Scope of Environmental Health – to incetivise tenants ??

by Readers Question

13:11 PM, 27th April 2013
About 8 years ago

Scope of Environmental Health – to incetivise tenants ??

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Scope of Environmental Health – to incetivise tenants ??

Hi all,

I would like to tap the experience and expertise of the community with regards to my local Environmental Health department.

Some history …..  I have a large building which is an HMO. I applied for a licence and the council came down and went through the building. The short version is that they said some of the rooms were too small and that I needed to convert one of the rooms in to a kitchen and some other works which I agreed to and had done. 

The purpose of the works were to provide extra kitchen facilities for the tenants and stop them from cooking in their rooms. Whilst I agreed to carry out the work (at the loss of one room’s income) I did also say that this would not work, and that the kitchen would not be used. However I did not make a fuss about it and got on with the work.

When they came to re-inspect the work done, they also went around the rooms and lo and behold discovered that the tenants were still doing the same thing with their own equipment and were not using the newly built kitchen.

They have now said that all the changes I have done “do not incentivise the tenants enough to use the new kitchen facilities” and have instructed me to carry out and whole host of other works running in to the 000’s so that the tenants will start to use the new kitchen.

Apart from the ludicrous nature of these requests (removing cupboards etc) how on earth can they hold me responsible for the fact that the tenants are not doing what they want them to do. I want to fight these further requests on the grounds of:

  1. I can not be held liable for tenants not doing what the council wants (are car manufacturers told to limit speeds of cars to 70 mph to stop people speeding) 
  2. The new changes have nothing to do with providing adequate facilities to meet their Licencing requirements as it was agreed (and I have it in writing) that doing the first lot of changes would meet their requirements. 
  3. Do Environmental Health have the remit to force a landlord to do something in order to make the tenants do something. Surely they should be taking the matter up with the tenants and writing to them instead. 
  4. Where does it say in the Licensing guidelines about tenants actually using facilities provided by the landlords. Surely it is just our responsibility as landlords to provide them in good working order (which they all are).
  5. There are many things that tenants should do but don’t. I provide sinks to wash dishes in but most are left for days/weeks. Tenants shouldn’t smoke in their rooms etc …… how can landlords be held liable for the actions of tenants ?

I would like to hear the experience of others and also what people did to dismiss these silly requests. I am prepared to go to the tribunal to fight this and any help/ideas from everyone here would be really welcome !

Thanks

Zahir Mamujee

Scope of Environmental Health

Comments

Gilly

21:03 PM, 27th April 2013
About 8 years ago

Yet another Environmental Health Department Problem - they are supposed to work WITH landlords. Officers often have their own interpretations which they diligently inflict on all the landlords in their area, without considering the consequences. i.e. maybe they are wrong and maybe the property is fine the way it is and maybe the landlords will leave the PRS and there will be an even greater shortage of properties available to assist with the housing shortage...hmmm...sorry don't get me started.....

I don't quite understand what the problem was in the first place with tenants having cooking facilities in their rooms - that just makes it an HMO which is a house of bedsits and there is complete guidance in LACORS about regulations governing these.

The main problem is obviously the extra fire risk, so a good smoke alarm system, heat detectors in all kitchens etc would have to be installed, but there is nothing to say that tenants are not allowed to have individual cooking facilities. You need to make it about as safe as if it were split into separate flats according to the fire regulations, but then it should satisfy the EHO. Of course they cannot force you to turn the property into one where everyone uses a communal kitchen, if you have the correct protection in place and why would they want to?

Are they saying it is a problem because the rooms are too small to qualify as bedsits? The suggested size is specified somewhere and I shall go and look it up ....now. (I'd turn the house into flats myself - imho it sounds like the sort of property that is not very sociable and therefore not too much fun to live in - just a thought).

9:53 AM, 29th April 2013
About 8 years ago

Hi Gilly

thanks for the comment, the property has all the best safety features, ie full fire detection system which is tested regulary, in fact i even had the fire service do an audit there so that we covered everything. Therefore there are no issues from that point of view.

In answer to your question about size, yes they felt that some of the rooms were too small to have their own kitchen and so asked me to provide a seperate kitchen.

The building is very popular with tenants as it provides a much needed and in deman "half way house" between a traditional room share / HMO where you have all the associated issues of "they stole my milk and bread" and self contained flat / studio apartment where they have to pay the rent and all the associated bills.

It is not designed as a standard HMO of rooms with lounge etc. but somwhere where people can have their own space on a fixed monthly amount.

Do environmental health have authority to force landlords to do things because they don't like what the tenants are doing ?

Eirian Rogers

17:09 PM, 29th April 2013
About 8 years ago

Hi Gilly,

If you manage to find anything useful when you look it up please post the link.

This issue is very similar to the issue i am having I have lots of sympathy for you Zahir I just hope we can find a solution.

I am so used to the lettings business to working from rules and regulations where these Environmental Health Departments just seam to make it up as they feel fit.

We have no one to take it to unless we want to hassle of a full on court case.

Pete Judd

18:16 PM, 29th April 2013
About 8 years ago

The Regs in Bristol are Combined bedroom /living room 9m2 for 1 person (14m2 for 2) and 13m2 Bed/living room/kitchen (19m2 for 2). I just had a similar problem in that I have a room of 19m2 which was licensed for 2 people. I put in an ensuite using 2m2 from the room and pinching a bit of the hallway. At 17m2 I was ok still for 2 but I went a step too far and added a kitchen corner with extract fan etc before the licence was renewed. Now my licence has gone down to one person and I have to ask one of the couple to move out.

Gilly

22:14 PM, 29th April 2013
About 8 years ago

I am sure there are people better qualified than me to comment, however, on preliminary examination it is interesting to note that the Shelter Campaign against overcrowding states that "England and Wales are the only two countries in the EU with no legally binding minimum space standards for all housing".

The Environmental health guidance is just that - guidance. Lacors specifies a risk-based approach and is not prescriptive (as it used to be). RIBA have published an interesting document on The Case for Space and the Housing Acts that apply (used by LACORS) are from 1985 (part X) and then 2004 (although I think something else appeared in 2010).
There are various actual sizes specified in dozens of different Council documents varying from 9.5 sq.m for one person (Chelmsford) to 11 (westminster) and 13 in Exeter and Salford to name but a few. These are all simply documents of "guidance" so there is surely a case to be argued and there seems to be nothing definitive/lawful written anywhere. Canterbury Council suggests that if a landlord has a room that is too small, no one can be evicted but if it is re-let then the problem needs to be addressed.

A statistic in the RIBA document shows that on average all new builds are 92% smaller than they used to be, which demonstrates that the big housebuilders are not doing their bit and Shelter states that there is less of a problem in the PRS than in social housing.

It probably wouldn't apply in this situation but there is a test you can carry out for sizing at behavewise.co.uk/NestTest.

Some food for thought maybe?

If you are convinced that you are providing good quality accommodation that satisfies a need and is safe, then argue your case and if they issue you with a notice, it is probably worth going to the Residential Property Tribunal (I would expect - rather than the courts) if you are well prepared.

Gilly

22:24 PM, 29th April 2013
About 8 years ago

Sorry, I have just noticed the thread "HMOs - does size matter?" which addresses a similar problem. Although you are annoyed about the change of emphasis and new requests that they are making, I think it still boils down to room size (if as you say the fire risk does not figure).

Rick Cullen

8:20 AM, 30th April 2013
About 8 years ago

Hi. This sounds like a load of nonsense and it is clear to me that this is just the guys personal opinion. Please contact Jim Halliburton who is an hmo expert and he will explain to you exactly what the requirements for hmo are. Hope this helps. Rick

Joe Bloggs

8:40 AM, 30th April 2013
About 8 years ago

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm200203/cmbills/046/03046.i-5.html
this seems much same as housing act 1985 provisions.
not sure if it has been enacted.


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