14:04 PM, 5th March 2021, About A year ago 10
Sefton council has reached a new low in cynical entrapment in its relentless war against landlords. Like many councils waging war against landlords, they do this in the single-minded pursuit of raising revenue from Landlords’ investments and pensions.
So here is how it happened, blow-by-blow:
Michelle Ball, the owner of the Cresta Hotel in Southport, understood that she owned a hotel or guest house. Called the Cresta Hotel, the clue was in the name. Or so you would have thought. Ms Ball worked closely with Sefton Council Homelessness Service to provide emergency housing for their homeless people.
It is standard practice for councils to put homeless people into Bed and Breakfast type accommodation because, for decades now, councils have shirked their responsibility to provide social housing.
As we know from the recent case of Birmingham City Council reported in the press, it was found that Birmingham, together with other local authorities, had put 85 families with 150 children onto one B&B. These councils had knowingly put these vulnerable people FOUR to a room!
If any private landlord had created this intolerable level of overcrowding the council would have sought not just fines put probably a custodial sentence. These corrupt-like councils, of course, get off completely scot-free.
Returning to our hapless Hotel owner: Having happily used her hotel as emergency accommodation to house homeless people for over a year, Sefton council devised a devious plan.
They would prosecute the owner for running an unlicensed House in Multiple Occupation THAT they the COUNCIL, it appears, HAD CREATED!
Not only that: Once they had successfully prosecuted her for the illegal HMO they had tricked her into creating; they would apply to the Property Tribunal to get back all the money that they had paid her to house their homeless people over the last 12 months.
Sheer genius: Sefton Council gets to house its homeless people for free for a year, and gets to destroy the life and business of a businesswoman providing an essential service and trying to make a living in the process. Such is the hatred that Councils have for landlords.
Of course you’re thinking, “This can’t possibly be right. The law surely can’t allow this? Think again.
These cynical money-grabbing council officers with their guaranteed salaries and index-linked pensions have massive legal departments and budgets to ensure that property owners are for the most part powerless to fight against them.
They knew exactly what they were doing and how to stack the tables against this poor woman. They “declared” the property to be an HMO, because that is one of the powers they hold and, as they had caused her to turn it into an HMO by putting their homeless people in there, they knew they were on a winner.
Once they had declared it to be an HMO, the law was unstoppable. As the operator of an unlicensed HMO, which she had been made, Ms Ball was thereby guilty of a ‘strict liability crime’ under The Housing and Planning Act 2016.
Strict liability means that the law is not permitted to take into account any mitigating factors (such as entrapment by a cynical council). A landlord is either guilty or not guilty and, of course, she had been set up to be guilty.
Ms Ball was therefore prosecuted and in May 2019 fined £5,000 with costs of £1,466 and a £170 surcharge and given a criminal record.
And let’s be very clear: this was her reward for helping Sefton Council provide emergency housing to homeless people.
Now comes chapter two of Sefton’s cynical plan: So when the poor woman attempted to appeal to the Property Tribunal for common sense to prevail, they said, and I paraphrase: “It is a strict liability crime. The fact you did not understand the law is irrelevant. The law says you’re guilty.”
As a result, the Upper Tribunal (Lands) went on to declare that, as a direct result of being guilty of the strict liability crime of not having an HMO licence, she was thereby unequivocally liable to a Rent Repayment Order.
The Rent Repayment Order grants the claimant – which just happened to be Sefton Council – the repayment of 12 months’ rent for each and every one of the emergency homeless people she had housed for them.
Thereby achieving the Council’s evil plan of obtaining free housing to save their precious revenue budget.
You might think that Sefton Council’s Homelessness Service would have checked that the property had the necessary licences and safety standards before housing people there. Something for which they have a statutory duty of care. Especially as the people responsible for safety and licensing were just another department in the same organisation – probably just along the corridor. So checking would hardly have been difficult!
Did Sefton Council fail in their statutory duty to confirm that the emergency accommodation they were putting vulnerable people into was safe and properly licensed?
Or was it a cynical plan by the evil Enforcement Agents in the housing department to add another notch to their smoking guns (and entrap yet another hapless landlord) in their non-stop mission to destroy landlords and help themselves to all their money?
Whichever of these you decide, in your own mind, was the case, you can be sure that all councils are completely unaccountable to their taxpayers and voters.
Councils don’t even take any notice of national government when it asked them to suspend all new licensing (tax) schemes during Covid lockdown measures. Despite this request from the government, councils all around the country have carried on regardless! They’re busy introducing new licensing (tax) schemes – so desperate are they to rob landlords of their pensions for their own coffers.
Taxing and fining Landlords is a multi-billion pound revenue stream for councils across the country. Relentlessly perusing landlords by way of this new back-door “tax” called HMO and Selective licensing.
Just like the high-street ‘bookies’ the councils run an ‘accumulator’ whereby they massively multiply their ‘winnings’ by issuing eye-watering Civil Penalty Fines – usually in the high £10,000s and often in the £100,000s.
Government should remember to be careful what they wish for! Because having created a system in which they have given the councils all the necessary powers under the Housing Act 20004 and the Housing and Planning Act 2016 to:
1) create the rules,
2) be Accessor, Police, Interrogator and Judge
3) KEEP ALL THE MONEY from all the fines they can manage to generate.
What could possibly go wrong? Obviously no scope for maximising fines there!
At Landlord Licensing & Defence, we have landlords approach us daily with heart-rending tales of their council’s new breed of revenue-motivated, and frankly evil Housing and Planning Enforcement Officers (read that as Housing Police), pursuing them for tens and hundreds of £1,000s as a reward for providing mostly reasonable accommodation to tenants. Tenants who were happy until the council deliberately turned them against the landlord in order to support their revenue generation schemes.
If you are a landlord being hounded and pursued by your council it is essential that you get professional help. Council officers are not your friends, they are the housing police, and you should not talk to then because their only interest is to get you to self-incriminate. (Read why.)
There are very few solicitors or other firms with the skills and experience to fight against this evil army. Make sure you chose a firm, like Landlord Licensing & Defence that has experience and the determination to win against this tyranny.
If you’re a private landlord, and you’re not sure whether you need a licence the situation is the same. Do not talk to the council because they are only interested in making you self-incriminate so they can fine you.
If you have the slightest doubt call Landlord Licensing & Defence, or another professional firm, in total safety on 0208 088 0788 or via landlordsdefence.co.uk/contact
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