23 Oct 2020

Following the recent revelation that the University of Warwick is dumping hundreds of private landlords in favour of its own student accommodation , it has today come to light that as part of this strategy it appears to have deliberately put landlords subject to Coventry City Council’s controversial Additional Licensing scheme at risk of prosecution and massive fines.

These landlords have historically signed-over their properties to the University of Warwick under its ‘Head Lease Scheme’ where the University handled all aspects of managing each property for its owner.

The University announced last month that it was dumping all its Head Lease Scheme private property owners and handing-back their properties. Meaning that owners would then have to start managing properties themselves as Landlords, which many are not equipped to do.

In taking back properties, owners have asked the University for various documents to enable them to take over the management. They have been shocked to find the University saying, “we have no HMO licence for your property.” This despite the fact that all houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) in the City have been required to have an HMO licence since 4th May 2020.

As the University works unduly hand-in-glove with the City Council by funding the employment costs of two housing enforcement officers, we believe; it will be very interesting to see whether the City Council’s Licensing department imposes Civil Financial Penalty fines on the University, for the Criminal Act of failing to licence HMOs, with the same zealous ferver that they prosecute private landlords.  

They normally fine private landlords £8,000 to £9,000 per unlicensed HMO and add many further £1,000s to this by ‘finding’ breaches of the HMO management regulations. We have seen them raise fines in the region of £60,000 per property on many occasions.

“We are aware that Coventry City Council has consciously mislead some of these affected landlords that they were responsible for the failure to have licenced these HMOs (and therefore liable to prosecution or fines),” said Phil Turtle, compliance director with Landlord Licensing & Defence.

“However, fortunately we are able to advise landlords that this is incorrect and that, as the University has been receiving the rent from the students (under what is in effect a Rent-to-Rent scheme), Section 263 of the Housing Act 2004 squarely makes the receiver of the rent (i.e. the University of Warwick) the party liable to be prosecuted for the Criminal Act of failing to licence an HMO.”

Not only does the University of Warwick appear to have acted criminally in not licensing these properties it further appears to have done this deliberately, because of its plan for the divesting of all their private landlords.  One migh conjecture that it was not wanting to hand over £1,000 per property in licence fees.

Interestingly the University may have scored a massive own-goal because, by operating illegal unlicensed HMOs,

Landlords who operate unlicensed HMOs not only risk big fine but also Rent Repayment Orders of up to a year’s rent per tenant.

Since 4th May 2020 the Coventry City Council Additional Licensing scheme has been in place.

Like all local authorities, Coventry City Council delights in telling and assisting tenants of Private landlords that they can obtain Rent Repayment Orders. Councils usually claim, “we have a statutory obligation to inform and assist tenants to take this punitive action against landlords as a form of punishment”. 

Let’s see if Coventry City Council’s licensing department put the same zeal into prosecuting the University for failure to licence, and into telling eligible tenants of their University pals to take the same punitive and aggressive Rent Repayment Order action against the University!

Any landlord affected or worried that they may be affected by this licensing scandal should contact expert help at Landlord Licensing & Defence or phone 0208 088 0788 without delay.

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