Confessions of a Council HMO Enforcement Officer

Confessions of a Council HMO Enforcement Officer

10:07 AM, 11th November 2021, About 3 weeks ago 7

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Today we had an unusual communication: This morning was one of those mornings where you receive a message and punch your fist in the air with delight – discovering that there are still some good, discipline-fashioned Enforcement Officers standing up and enforcing in the right way.

This sort of good news that never makes the headlines. So we are, Landlord Licensing & Defence making it headlines for him. (anonymously, of course, to protect his job).

Astonishingly, here you see us praising an excellent council officer on fine work!  And yes, we should. Because, sadly, this breed of public servant is becoming extinct faster than a superstar can fly a private jet to a climate change summit.

For council Enforcement Officers, there is the challenge of how to enforce ‘Fairly and Reasonably’. It is a particular challenge when it comes to HMOs, which have been illegally sub-let, unbeknownst to the landlords, by tenants who have no regard for housing law.

Council Enforcement Officers live with constant pressure from the council Chief Financial Officer to bring in revenues in the form of licensing, fines and enforcement notice fees. So much pressure to be constantly in the press and fanning the council’s ego about the impressive fines they have managed to impose.

It is such as shame that the Old Guard of good housing officers, giving sage advice and care, is being changed faster in councils than Boris Johnson changes wives and cabinet ministers.

This account is brought to you from one of the best council enforcement officers in the country. An officer who is motivated by doing things right, apportioning the effort and blame where is due, and doing things how we as citizens and landlords of old are used to things being done:  Properly.

Here is Peter Proper’s account (name changed to protect the officer), of a situation he has just attended to. It is a situation that many landlords find themselves in and receive heavy fines for. And often suffer mental health issues as a result.

Thankfully, Peter subscribes to the Landlord Licensing & Defence’s school of thought and action, which is that education as part of enforcement is everything, and something no money nor fines can buy.

The message I received this morning was this:

Hi Des,

Thought I should drop you a line just to balance things because as you know, and I can demonstrate that there are pragmatic council Enforcement Officers out there that can come to their own conclusions to find the best course of action and are not enforcement money hungry.

The council was contacted by a health worker concerned with the conditions that she had found a mother and baby were living in.

To that, I made the decision to inspect as you expect, and I said I would pop in and see her.

 Following standard procedure and to save a journey where access might be refused for any number of reasons, I sent the landlord the Sec 239 Notice (Notice of Access by Local Authority) to the Landlord and Occupiers  

On arrival and inspection, I found a HMO with 7 people in there.

The Landlord did not attend the inspection and was unresponsive to letters. 

He had been sent official requests for details of ownership, tenancies, occupiers, mortgagee etc and to supply certificates such as EICR etc. sent s16 and EICR request. 

The EPC bore no relation to what was in the property.

Eventually, via some investigation work, I found a contact number for the landlord and made contact at a time when he wasn’t expecting a call.

We had a discussion. The landlord already has in place planning permission to turn the property into 2 flats, and as usual, said the issue was down to the Foreign National car wash workers living there sub-letting to friends.

We had the usual discussion of he should be aware of who is using his property.

The result is I have issued him with an HMO Declaration Notice (Section 255 Housing Act 2004) whilst he has agreed to get his paperwork in order to legally evict the tenants.

It has been left that I would give him 2 months to get his paperwork in order, so I could see the process is moving on.

There were no issues of disrepair in the property that I was concerned about.

In my opinion and the circumstances, I felt this was the best possible course of action for the landlord and the tenants. 

This council and staff aren’t all out looking for easy headlines, but to be fair the fella was caught bang to rights.

Speak soon.   Peter.

Doing the best thing
As you can see this officer knows what he is doing. He established the circumstances and then took measured and appropriate action which will allow the matter to be resolved properly.

His solution won’t make headlines. It won’t make the council enforcement coffers grow. What it will do is solve an issue and move things forward. It is the right and proper solution.

As two flats, this property will unlikely get rented in the same way again.

Very important warning

This situation is far more common than you realise: Unfortunately, most council officers are not like Peter anymore.  If you find yourself in a situation like this, stay silent with the local authority and seek professional advice from firms like Landlord Licensing & Defence – who more and more councils are revering for their professional way of solving messy situations.

In this last year we have dealt with dozens of similar issues for landlords, solving the issues that come from them.

“The Foreign National workers living there are sub-letting to friends”. 

This is  very common thread. It happens all the time. So, as landlords with large residential property, when you hear those words, it tells you that regular inspections, and understanding of who is living in your house, is essential.

One landlord, who we discussed a similar situation with, thought he could handle his own defence.  But the more he spoke the worse it got. The more he replied to the council, the harder they became with enforcement.

The landlord had no understanding that it was not just the HMO people who were observing his house: It was the Housing Enforcement, the Gang Master Squad, the Anti Modern Slavery Squad, Home Office and others.

The landlord got massive fines. The council got masses of column centimetres in the press. The landlord is now a ‘Celebrity Rogue Landlord’ and can no longer operate property in that council’s area. He will never be able to hold a property licence again.

He also has to operate in a different region where no licensing scheme operates (yet), he is now like a bandit on the run.

Gone is the Range Rover, gone are the big houses he rented to large families working at the local factory. Only small houses now, on simple buy to let rentals, under full agency management with quarterly inspections.

Another was a City Broker, with 5 fictitious employees, who rented a property through a letting agent.

The broker then sublet by dividing up rooms and creating a self-contained flat inside the house.  He then sub-let to 10 people in total in a 4 bed three reception room family house.

Breaches of planning, licensing and management regulations along with overcrowding were all being committed. And the landlord was held responsible.

The landlord called us at Landlord Licensing & Defence for help and we had it all solved in 4 days flat.

Without any council intervention needed, and all done and dusted before any enforcement action could be launched or fines imposed.  Not as fast as Dominic Cummings can get to Durham to test his eyesight, but pretty fast all the same.

Unwitting HMO

There are so many people renting out three/four bed houses with two reception rooms to tenants who then secretly sub-let to their friends. Turning your house into an illegal HMO for which you, the landlord, are held responsible.

None of these sub-let properties will likely meet any regulations or compliance requirements.

Take my advice: get out and do an inspection of your properties, give tenants the legally required 24 hours’ notice and go check your properties.

Read this to see if your property could fall into that trap: https://landlordsdefence.co.uk/is-my-rental-property-an-unwitting-or-accidental-hmo/ or give us a call on 0208 088 3400.

The stories we have of situations like these are many and today I only tell you three.

Most importantly before you contact anyone about such illegal subletting, ensure that, as George S Clason author of The Richest Man in Babylon said:

“Seek advice from those who are competent through their experience to give it”.

Landlord Licensing & Defence has been dealing with such matters competently and achieving resolution without enforcement by the local authority for many years and can assist you if you find yourself in this situation.

 

Whatever you do STAY SILENT WITH THE COUNCIL until you have been advised correctly and competently.



Comments

by David Price

11:57 AM, 11th November 2021, About 3 weeks ago

I have an equally good and experienced environmental health officer with whom I work closely. We have an amicable professional relationship which enables us both to achieve success.

by Ofer Moses

14:50 PM, 12th November 2021, About 2 weeks ago

I have recently applied for selective licensing as required by my Borough.
On supplying relevant documents, they have rejected the EICR saying the contractor is not registered.
I checked this out, and indeed the contractor is registered with NICEIC for installation but not for inspections.
The contractor claims the council are wrong and refuses to reimburse the cost for the EICR on 3 properties.
My question is, was the contractor acting unlawfully in providing EICR whilst not being registered?
I need to know if and how I can claim this money back as I now have to employ a registered contractor to reinspect the property and provide a EICR
All replies are appreciated.

by Ian Narbeth

16:15 PM, 12th November 2021, About 2 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Ofer Moses at 12/11/2021 - 14:50
Ofer, you should raise this as a new thread rather than this which is about Councils prosecuting landlords. It sounds as if your Council are very diligent to pick this up.

by Ofer Moses

16:51 PM, 12th November 2021, About 2 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Ian Narbeth at 12/11/2021 - 16:15
Thanks Ian, however I'm not sure how to start a new thread on this forum

by Ian Narbeth

16:55 PM, 12th November 2021, About 2 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Ofer Moses at 12/11/2021 - 16:51
Hi Ofer you can create a discussion here: https://www.property118.com/discussions-forum/

by Ofer Moses

19:31 PM, 12th November 2021, About 2 weeks ago

Reply to the comment left by Ian Narbeth at 12/11/2021 - 16:55
Hi Ian,
Many thanks, hoping to get some response.

by Martin S

10:20 AM, 13th November 2021, About 2 weeks ago

Nice to hear some good feedback about Environmental Health Officers for a change. Although I'm now retired, I've previously worked at various English Councils, mainly in Housing & Pollution, and have to say that most people I've ever worked with have been good people, especially those of us at foot soldier level.
I guess that I was lucky to have worked in housing before the advent of the Housing Health & Safety system, which brought in a tick box culture. Prior to that, we could meet Landlords on site (who were often surprised to hear that I was a Landlord too), and run through everything face to face, followed up by the paperwork/requirements.
People were generally already aware of what was required of them, but needed a nudge in the right direction, or educating if they didn't. Council finances, or lack of them, were never a consideration, although I'm sure this has long since changed.
Then there was always the hard core of Landlords, who didn't want to spend money on their properties, disregarded tenants requirements and needs, who took up a disproportionate amount of our time, and frequently didn't show up for on site meetings, or sent their representative, rather than show their own faces.
As we all know, the majority of landlords and tenants have a good working relationship, and we never heard from them, but the service is still very much required, because as we know, there are still bad landlords and tenants out there.


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