HMO licences. Yet still it intends soliciting for thousands more applications. 

The  council’s head of licensing must really be behind on budget, having already received fees for the 700 outstanding applications, 341 of them outstanding for over a year!  Yet it is taking on more work and administration and putting pressure on good landlords to prepare properties to higher standards for compliance at a time when labour, materials and availability of resources are in extremely short supply.

Also most of the properties that need to be licensed under this new scheme are occupied and therefore, the works that need to be done are not essential – yet they become essential and tenants must be disturbed or re-housed in order for landlords to undertake the works if the Council continues to insist in implementing the scheme on 4th May 2020 – or the landlords will face prosecution and massive fines. But maybe that’s their plan?

Central Government has advised a pragmatic approach, and a number of councils have heeded this.  But not Coventry City Council, well known for its predatory and heavy-handed enforcement plus its stated intention to run the harshest penalties possible under the law. With no regard for landlords (and one suspects little for tenants either), Coventry City Council continues to create enforcement opportunities for itself and to abuse its dominant market position.  They have no competition, they are unregulated, therefore they continue with consideration for absolutely no one but themselves.

It would be well advised to get its current applications processed before introducing a new scheme.

Given this backlog, why would they introduce a new scheme you ask?  That is an interesting question and to answer it, one has to look at where the money is.

The money for the applications pending is already in the Council’s bank account and this can only be used for the application process.  By implementing a new scheme, it opens up another area of income: ‘Enforcement’ which is punishable by fines called Financial Civil Penalties the money they receive can be used to carry out more enforcement. (Well that’s the legal position – but who can tell what they’ve actually used this £700,000 or so for). 

New applications, for a new scheme, will give them funds to process the backlog and the new applications. (although they’ve already had the funds to process the backlog. Strange they now need more… )

But the covert reason for implementing a new scheme, is that it opens up a much larger source of income called Financial Civil Penalties (landlord fines) from which the money they received can be used to carry out more enforcement.

Applications and licence fees produce income of £640-£1250 or so per property.

Financial Civil Penalties from enforcement, on the other hand, produce fees (which generally are issued with little or no substantial evidence) and range generally from £1,000 to £30,000 per ‘breach of regulations’,  And strangely most councils manage to find at least five or six such ‘breaches’ per property before sending out financial penalty invoices for £25,000 to £60,000.

Therefore, you understand where they will keep working, that will be one of the most likely reasons why the backlog of applications, they are more likely to be spending their time chasing the big money, and the ‘heroic recognition’ of being a revenue-target-meeting enforcer.  Why do you think crime thriller TV Series get such big audiences?

Certain housing officers chose to target specific types of landlord for revenue creation. For example they can easily identify landlord companies with healthy balance sheets on companies house and ‘out of area landlords’ whose only crime is that they don’t live in the city (only a crime in the enforcing council’s mind of course – it is in fact perfectly legal to live where you choose). It is easy to go after them and get massive enforcement moneys for small misdemeanours.  

They don’t have to enforce these soft-targets as hard as they would if they were doing their job and weeding out rogue-landlords – but that’s hard work and there’s no money in it.  Instead they are proud to  leave decent landlords fearing for the future of their business, the decent homes they provide for their tenants, financial ruin and mental illness from the stress, some even contemplating suicide.  And over simple things which any fair and reasonable enforcer would work with them to resolve.

The council is very keen for landlords to contact them – especially those who do not know what to do, or may have inadvertently made an error, got their licensing dates confused, missed something simple and need the help.  In reality, they take the information and then use it against the landlord in order to enforce and fine, rather than help the landlord. 

They appear to be helpful, whilst using the alert to send enforcers to check what they could put into the coffers by way of enforcement action and massive Financial Civil Penalties.

This is not going to encourage the behaviour of compliance that councils are supposed to be looking for.  It is going to force landlords to go underground, sell off their properties, remove them from the rental market make tenants homeless, reduce the private rental stock and create a shortage of perfectly suitable homes, because the Council is alienating landlords, rather than encouraging them. Because they think it is somehow big and clever (as well as highly profitable) to milk and destroy decent honest landlords. 

It just shows how dangerous it is to allow as single entity to be ‘enforcer, prosecutor, judge and jury’ with no accountability to anyone except the Chief Finance Officer who just wants money whatever the human cost.

Heather Wheeler, when she was a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government Enforcement, was clear on the role the Councils should take in relation to landlords, She said,  “It is essential that there is clear communication, and engagement with landlords, tenants and other stakeholders so rights and responsibilities are properly understood as that is often not the case.  This also means that for effective enforcement and prosecutions to take place, policies and procedures must be transparent and clearly available.

The fact that landlords who have licences and are not being made aware shows that Coventry City Council as many councils must be delinquent in its duties here.  And not just Coventry: Landlords and letting agents report to us daily their astonishment at the attitude of councils across the country and their ‘Vogon’ approach to enforcement. 

Most landlords don’t know where to turn for help and turn to other landlords who are equally in the dark.  The Council has so many ways, methods, regulations and opportunities to enforce against even the best landlords with a crippling financial civil penalty, that the landlord has no chance. Everything is stacked against the landlord. 

LANDLORDS let us be very clear:  The last person you should contact is the council. Do NOT contact them, it is NOT advisable.  They are the rule setter, the enforcer, the police, the judge and the jury.  Call them at your peril.

If you are running a property in the West Midlands you should know that the councils at Coventry City, Birmingham City, Dudley, Herefordshire, Sandwell, Sandwell,  Solihull, Walsall and Wolverhampton form the West Midland Housing Forum. Therefore, you can expect the same treatment from them all now, or soon. 

Coventry City Council has HMO Applications not processed for  362 submitted from 1st April 2019 to 31st March 2020 and 341 backlogged from the period 1st April 2018 to 31st March 2019.

That is 703 in total that they haven’t managed to process even though they’ve had the funds. Why do they need any more when they have a backlog of two years? 

You may well ask what is the motivation?

If it’s not about the money, then why did the Coventry Telegraph find in 2017/2018 (using a freedom of information request) to report about 675 landlord complaints and 210 HHSRS inspections yet no financial civil penalties issued?   Well it’s because the real powers came after that time and then Coventry went to the other extreme.  

At the time, Housing and Planning minister Gavin Barwell said: “These measures will give councils the additional powers they need to tackle poor-quality rental homes in their area. “By driving out of business those rogue-landlords that continue to flout the rules, we can raise standards, improve affordability and give tenants the protections they need.”   I don’t see it saying, “this legislation is introduced to give councils the powers they need to raise revenue from landlords with no regard to improving housing.”

Where is the evidence of housing improvement from their actions?  To date, no council has come up with convincing research that these licensing schemes have improved housing. None of the hundreds of landlords we have spoken to had a property that was in such a bad state as to warrant the excessive level of enforcement and civil penalties Coventry and other councils are inflicting in their out-and-out quest for revenue at all costs. 

The truth is so self-evident: Until 2018, councils did not receive money from fines.  Any landlord fines went to central government.  As a result, council housing departments rarely took landlords to court and when they did, they knew they had to provide evidence ‘beyond all reasonable doubt’ to convince a judge of the landlord’s crime. It cost them so much to pursue and for little or no return into their budgets.

In 2018, councils were enabled to not only keep the fines – but also to increase them ten or twenty-fold above the level of court fines!  What’s more, they were given the power to hand out these fines with little or no oversight.  Not surprising then that they do so with little or no substantial evidence of danger.

Once the legislation was in place for them to receive the funds into council coffers, they needed a little time to perfect their approach: the rules, the fines, the cookie cutter paperwork, the invoicing and operational process. Once ‘the system’ was all in place, then could they enforce, receive fines, do it again.  “Rinse and repeat,” and in this context the emphasis in on ‘rinse!’   Most councils in England are doing exactly the same.

If you think about it it’s no different to their operations with parking tickets and traffic cameras. As we all know to our cost, these have become little more than revenue generating machines.

It is on public record that Coventry City Council began working in conjunction with Warwick University on a project to improve the quality of the off-campus housing in the area around Canley and Cannon Park.  The project focused primarily on proactively inspecting houses in multiple occupation (HMOs).  It appears to have been such good business that the Additional HMO Licensing Scheme will help with more enforcement and create yet more revenue.

Furthermore, most Councils’ housing officers appear to believe (or is that wilfully misunderstand) that being a Landlord is a very profitable business – when, in fact in recent years, any landlord’s net income has been reduced substantially by the Central Government action of increased taxation, the increased costs of compliance and regulations together with many councils introducing expensive licensing schemes for housing where the need appears unwarranted.  

Liverpool City Council, for example, had their proposed licensing scheme overturned recently by government as being unjustified.

In truth, the 80% or more of landlords who own just 1 – 4 properties are left with cashflow at nigh-on minimum-wage level when calculated against all the hours they work operating and managing properties to provide decent homes to their tenants.

Coventry Council last year revealed at a First-Tier Tribunal hearing that the methodology by which a civil penalty amount was calculated was by the Council’s Civil Penalties Policy which includes a matrix which had been set in partnership with other Local Authorities in the UK to establish a consistent framework

Could this be considered price-fixing or abuse of a dominant market position?  Remember the Council is the operator of the scheme, the enforcer and the judge, unless they get overturned by the First-Tier Tribunal or Central Government – or by us the landlords taking action against them.

They must not be allowed to continue with this unwarranted and immoral approach to revenue generation at the expense of decent landlords.

But few landlords would have a clue how to take a case to the First-Tier Tribunal, nor indeed where to turn for professional advice.

One may look at this all quite dimly and wonder how this has happened. 

You may consider that Councils have conspired together in setting high level priced Financial Civil Penalties at levels 10 to 20 times higher than the courts would award. Surely this is tantamount to cartels price fixing to the lay person.  Oh, but they are a public body!

Investigate your Councils – you will see their true form in Civil Penalties!

There appears to be no reason for implementing the Additional Licensing Scheme in Coventry by the City Council especially during this Covid-19 Crisis, other than possibly the money.  The scheme is likely to impact a number of student homes, which the Council may hope to reduce through the introduction of more purpose-built student blocks one is seeing developed by large international and national property investment funds in conjunction with local councils and universities.  Is this more insider-dealing against the interests of private sector landlords, one is forced to wonder?

Most landlords don’t know where to turn and Landlord Licensing & Defence is happy to take a call on 0208 788 0788 or help@lldl.co.uk and give initial independent advice to landlords on the position they are in and to cover some basic options available to them.

As we said, calling the council for advice is nonsense and is like calling the police and asking if they caught you speeding.  They then come around and run a programme on your car and find that indeed you were indeed speeding.  If you had never called them, they would never have come around. 

We are not condoning breaking the law, what we are saying is: Get professional help before turning yourself in and confessing to something that you didn’t realise you had done. 

It is the same with your council.  Be afraid.  Get professional advice.  But above all, make sure your properties are compliant, it is the only true defence.   In the meantime, seek help.

As Malcom Gladwell said in his book David and Goliath:  “This final lesson about the limits of power is not easy to learn. It requires that those in positions of authority to accept that their greatest advantage has real constraints.  The excessive use of force creates legitimacy problems, and force without legitimacy leads to defiance, not submission.”

So, one hopes that Coventry City Council will review its decisions firstly to NOT implement the Additional Licensing Scheme,  to be pragmatic as required by Government advice and delay this implementation following the example set to them by Luton and Newcastle councils.

Secondly, they must process the applications they have in backlog before taking on more.

And thirdly, they must stop this vilification and persecution of decent landlords  and instead work with landlords who want to do a good job and are indeed doing their best in the face of a bewildering amount of legislation and regulation.

Every council’s job is to improve housing stock, and anyone with an ounce of fair play and human decency can see that the way to do this is to work with landlords and not just treat them as cash producing machines.

Councils should assist those who make mistakes, rather than just hit them with Financial Civil Penalties, because this approach will seriously damage the private rented sector, remove the rental housing stock that only the private sector provides because councils have failed to provide any for two decades now, possibly more.

In a classic case of “be careful what you wish for”, this greed and power-trip by council housing departments will in time have exactly the opposite effect and create another issue for another area of the Council to deal with at far greater cost than they have extracted whilst systematically destroying landlords and the private rental sector.

We live in hope, but frankly, not very much hope.

About the author:

Phil Turtle is a Casework Consultant at Landlord Licensing & Defence. He is a Certified HHSRS Practitioner – similarly qualified as many Council Enforcement Officers.

Landlord Licencing & Defence is helping landlords get out of trouble when they get into it. We are fighting against councils that have become power-crazed and which are persecuting decent landlords for immoral financial gain.

Councils have become ruthless and unforgiving and will destroy a Landlord, his health and his/her business in one inspection.

Everyone makes mistakes, Landlord Licensing & Defence reduces the chances of an incident breaking you, psychologically, financially and physically.   There are some vicious people within councils near to your portfolio enforcing the Housing Act 2004 Parts 1, 2, 3 and 7 with angst.

Some landlords just don’t give a damn and break all the rules – they deserve the punishment. Decent landlords do not.

Landlord Licensing & Defence fights a Landlord’s corner like no other. We cut to the chase and gets things sorted. We understand, because we are landlords ourselves.

Civil Penalties are severe and business-breaking for most. See https://www.landlordsdefence.co.uk/fines-penalties/ for proof. 

Information Sources: 

Open Applications Link 1st April 2020 – Coventry HMO list

Coventry Make Tenants Homeless with New Licensing Scheme

Civil Penalty Fines and Cases

Rogue Landlords not prosecuted – Coventry Live

Rogue Landlords and Enforcement Guide for Local Authorities  – Heather Wheeler

UK Government Avoid and Report Anticompetitive Activity

First – Tier Tribunal Property Chamber (Residential Property)

Sandhu v. Coventry City Council  – BIR/OOCQ/HNA/2019/0023

David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell – Book Review by Dean Yeong  

HMO Landlords: Guilty Until Proven Innocent

01 Apr 2020

Over the past year we have seen Mandatory HMO licensing increased in scope to include all properties with 5 or more occupants, where they belong to two or more households.

Since this we have seen a dramatic increase in the use of prosecutions, civil penalty fines and Rent Repayment Orders against Landlords.

Many landlords, doing their best and running what they believe to be good HMO operations,  are oblivious to the fact that a licence is even required. As we all know, ‘ignorance is no defence in the eyes of the law’.

We have a growing number of people being influenced by YouTube and property promotional events to rent properties and then re-rent them as serviced accommodation (hotel) rooms or HMOs having  little or no regard to the requirements for housing act compliance, planning permission or licensing. Ignorance of the law, again.

Most landlords do not realise that local authorities have become extremely powerful. We now find case after case where Councils are using nigh-on military and espionage type tactics in order to secure prosecutions or, increasingly, apply civil penalty fines (which the council gets to keep).

The most terrifying thing for people like myself – working in compliance and defending portfolio and small landlords against the authorities – is the startling number of cases where the severity of the situation has not sunk in. Each of these Landlords is the alleged perpetrators of one or more crimes committed by breaching HMO licensing and/or HMO management regulations.

They need to wake up! These are severe criminal matters and the fines are enormous.

An increasing number of Councils are also enacting Additional HMO Licensing schemes that mean all ‘sharer’ houses in an area need to be licensed as HMOs or the landlord will face a criminal charge.

Many council planning departments are also enacting HMO Article 4 Directions – which mean that any and every newly formed HMO (think 3+ people, not all one family, sharing) requires formal planning permission. So many rent-to-rent and rent-to-SA people are falling foul of this.

The regulations are about to get tougher too. The forthcoming new (post-Grenfell and post Bolton Cube) ‘Fire Safety Order’ is going to seriously upscale the requirements on fire doors and fire alarm systems in ALL rental properties – whether single let, HMO or serviced accommodation. And whether they need licensing or not.

We expect the existing systems HHSRS and LACORS both to be rewritten and republished in the next couple of years too. (If you don’t know what these are, you need to find out.)  

Since those requirements were written in the mid-noughties, and the advancement of the HMO industry, it is clear that we are seeing more and more demand for high-end HMO rooms – on a comfortable, more safe and more luxurious level.

These are becoming the first-time home for many starting work or graduating from University rather than a stop gap as they were in the past. They’re also popular with older ‘silver-singles’.

We find that most councils don’t understand this market at all (or choose not to).  They still view HMOs as the bottom of the housing food chain with occupants as described by the Judge in the case of Nottingham vs Parr as likely to be ‘immigrant, low income and vulnerable.”

This could not be further from the growing reality of the type of occupants that many readers of this magazine provide high quality HMO accommodation for.

These are more likely to be persons of high intelligence, multinational education, educated to degree or even master’s level. Often working in managerial and even C level positions, and on very respectable incomes.

Yet we see frequent, wilful, enforcement from local authority housing officers based on all HMOs being as per Nottingham vs Parr ‘housing for the most vulnerable in society who have no choice where to live and who need protecting from evil landlords.’

The result is that we see often overzealous, and probably promotion hungry, enforcement officers leaving common sense in the bathroom when they go out to work in the morning in order to aggravate, chastise and prosecute generally good landlords who are following clearly safe guidelines.  

They aim to penalise decent landlords over miniscule things or findings; because they now have the POWER to fine landlords under the civil penalty legislation. They send these out like parking tickets (except these are for up to £30,000) even though frequently  the council itself has not followed due process and procedure on its part.

Have no doubt: You the landlord are guilty until proven innocent under this regime.

I found it quite astounding but in the last year, I’ve worked on many cases where legal sub-landlords had been presented with £25,000 civil penalties where the council has entered premises and has not followed its legal duty nor done the required complete assessment of the property to establish the grounds for its intended prosecution, let alone the issuance of the civil penalty!  

There are many cases that come across my desk and one as recently as last week was a landlord who had being taken to court by the local authority for licensing and management offences relating to operating an unlicensed HMO. Despite the fact it was declared by the landlord that he had rented the property to two sisters and their husbands (Two sisters and two brothers-in-law, that sounds like one family to me).

Yet the over-zealous council decided that these were four persons forming two households and issued a declaration that the house is an HMO and then proceeded to prosecute them under their Additional HMO licensing scheme.

If that nonsense (and I use that legal term advisedly) was to hold water then there are thousands of properties being rented by large families that this council would claim are illegal HMOs.

We are up against Council Nonsense every day!

Another very interesting recent case was where a wealthy landlord had let a property to a company; for them to sublet by the room (rent-to-rent).  In that local Borough, the property would require an Additional HMO licence. The agreement was that the superior landlord would apply for the required licence. He did not even after significant pressure from the sub-landlord.

The sub-landlord company then received a massive Rent Repayment Order from one of the occupants. We expect all the occupants to do likewise, which will end up in a cost of more than £50,000 to the sub-landlord who will then have to litigate against the superior landlord for breach of contract.

The superior landlord and the sub-landlord can both expect to be prosecuted for the Section 72 offence of operating without an HMO licence plus a Section 234 offence for breach of management regulations. These are very serious criminal charges.

This once again illustrated to me just how many landlords are blatantly and wilfully ignoring their legal duty to operate Housing Act compliant licensed properties and to comply with planning legislation.

Landlords and rent-to-rent operators all too often have their heads in the sand. They believe they are innocent; or being unfairly or harshly treated. Despite all logic and reason, they do not accept nor believe that they (or the property company they are running) have committed a criminal offence for which there are expensive and criminal consequences and redress by the local authority and the tenants.

Let me be very clear; when the Housing and Planning Act 2016 came into force it gave councils the power to prosecute you without any reference to the courts, judges nor the Crown Prosecution Service. In effect it gave them the power to be police, judge and jury. That is a frightening amount of power.

The Council is not your friend.

Stop talking to them!

Let me explain: Most days in our office the number of calls coming in that are in response to problems the landlords have with licensing or planning enforcement . It makes us think we’ve put out an advert offering free gold bars!

The stark reality is that they are landlords and agents calling in desperation as they begin to find out that they are in breach of legislation and slowly realise they are guilty. 

What makes it all the more difficult is that it is their decision making thus far that has got them into this trouble. Yet they continue to make decisions which get them into deeper and deeper trouble. 

The common response when we explained to them that they are guilty, is they believe they can just call the local council and negotiate their way out.

They fail to understand that the council is their prosecutor.

If the police accused you of a serious crime, you wouldn’t pop in to tell them everything you know in the hope of negotiating your way out.  You would get expert representation.  Yet this is exactly what landlords do when the council invites them to ‘pop in for a chat’.

What the council has actually invited them to is a PACE (police and criminal evidence) interview which is conducted under caution.  Landlords attend these interviews and spill their hearts out to expertly trained interviewers. Convicting themselves.

Please don’t get me wrong we at Landlord Licensing  & Defence are very much in favour of rogue landlords, bad landlords and illegal landlords being removed or rehabilitated through enforcement of legislation.

But not the increasing onslaught of councils against decent landlords.

We are seeing eye-watering amounts in civil penalty fines being issued by councils. It reminds me very much of American lawsuits where they’ll go for as high a figure as they dare; with the aim of negotiating a settlement through plea bargaining. 

Unfortunately, time after time we see unrepresented landlords (with minimal knowledge of housing law) then attempt to plea bargain against skilled inquisitors. Inevitably it makes their situation worse rather than better.

Last word

If you find you are in trouble with a council remember they are prosecuting you on criminal matters.

Stop talking to them immediately and get professional representation from an expert in Housing Act law and regulations.

Stop talking to them immediately and get professional representation from an expert in Housing Act law and regulations.

If you need help with anything relating to what you’ve just read – or any other problem with councils, licensing, housing law and regulations etc., etc. Contact Us Here   

Des Taylor biography

Des Taylor is HMO Licensing and Compliance Specialist and HMO Landlord who assists Landlords to be compliant through HHSRS, LACORS  and the Housing Regulations and his firm Landlord Licensing and Defence defends Landlords and Letting agents against Civil penalties, Rent Repayment Orders and Court Prosecutions.

Special Offer £71,600 – Rogue Landlord Special

A new case just in. A new slant on property investment:

Here we have a landlord with a 6 Bed HMO in the Northern Home Counties. 

This case is a cookie-cutter duplicate based on a pattern we are seeing on a week in, week out, basis.

It starts with a Council realising that there is a property on their patch which might be an unlicensed HMO. They then go into overdrive.

The format is usually a suspicion (sometimes following a tenant complaint, but increasingly from sophisticated ‘profiling’ of landlords).  The Council then undertakes a property inspection unknown to the landlord. They find or at least claim to have found that the property to indeed be an HMO and then it seems to be: “Great, we can destroy this landlord.”

They ‘invite the landlord in for an ‘interview’ – this is actually a PACE interview which is the same as a police interview under caution (find out more here ) they make out this interview is ‘to discuss the situation’ but the true intent, just like the police, is to get you to incriminate yourself.

Landlords, not realising the danger they are in, sing like canaries – thinking they can ‘explain’ their way out of it. Instead, every little bit of explanation give the council inquisitors more and more evidence to prove you guilt. (Be in no doubt, council environmental health and housing officers are trained in police-style interview techniques).

So now they’ve got you.

You’ve admitted guilt and you’d have been far better off not going to the PACE interview. No Landlord should ever go to a PACE interview without expert representation. 

And here’s what happened to today’s unfortunate Landlord (exactly the same as is happening to landlords daily across the country):

He was awarded Civil Financial Penalties, in lieu of criminal prosecution, for the following criminal offences under the Housing Act 2004:

  • Housing Act 2004 Section 71 ~ No HMO Licence when required 
  • Housing Act 2004 Section 30 ~ Failing to Comply with an Improvement Notice
  • Housing Act 2004 Section 234 ~ Breach of HMO Management Regulations as follows:
    • HMO Regs 3 ~ Failing to ensure that the manager’s name, address and telephone contact number were clearly displayed in a prominent position in the HMO. 
    • HMO Regs 4 ~ Failing to keep all means of fires escape in the HMO free from obstruction and maintained in good order and repair 
    • HMO Regs 5 ~ Permitting the water supply to be interrupted 
    • HMO Regs 7 ~ Failing to ensure all the common parts were maintained in god and clean decorative order and maintained in a safe and working condition 
    • HMO Regs 8 ~ Failing to keep the internal structure and windows in good repair to provide proper ventilation 

This is the emerging pattern. They raise a Civil Financial Penalty fine for each and every one of those line items.

This landlord was hit with Civil Penalty Fines totalling  £71,591.00 equating to 26% of the value of the property.

But that is not all…..

As well as raising these punitive fines, Councils across the patch are now declaring any such Landlord as a “Not Fit and Proper” person to hold a licence. Which means his or her entire business is in tatters because they can no longer be a landlord at all – unless they can find a creative solution with professional help and professional mediation with their prosecutor, the Council..

Running HMOs is a business, and you must have adequate resources and finances to operate, otherwise, you will find that improvement notices for disrepair under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) will follow and then civil penalties and rent repayment orders.

And now, because of this, not only is the landlord disbarred from removing tenants under section 21, the fact that he has operated an unlicensed HMO gives the tenants the right to reclaim up to 12 months’ rent. So that could be another £30,000 or so they will lose. And even though the council gains no direct benefit from a Rent Repayment Order, many are actually advising tenants to make a claim and helping them to fill in the forms purely so that they can see the landlord ‘punished to the full extent possible’.

The stupid thing is that with many of the cases like this, this situation and outcome was completely avoidable, if only the landlord had understood and taken seriously their obligations to comply with the law. 

In cases where the council has been over zealous we frequently broker a deal where the Civil Penalty Fines are significantly reduced and a plan for ongoing compliance with a different license holder put in place.

But in many of the cases we see, the landlord has brought this upon themselves by believing that the law of the land does not apply to them. It does!  Many seem to believe that they can apply the much more relaxed and dangerous customs and practices of other countries here in England. They cannot!

Unfortunately, if these landlords continue to evade and ignore the law then these landlords need to be removed from the market.

Most of this is not new law or new regulation by the way. The entire list of criminal offences listed above were introduced in the Housing Act 2004 so you’ve had seventeen years to get it right!

So here’s the simple message. If you don’t want to get fines in the region of £70,000 per property, be declared a Not Fit and Proper Person and see your entire business in tatters:

  1. Do not speak to the council – you’re probably guilty just like the landlord above, and they will get you to self incriminate
  2. Get your property fully HHSRS compliant as an emergency measure.
  3. If it needs licensing, get it licensed the second it is compliant but get professional help to avoid incriminating yourself

Licensing scheme has £600 surcharge for ‘falling short on standards’

12 Mar 2020

A local authority has taken the unusual step of saying that a £600 surcharge will be added to the licensing costs of any landlord who fails to apply in time or who “falls short with other housing safety issues.”

Cherwell council says landlords who are found operating unlicensed HMOs, or who are not complying with the conditions of their current licence, will be charged up to £600 more for a new licence. 

Non-compliant landlords can expect to pay up to £1,050 for a new licence, whereas compliant landlords can renew a five-year licence from £450 – or £650 for first time applications.

A council spokesman says: “The new fees structure encourages landlords to do the right thing for their tenants. Those who are doing well get rewarded, but anyone who chooses not to comply will pay a higher cost for their HMO licence.”

He adds: “The decision is backed up by a thorough review of what the real costs to the taxpayer are of licensing and enforcement activity. But the big picture is that we are working really hard to ensure this important sector of our housing market is high performing and well regulated.” 

The council is also to offer what it calls “advisory visits” to landlords thinking of operating an HMO – for a fee.

Administrative fees charged for improvement notices, emergency remedial action and other enforcement measures are increased from £200 to £450.

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County Durham local authority to impose county-wide Selective Licensing

02 Mar 2020

Hot on the heels of the government refusing blanket selective licence schemes in Liverpool and Brent, County Durham has decided to try to get on the money making merry-go-round under the guise of “improving housing standards”.

County Durham local authority wants selective licensing across the county “which would ensure good standards of private rental properties” and “reduce anti-social behaviour.”

However the  Residential Landlords Association has recently stated that such licensing schemes are ineffective and are brought in by councils who want to be seen to be doing something to tackle criminal landlords without actually doing anything to root them out.

The scheme would apply to approximately 51,000 properties in areas where there is low demand, or where there is a significant or persistent problem caused by anti-social behaviour, poor property conditions, or high levels of migration, deprivation or crime.

Landlords would need to apply for a licence for each residential property they rent out in a designated area, and show they have adequate management arrangements in place. A licence will last for five years.

Consultation is going on until the end of Monday April 27.

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