Council Enforcement – YELLING WHAT AN EARTH I WAS PLAYING AT?

Council Enforcement – YELLING WHAT AN EARTH I WAS PLAYING AT?

8:05 AM, 9th August 2021, About 2 months ago 17

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We purchased a fully licensed HMO a couple of years ago and soon after purchasing we obtained our own HMO licence which permitted 5 rooms (1 person in each room). The property also comprised of communal Kitchen and Bathroom. Having rented the property just over 16 months and the fact we had a number of voids we decided to convert the property (only internal modifications) under Section 257 self-contained studios which offered facilities for both bathroom and kitchen. The number of studios converted from the whole building is 4. (previous communal bathroom and kitchen have been incorporated into studios and no longer exists individually)

Currently, 2 of them are vacant and 2 of them rented. The lady on basement studio has raised a complaint to Council raising concerns for health and safety and lack of ventilation. Accordingly, she invited the Enforcement officer at her studio without my knowledge. The enforcement officer contacted me on the phone with an opening gambit, YELLING WHAT AN EARTH I WAS PLAYING AT?

I initially did not know who was ringing me until he stopped shouting. He then went on to say, you had an HMO licence, and you changed the layout without our knowledge and smoke alarms are not interlinked with the rest of the studios and the kitchen should be at the back not by the entrance.

Naturally, I shouted back at him and asked him to calm down and stated only 2 of studios are rented and other 2 are vacant. He stated it did not matter and told me he would like to re visit next week and has arranged to meet me. I am rather confused for the following reasons:

-We have Licence for 5 people we have changed layout to bigger amenity space and reduced number of people than we were permitted to. In addition, as the number of people are less than 5, did we need to consult them before doing so?

-Section 257 allows conversions without Building Control input as long as we have adhered to HMO regulation which we have by installing Smoke Alarms, Heat Detectors, Emergency Lighting, Fire Doors, Gas Safe Installation of Boiler and Cylinder and Emergency Exit.

I have spoken to the tenant in question as to why she has complained, if she was not happy she should have had contacted me. She responded that having spoken to her colleagues she was advised to speak to Council, and she has exercised her rights by doing so and she wanted to ensure that everything was done correctly. She then asked if I had a correct Licence in place and I questioned her motive to which she responded it is just safety. I offered her an immediate early termination, and she flatly declined by saying that she is not going to make any decision until Council’s findings. I suspect she may be after a RRO? (Rent Repayment Order) she has been with us for 4 months only.

The Council has now served me with formal notice of entry and now by email requested me to provide them with current tenancy agreements as well as Floor plans.

I would appreciate good constructive advice. Thank you.

Simon



Comments

by Neil Patterson

8:11 AM, 9th August 2021, About 2 months ago

Hi Simon,

I would contact Landlord Licensing and Defence asap >> https://landlordsdefence.co.uk/contact

by David Judd

9:09 AM, 9th August 2021, About 2 months ago

To make any changes to an HMO license at all you need to ask the council - any changes. You changed the layout without asking and thats what has got you into hot water. Nothing you can do, you will have to submit a new application, and maybe, just maybe get a sympathetic ear, otherwise, you will have to pay another fee. He does make valid points however, a kitchen by the front door if this is the only access point is a no no - fire risk

by Peter

9:43 AM, 9th August 2021, About 2 months ago

Morning Simon,

I’m really to sorry to say that I think that apart from your suspicious being correct that your tenant will be looking for a rent repayment order, I also think that the council is looking to fine you. If they are successful, I suspect it could be many thousands. Please be advised that the councils keep the fines that they impose on you and so they are very motivated for a successful outcome.

For this reason I would take this very seriously and I concur with the advice given by Neil Patterson to contact the Landlord Licensing and Defence. Alternatively or perhaps additionally, try and find a local solicitor who is expert in this particular area.

Additionally, please read your license very carefully in order to ascertain on what grounds the council are likely to prosecute. Forewarned is forearmed. You may find some useful relevant information in the LACORS booklet which is available from the Internet free of charge.

Lastly, please be aware that if and when when they invite you in for ”A friendly chat“ it is likely to be an on the record interview. The purpose of which will be to extract information from you to be used against you for prosecution. As far as I know, it is not an arrestable offence and so you are under no obligation to attend. However, with regard to attending, somebody more experienced than me should be able to advise you whether refusing an interview is wise or not.

Good luck, Peter

by Des Taylor & Phil Turtle, Landlord Licensing & Defence

10:05 AM, 9th August 2021, About 2 months ago

Thanks Neil

Oddly we had an enquiry from a different landlord with exactly the same scenario.

Our recommendation would be that

1. The landlord had indeed broken the law by failing to comply with a licence condition

2. The property appears to be, now, a s257 converted building and possibly not a s254 ‘Normal HMO’. Only a detailed inspection would confirm which it is. Also which he needs it to be in order to minimise prosecution /fines is a matter he needs expert advice on

3. If it’s now a s257 and not s254 it’s likely to be in breach of planning as well as licensing

4. Whichever type of HMO it is, it falls under HMO Management Regulations and the council will be intending to apply civil penalties as close to £30,000 as they possibly can

5. That the landlord should not talk to the council as they are now in full enforcement mode and intent on raising massive civil penalty fines. Their only interest in talking to him will be to obtain evidence and self-incrimination.

6. He should further not talk to the tenant who intends to get a years rent back. Again he should use professional representation.

7. Landlords Defence should attend the property before the council and conduct a full HHSRS survey so that the landlords has fully documented evidence for his defence

8. Landlords Defence and not the landlord should meet the council on site to avoid the probability of self incrimination and to ensure that the council stick to Proper process and procedure

This of course comes at a cost and although tiny in relation to massive potential costs up to £40,000-60,000 such as

* fine for breaching licence
* fine for breaching Regulation 4
* Rent Repayment Order

the landlord who decided that he was, like so many landlords, not prepared to pay for professional help and would instead “wait and see what the council says” by which tine of course he will not have and contemporaneous evidence or advice with which to defend.

Landlords seem to have no comprehension of the might of the council, their resources and the depth of their pockets when they decide to “get” a landlord.

The landlord posting here seems to think that free advice on this portal and maybe on other social media is what he needs.

Sadly as so many landlords find, free advice is the most expensive advice in the end. Both financially and in the destruction by the council of their mental health.

by David Price

10:29 AM, 9th August 2021, About 2 months ago

When you meet the enforcement officer record everything overtly on your smart phone, preferably video, and separately covertly using a second device, just in case the officer objects to overt recording. If he shouts lower your voice until it becomes a whisper, the more he shouts the softer your speech.

Ask, very politely, to see his official identification and take a photograph, also ask for his business card and be prepared to give him yours.

Take an independent non emotionally involved witness.

Insist that the officer puts all his concerns and a resume of the meeting in writing.

by Bond Housing

10:34 AM, 9th August 2021, About 2 months ago

As Des says:
1. If the L has created a S257, then mandatory HMOL no longer applies , BUT the L has made changes to an already licensed S254 HMO so has breached the Licence
2. The S257 wont need Mandatory HMOL licensing - so an application to revoke the HMOL should be made after taking advice- and subject to 3 below, as the planning department may seek reinstatement
3. Whether the change from a S254 HMO to a S257 HMO needs planning is a moot point - in some cases yes, in some cases no- and we have leading Counsels opinion on this. If the change in use is material, then PP would be needed - so there may be planning issues now as well
4. Check whether S257s are covered by Additional HMO Licensing in your area
Please get advice from Des and Phil at LLDL as they have a huge amount of current experience of these matters, and access to the most experienced and leading counsel and so on if needed

by Bond Housing

10:38 AM, 9th August 2021, About 2 months ago

Reply to the comment left by Peter at 09/08/2021 - 09:43
Id refuse any interview - if they want to take enforcement action, invite them to do so

by Darren Peters

10:43 AM, 9th August 2021, About 2 months ago

I also strongly recommend you follow Neil Patterson's advice.

Also, please keep this thread updated as to how this all pans out.


Hi Simon,
I would contact Landlord Licensing and Defence asap >> https://landlordsdefence.co.uk/contact

by Des Taylor & Phil Turtle, Landlord Licensing & Defence

11:36 AM, 9th August 2021, About 2 months ago

Hello Peter

Just as an FYI, I attended a Council Enforcement course earlier in the year and one of the things the trainer explained to the group was how to get the police to arrest a landlord in order for the council to undertake a PACE interview of the arrested LL at the police station.

In truth, just as a suspect at a police station needs his solicitor next to him when being interviewed under a recorded and under caution PACE interview, so a Landlord needs to have professional representation when he/she is called for PACE interview. This is one of the key representations that we provide at Landlords Defence. in our quest to stop landlords self-incriminating and playing into the hands of the housing enforcement 'police'

by Peter

12:18 PM, 9th August 2021, About 2 months ago

My Heavens. I didn’t know that. George Orwell’s prediction has come true.

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