In a similar situation to the excellent discussion on Retaliatory Eviction, I can report that I have encountered similar practices in an unlicensed HMO. The situation is in some ways worsened by the fact that the four tenants involved were teenagers (2nd year university students) at the time that the 1 year AST was entered into, and as such, inexperienced in property rental. To say that they were exploited by the letting agent would be an understatement (in my opinion).
The property in question (in an E3 postcode area) is a double maisonette, two houses built one atop the other, the upper one having a separate entrance from a concrete walk way. It was originally built on two floors with the lower floor comprising a separate kitchen at the front with an L-shaped living/dining room at the rear. It has been “converted” so that the original kitchen is now a fourth bedroom and the original dining area of the lounge/diner is a very small kitchen. Dining is now at one end of the lounge area. Plumbing from the repositioned kitchen is still connected to the original service points by running the water and waste pipes through the new 4th bedroom around three walls in boxes. As you can imagine, the waste outlet is very slow due the the poor rate of fall in the pipe. The gas boiler has also been repositioned as a wall mounted unit in the lounge area again with water and gas supply pipes running around the walls through the living area and hallway back to the original connection points in the “new” 4th bedroom.
Since we have here 4 unrelated people living in a 2-floor house with shared bathroom and kitchen, we clearly have an unlicensed HMO. As the tenants have come to realise their homes status as an HMO, they have asked the letting agent to confirm the situation with the landlord and asked what could be done to ensure that the property could be rectified to meet the HMO standards. At first the letting agent denied that the property was an HMO, however, the tenants persisted. After a month or so, the letting agent then said that the property was not a licensed HMO. After another month or so of pressure, the letting agent said he had contacted the Housing Department of the Local Authority, who had confirmed to him that the property was not an HMO. On being asked for the name and department of the person he had spoken to, no name and a non existent department was forthcoming.
Subsequently, the tenant contacted the Local Authority who confirmed by e-mail that the property was an HMO. When this was reported to the letting agent, their response was, the local authority had contacted the landlord and if the matter was pursued by the tenants, the landlord would evict using a section 21 notice. Subsequently, the letting agent has said that he will get the landlord to fix any minor problems with the property being an HMO, but “if you ask for anything expensive he will evict, what is it that you want?”
The tenants have again contacted the Local Authority to ask for an inspection of the property to try to gain an official list of rectifications required, but have been met with a “we can’t inspect every property because our workloads are too high”.
It seems that a two tier HMO is not working too well as the threat to evict will stop any reporting of the situation by the tenant, especially where the Local Authority does not intervene . Since the HMO designation is statutory, I would have thought that it would be mandatory to at least investigate claims of this nature, otherwise why have the unlicensed HMO status when there appears to be no effective means of gaining enforcement of the statute without the risk of eviction?
Since all the guidance I have read says that the the requirements for HMO’s applies equally whether or not it is licensed or unlicensed, is there not a case to simply have all HMO’s licensed? As the statistics show, tenants are 14 times more likely to die in an HMO than in a regular tenant in a non-HMO, or is it just a fact of life that we cannot afford to protect all HMO tenants equally because of the current financial crisis, and that’s not mentioning what I believe to be the poor practice of the letting agent who is, at best, taking advantage of the naivety the tenant by knowingly letting an unfit HMO.