A strange case came my way today and I thought it a grand example of the sort of world I move in and an insight into the Kafkaesque madness that is the stock in trade of my day.
- Fanny; the woman who sets up tenancies for homelessness applicants with PRS landlords.
- Tony: The Environmental Health Officer responsible for serving notices on landlords who break the rules.
- Steve; The landlord
- Becky; the tenant.
- Me: legal geezer, bewitched, bothered and bewildered
Over Xmas Becky gets taken into temporary accommodation because she can’t stay in her property, set up by Fanny, because Tony only has only 1 toilet installed, a macerating device that chews things up rather than flushing them away and it has broken down.
Becky calls environmental health who do a visit and immediately serve an emergency prohibition order on Tony’s bog, officially making it a health hazard so we have to take her into temporary accommodation (B&B) while we all sort out the legal position.
Steve is incensed that Becky called the council in on him and refuses to replace the macerating device with a normal flush one, unless Becky meets him half-way with the costs, which he estimates at £700. Meanwhile we have Becky in expensive temporary accommodation while we try to figure out which responsibility legally belongs to whom.
Fanny asks me for my view. I am clueless so I call Tony. He confirms their action, re; the emergency prohibition order and, adding that the fact that the defective bog in question causes a public health hazard, which makes it what is termed a ‘Cat 1 Hazard’, a danger to life and limb, technically. Steve will have to obey the order and replace the toilet but it will have to be a normal flush one to qualify.
I ask Tony the difference, legally speaking, between the 2 bogs. He tells me……
“Macerating toilets are usually installed in basements, where a gravity flush system isn’t very effective, or a loft conversion, where people don’t want to run a bulky waste pipe through the house. There is nothing wrong with macerating toilets but they mustn’t be the only toilet source, only a secondary one and especially not in rented accommodation”
I ask him what the specific problem is with rented homes and he tells me “There is nothing wrong with them on their own per se, but if people flush anything other than bodily waste and toilet paper they are liable to jam. Another reason is where electricity meters are on a key, which run out periodically, leaving the toilet inactive and liable to back flow, which again creates a health nuisance. Periodic bills negating that particular problem”.
I asked him if it would still be liable to an emergency prohibition order if the property were residential and not rented and he says simply “Yes”. It’s a public health issue.
I told him about a girlfriend I once went out with who had a macerating toilet that broke down and wasn’t a pleasant problem to fix. He asked me what else I remembered about it. I said “She had spectacularly long legs and a broken toilet” to which he replied “The age of romance is not dead”.
Fanny enters the play again at this point and asks where it leaves us. If Steve installs a flush toilet can we put her back in as suitable accommodation and cancel the temporary accommodation OR does Steve have to pay for the accommodation while he gets the matter sorted? Good question.
If Steve installs a flush toilet, the property once again becomes inhabitable but the thing is, if he insists on installing another macerating toilet, which he is insisting on, then he will still be in breach of the prohibition order.
I call Tony back and ask him if a macerating toilet would still be a breach of the prohibition order if he doesn’t intend to rent it out again?
Tony says “It would still be a breach of the order and macerating toilets aren’t suitable as a sole toilet source even in privately occupied accommodation, however…..if the owner exercises caution and the electricity meter is quarterly, not on a key, then that would minimise the problem and a prohibition order would probably be considered a bit extreme”.
Now my view is that as Steve bravely decided to work with us we shouldn’t just walk away and wash our hands of things (excuse the pun) but he is being a bit of a hard arse on this himself, which isn’t helping matters. On the one hand insisting that Becky meet half the cost but also saying that if she doesn’t he will simply install a similar device, which won’t comply with the prohibition order and make it look like we are crucifying someone who we are supposed to be working with.
If Steve installs a flushing toilet then that will be an end to it. Becky could then move back in, but he is insisting she pay half the cost of a new macerating toilet, which, even if done, would still leave him in breach of the prohibition order even if she doesn’t re-occupy and he moves back in himself. Although, Environmental health have intimated that they wouldn’t really prioritise the matter if the property returned to a residential dwelling on a quarterly bill.
What the hell do you say to people in these situations? What would you advise?
What seems to be driving this is simply a fall out between 2 individuals, locked into a business agreement between themselves and the legal principles put in place to ensure the smooth running of that relationship is about as relevant as using the rules from a game of Monopoly to referee a bout of hide & Seek.
So Becky is safely ensconced in expensive temporary accommodation, paid for by the council, Steve still won’t comply with the prohibition order insisting that the most he will do is replace the macerating toilet, Environmental health waver over whether they will prosecute on the order depending on if he re-lets or re-occupies, and me? I stare into space, dreaming of my upcoming weekend away in the Lake District with Frazzy, my Cousin, my sister and extended family…..which at the moment seems the only sane response.
About Ben Reeve-Lewis
Ben Reeve-Lewis has worked in Landlord-Tenant law since 1987. He operates variously as a Tenancy Relations Officer, a housing blogger, particularly on Tessa Shepperson's Landlord Law Blog, a housing law trainer for the Chartered Institute of Housing and a broadcaster. In his time he has been a landlord, a tenant, a letting agent and a defender of mortgage repossession cases. There isn't much left in housing for him to have had experience of