Sefton entraps Hotel Landlord into providing Free Emergency Accommodation to their Homeless

by Des Taylor & Phil Turtle, Landlord Licensing & Defence

14:04 PM, 5th March 2021
About a month ago

Sefton entraps Hotel Landlord into providing Free Emergency Accommodation to their Homeless

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Sefton entraps Hotel Landlord into providing Free Emergency Accommodation to their Homeless

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

Comments

F1_Fan

9:47 AM, 6th March 2021
About a month ago

Well written Des and Phil and accurate article unlike the rubbish peddled by the Liverpool Echo Newspaper!

Jon D

19:20 PM, 6th March 2021
About a month ago

Well written. You forgot councils "have massive TAX PAYER FUNDED legal departments and budgets to ensure that property owners are for the most part powerless to fight against them".

Privatise councils now.

JB

10:46 AM, 7th March 2021
About a month ago

My policy is to never house anyone the council ask you to house. Just stear well clear

David Price

12:08 PM, 8th March 2021
About a month ago

Reply to the comment left by JB at 07/03/2021 - 10:46
Me too. Councils only approach private landlords with the people they do not wish to house. My council is actively taking good tenants from private landlords and passing the unhousable on to the private sector. Landlords beware, only take a tenant with a working, house owning guarantor, if this means your property is empty for a whicle then so be it, better empty than trashed.

TheBiggerPicture

12:19 PM, 8th March 2021
About a month ago

Local and central government have long since given up the pretence they are there to serve everyone equally.
They make rules with a justification they are essential to prevent harm.
Under any circumstance even if no harm caused, the public are held to these rules, but the rulemakers not, no matter how damaging.
They are a law into themselves.

michael@mjproperty.co.uk

13:02 PM, 8th March 2021
About a month ago

Not that I am an expert although we used to work quite closely with our local council assisting with homelessness . If the hotel you are talking about was registered as an actual business and was liable for business rates then this situation would have stopped immediately.
The contract would have been with the local council and they would have been paying for the rooms as any customer would have and this is therefore a commercial transaction and nothing to do with licensing/ HMO regulations.
I could list further reasons but this looks a little like scare tactics and truthfully we don't need any of those as our situation as landlords is already precarious enough

moneymanager

14:33 PM, 8th March 2021
About a month ago

Reply to the comment left by at 08/03/2021 - 13:02
"The contract would have been with the local council and they would have been paying for the rooms as any customer would have and this is therefore a commercial transaction and nothing to do with licensing/ HMO regulations."

A very good point, all too often situations arrive at the conclusion of "Z" but from "B" rather than actually going back to A, it would be enlightening to know the contractual relationship in this case as well as what shared kitchen, bathroom or toilet facilities there were, perhaps that last but even that would be restricted to the ground floor, barking up the wrong tree in MHO.

Rennie

13:42 PM, 10th March 2021
About a month ago

I am not a legal/law personnage but isn't it unlawful for the council to issue a fine or anything else for that matter? Doesn't a fine have to come with paperwork and a signature/.warrant from a court signed by a judge/justice?

Geoff Cunningham

11:54 AM, 12th March 2021
About a month ago

I thought this was a particularly egregious case so I asked a friend who worked in this area to look at it. This is his answer
"Weirdly written in the style of Piers Morgan and we know what happened to him!

I looked up the court judgement and your/the flowery rhetoric does not disguise the facts of the matter.

Ball said she had not obtained an HMO (house in multiple occupation) licence because she believed she ran a hotel. In this she was clearly incorrect. She might also have have believed she was running a fairy kingdom but the facts of the case rule out both options. It was indisputably an HMO and as such required a licence.

The judge said in his/her ruling “Ball’s main line of defence that the local authority directing tenants to her constituted permission is untenable.”

Whether or not she had given the Homeless Section to understand she had a licence is unclear but in any case The first time Council officers from the Licensing Section inspected the property in August 2018 they decided it was an HMO and informed her of this.

The first duty of a local authority is to work within the law. Once the court had ruled that the persons had been placed illegally they would have had no option other than to recover what was an illegal payment. For any officer knowingly not do do so would have made him or her personally responsible for the illegal payment and liable to surcharge. Practically this would be the Chief Exec in this case. A council may not ignore the court ruling and “write off” the money owed on the basis it isn’t fair. They might write the payment off down the road having taken all reasonable steps to recover the debt. (By then she would be bankrupt anyway)

One can view this as the all powerful Council pursuing poor inexperienced landlords or a grasping landlord trying to pull a fast one by skillful use of the regs on hotels/HMOs. It is hard to tell whether Ball falls into the latter category but I don’t think the council is at fault.

Ball made the point in her case that she was inexperienced and the judge, rightly in my view, discounted this as being irrelevant to the case. Surely any sensible person would have obtained legal advice prior to embarking on a course of action which was at best contentious.

I do think you are tilting at the wrong windmill with this one. I think the council acted entirely within the law. If you don’t like the law don’t blame the organisation charged with the task of implementing it."

2 sides to every case!

michael@mjproperty.co.uk

13:18 PM, 12th March 2021
About a month ago

Thank you Geoff.
Running a hotel and believing you run a hotel are two very different scenarios and as we have had both hotels and HMOs , we understand that there are vast differences. So in this case it looks as if the council were correct in their actions and if this is the case, that's exactly what we would expect them to do.
I suspected that this post had left out some pertinent facts.


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