A Tale of Two Toilets

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

11:40 AM, 5th January 2012
About 7 years ago

A Tale of Two Toilets

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A Tale of Two Toilets

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.

Cast:

  • 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.



Comments

Sharon Crossland

12:44 PM, 5th January 2012
About 7 years ago

Ben,

Nicely written...and I so understand! Did Becky approach the landlord first on this or did she go straight to environmental health?

Mark Alexander

12:59 PM, 5th January 2012
About 7 years ago

I always understood it to be the landlords responsibility to accommodate the tenant if the property became uninhabitable. If Steve (the landlord) is reading this ...... sorry mate, but I'd get the flushing loo installed PDQ if I were you. I had a client with a major roof problem last year. I was concerned for my tenants safety and that of their new baby so I offered to pay for a B&B whilst the job was sorted. They refused and I got them to sign a waiver confirming that I had offered just in case anything did go wrong.I can see why the Council are paying the bill but I can't see why the cost of the temporary accommodation can't be passed onto Steve the landlord. At best, if he serves a section 21 notice today he's liable for the cost of the temporary accommodation for at least two months. He will still need to fix the loo though, and find a new tenant if he decides not to move back in himself, so he might as well just accept that he's up to his neck in it, sort out the crap and stop taking the P (puns intended).

PS - if he's not feeling too flush it will still be cheaper to get the job done and pay on credit.

PPS - there are lots of Plumbers you could refer him to in our Directory 😉

HMOLandlady

13:12 PM, 5th January 2012
About 7 years ago

Surely this is a matter of intelligence.  EVERYONE knows that macerating loos can be a liability and, by the fact there are extra mechanisms and the need for electricity to operate the thing, it's bound to go wrong by the Law of Sod.  The golden rule for any landlord is "only install items that can be repaired or replaced easily and cheaply".  I can't believe he thought it would be OK in the first place, but then again...............

Ben Reeve-Lewis

13:21 PM, 5th January 2012
About 7 years ago

@Sharon, I don’t know who she went to first or why, it may have been that the toilet was broken in which case it would be the landlord’s responsibility under section 11 of the Landlord and Tenant Act 1985 but only once put on notice of the repair. If she went direct to EHO then I can understand why the landlord was miffed but in truth a repair doesn’t become an obligation until the landlord has been told about it.
 
 
@Mark there is no statute that says a landlord must pay for temporary accommodation, it is more a question of reasonableness. Many tenants scream from the rooftops that they cant possible stay in a property while the ceiling is being pulled down or the bedroom floor being lifted but as we always point out, if it was your own house you would work around it. We only expect a tenant to move out if for instance chemicals are being used or another danger is created by the works.
 
 
Having said that, the problem our end is more in the administration of the thing. The council will usually step in to sort out what is normally an emergency, but housing provision is a different directorate from finance who would arrange for the landlord to pay for it, so the whole exercise becomes so mired in bureaucracy, especially if the landlord is reluctant to comply that it isn’t worth the bother.
 
 
When EHO served the prohibition order it immediately meant that legally the tenant couldn’t stay there. If I had been involved before service of the order I would have grabbed all parties and tried to broker a less drastic solution and stop Steve digging his heels in and complicating matters further but it didn’t work out that way. I have to know untangle the mess

Ben Reeve-Lewis

14:38 PM, 5th January 2012
About 7 years ago

The voice of experience and a person fed up with repairs haha On your logic why not install a sawdust outhouse? Tightwad!!!!

To be honest though I had never heard of them until I went out with leggy woman and I havent came across one since and saw the offending article stripped down to its bare bones in her back garden....not a pretty sight.

Ian Ringrose

15:31 PM, 5th January 2012
About 7 years ago

As I recall the building regs says you must have
at least one “normal” toilet, so you
can’t have all your toilets on macerating device.   I think this is so there is at least one toilet
that can be used in a power cut.

 

You need to get building reg approval to change the toilet setup in a
home.   So you can set the building reg
people on to the landlord as well.  His
mortgage lender may also be interested in the fact that he is not keeping to
building regs.

 

Most ACT say the tenant must clear a toilet if they block it by miss-using
it, ladies often put items down toilets that would block a macerating device. 

 

Also way can’t a chemical toilet be used in the short term?   Social services departments provide them
when someone is sent home from hospital and can’t get to the normal
toilet.  I would say that the tenant should
have just brought one, as she has a duty to minimize her loses.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

16:36 PM, 5th January 2012
About 7 years ago

The difficulty for us isnt so much in enforcing the law. The landlord in question is one of our locals who supplies us with properties for our placements, the last thing I want to do is alienate him. OK he has acted rashly and the toilet situation should have been checked at the start but  serving a prohibition order seems a bit of a bull in a china shop approach to me. Just because he has gotten himself into this situation to a certain extent doesnt mean we cant help him find a way out.

This is the kind of approach I keep banging on about that needs to become endemic if everyone is to work together, not just us running around with a clipboard, an ID badge and a moral high horse to straddle in a manly way

20:15 PM, 5th January 2012
About 7 years ago

This landlord; how long has he been in the game!
Why do you think water closets have been in use for over 100 years.
Maybe because they were a seismic leap in public health.
This landlord needs to stop navel gazing; he is in breach of contract in NOT providing the services that the rent is paying for.
He is liable for any expenditure concerning non-availability of items in the property; not the council.
To obviate problems occurring in the future; which they will as quoted above in the Law of Sod!!, he should get his a--e into gear, install a 'proper' toilet and have done with the ridiculous situation he is putting himself in and all the other affected parties.Any landlord with an ounce of common sense would know that he is in breach of building regs.
Did he not think to ask the local council of what he was thinking of doing before he did it?
He could have saved himself a whole heap of trouble if he had have done, as he would have an on-site inspection by a council officer and a reply  in writing.
He may help you out with some of your cases;  but do you really need help of his kind!?
As for stating that the tenant should pay towards the cost of a 'proper' toilet this landlord wants his head examining, as he is a complete idiot!

Ben Reeve-Lewis

22:30 PM, 5th January 2012
About 7 years ago

Haha Blimey, your harder than me and I’m a TRO…..where’s your compassion man????

Mark Alexander

7:38 AM, 6th January 2012
About 7 years ago

Paul just says it as it sees it and I too have very little compassion for landlord Steve on this one.

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