A Tale of Two Toilets

by Ben Reeve-Lewis

11:40 AM, 5th January 2012
About 8 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

Ben Reeve-Lewis

8:33 AM, 6th January 2012
About 8 years ago

I admit he isnt making life easy for himself but he isnt the only landlord I deal with who is cutting off his nose to spite his face and so I'm not that incensed by it. I feel like a ptient old mum sometimes, just sighing and untangling the mess they have gotten themselves into.

So many landlords do things like this. They feel wronged by their tenant and under attack from the council and so they dig their heels in even though they know they have started a fight in which they will come off worse.

I'm going around to see him later today to see if I can build a bit of rapport and a bit of common sense

Mark Alexander

9:15 AM, 6th January 2012
About 8 years ago

Maybe you should refer him to Property118 and ask him to read our articles. I wonder what he would say if he were to read this one?

Ben Reeve-Lewis

10:37 AM, 6th January 2012
About 8 years ago

Funnily enough I was talking about the case to someone at work who doesn’t do a job like mine and he just couldn’t get his head around it. He couldn’t see why a landlord would act in a way that made life hard for himself but as I pointed out to him this has nothing to do with common sense or good business, he is just angry and in a huff. He isn’t actually a bad fella at all, just being a silly billy. This is my problem with the notion of rogue landlords. If I took a hard line on every bit of daft landlord behaviour I would permanently be in court

Ian Ringrose

15:28 PM, 6th January 2012
About 8 years ago

I see it as much worse when a landlord like this fails to
provide anywhere close to a reasonable home to a tenant, then ANYTHING a landlord does when a tenant that
has not paid the rent, or messed up the landlord’s property.

16:56 PM, 6th January 2012
About 8 years ago

Perhaps Ben you could advise him that until a 'proper' toilet has been installed you will be unable to refer your clients to that particualer property.
That should concentrate his mind.
Maybe he could obtain some sort of grant or loan or something from the council to assist this situation on the basis that then the council won't have to fund temporary accommodation when the masceration toilet goes wrong AGAIN!

17:04 PM, 6th January 2012
About 8 years ago

Pehaps a lot of this landlord intransigence is due to straitened times and they don't have the resources to have things done which you as aTRO want done.
Perhaps if the council provide you with a little fighting fund to assist landlords with correct provision then this would save the council more in TA not being required.
It could be a formal loan with even a charge applied to the legal title by the council.
I know if I were such a landlord I would take the offer up immediately.

Ben Reeve-Lewis

18:26 PM, 6th January 2012
About 8 years ago

Well this is the angle we have taken Paul. We have told him that we won’t refer people for a re-let unless he complies but the thing is, the prohibition order is based on him installing a flushing toilet, regardless of whether or not he lets it out or moves in himself because a macerating toilet as a single source of waste disposal, which is more prone to failure, is considered more of a health risk when there isn’t an alternative to hand. So legally he can’t get out of it anyway. The only difference being that EH hinted that they wouldn’t take such a hard line if it wasn’t in rented accommodation.
 
The reason he hasn’t done it so far is because it is situated in a particular place in the house whereby to fit a flushing version would entail installing new waste systems to cover the distance to the outside, which would cost thousands  - I imagine that is both his sticking point and reason for fitting a macerating toilet in the first place.
 
My question, to which I don’t yet have an answer is, if he didn’t re-let would EH pursue the prohibition order or let it go because the tenant has moved out? AND if they did let it go and he then subsequently re-let, would we ever know about it if it wasn’t to one of our tenants?
 
And Shelter put pressure on us to prosecute more landlords while our time is taken up dealing with this B***ocks.
 
And lets not forget that this is an otherwise decent landlord who is working with us. We are trying to help him out but it is difficult when positions become entrenched, us with our intractable prohibition order and him with his bog fetish.

23:06 PM, 6th January 2012
About 8 years ago

If he has done the unfit building work in the last few years
building regs will issues an enforcement notice regardless of what EH does, he
will also have to pay building regs to inspect the fix.   So I think a “tip off” to your building regs
department from your EH department would be a good way of stopping him
inflicting it on another tenant.    

John Bolland

12:40 PM, 9th January 2012
About 8 years ago

Just another example of a lot of unreasonable people making a mountain out of a molehill!!!

16:27 PM, 10th January 2012
About 8 years ago

Who would want to install a mascerator unless there is a damn good reason for it. Steve probably didnt know the rule at the time and took the cheapest way out as we all would. Thats the path of least resistance. 

But now that he has been told by an enforcement agency, the only obvious and smart thing to do is to comply - unless the cost is so prohibitive as to make it unviable. Then his only realistic option is to move in himself or to shut the place up permanently - as I imagine EH is unlikely to exercise restraint if he relets the property without complying with the order.

Any damn fool knows it is a futile, expensive and painful exercise to fall foul of the system - however fair or unfair, however reasonable or unreasonable. So this thing got to be done sooner or later. We are all in this to make a living. Just go with the path of least resistance. Less painful that way. Unless Steve has an ego that eclipse his intelligence, he might want to consider a more common sense solution. 

Offering to limit the financial damage to just the work for the flush toilet might help cool tempers. After all, that will make the place also saleable.

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