The last two weeks has been hectic and here are some of the things I have covered. These cases are all landlords just like you.
Covid-19 has meant much more enforcement action against landlords and not because of the virus, but because the council enforcement staff are spending more time at their home desks processing paperwork backlogs.
In the last 14 days I have dealt with a few different matters many of which could have been avoided by choosing the right agent, checking things before doing them or just plain complying with the law.
Breaking the Law: If you drive at 90mph you will eventually get caught.
If you break the law of the Housing Act 2004 or the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 you can expect to have enforcement action taken against you. Here are some of the interesting battles we have been fighting:
- Letting agent did not apply for Selective Licence on house under its management and the landlord is being summoned to the magistrates’ court – fine expected £6000 – agent change and licence application required – we are handling everything including the representation in court. Landlord relieved that we know our way around the system and will attempt an out of court settlement and fine.
- Portfolio landlord couldn’t pay for Selective Licences online (due to technical issues not applying his grandfathered discount) when making the application and therefore, he waited for the council to contact him, they did with summonses to appear in court and answer to why he had unlicensed properties. This could have been avoided by checking his online account and calling the council the next day. Some hostage-like negotiations in progress right now. Crazy situation and the council is being ruthless, he has been a landlord for 20 years and been compliant for all those years, until now.
- New Landlord with a nice corporate job agreed to let his first house to a company for its employees working on a contract locally. He then finds it now comes under HMO licensing, so applies for a licence to find that it is in an article 4 area and needs planning permission, a nice mess to sort out, the council have not been very polite about his errors and we need to push back on the bully person and get some decorum whilst we regularise everything.
- A NHS Doctor rented his house to a chap on a rent to rent deal and the house is now a HMO and has no licence and one of the tenants is claiming unfair eviction, the doc is in shock, and facing fines and rent repayment orders. His investment has just gone south. As a doctor he is excellent as a landlord he is embarrassed by this situation.
- Portfolio landlord bought a block of converted flats, turns out that due to the layout they need a HMO licence, luckily he asked early enough and the council has another 4 months on the application window for him to get the place licensed. He does not like doing HMO so, an agent is taking over to manage that.
- A landlord has licensed HMO and decided to alter it and change the layout to get more rooms, the licence conditions state you must advise the council and submit drawings in advance to the HMO Licence team, it was a HMO under permitted development before and works are an extension of the property under permitted development too. Almost done, but in breach of licence conditions. Some considerations and special conversations needed for the landlord with the council. Lesson learned; the landlord must read his licence before commencing any alterations.
- The landlord had a rent repayment order last month for not having his HMO Licence in place. The council also revoked all his existing HMO licences so he had to get all his properties managed and relicensed. A massive cost for a large portfolio for his errors. This month he has another Rent Repayment Order coming as his name is being targeted by law firms writing directly to his tenants suggesting rent repayment orders. This is a serious targeted attack on his business. Beware, get one wrong the business you have can turn into a house of cards by predator councils, law firms and tenants out to destroy you. Ask for help if you have any questions.
- Rent to rent operator with a flat in London received a Planning Contravention Notice for breaching the 90-day limit rule. The law requires them to answer many questions about what has been happening in the property and if they do not there is £1000 fine and enforcement action too. This is serious and you cannot get away with it anymore, change strategy on how you operate or apply for planning. We have a plan that will work and they will be lucky, so will the owner who is not actually realising how serious this could be. Especially as the freeholder is the council too.
- A landlord had received Civil Penalties for not licensing his houses and began asking the council for help. The confusion went on for many years with him being massively fined and making a pig’s ear of his defence and appeals to the First-Tier Tribunal. He kept focusing on what they had done wrong rather than the claim they made. In investigating it fully, both properties did not need a licence at the time of the claimed offences by the council, foul play suspected. One property had a greater than 21 years lease and was exempt from licensing by that and the other was vacant at the time the council claims it was occupied. The council tax records prove it too, yet the manager of enforcement continues to waste time and resources pursuing an innocent landlord. This one will be headline news one day.
- This landlord lives in the USA and during Covid-19 his tenant used the council to start the rent repayment order process. This council has a staff member who spends all day helping tenants make rent repayment orders against landlords. The landlord contacted us at the end of April after he had self-incriminated and wanted help. He just wanted it finished. Looking at it he was guilty but we worked out the council was lapse, had missed the statutory deadlines for the licensing issue and I considered that there were more similar issues. By taking our time stopping the client talking to the council and letting us handle it, we averted a First-Tier Tribunal, settled on a massively lower figure using a unique strategy of negotiation and when I delivered the news to the client his first words were Wow! If he had any idea in New York that licensing had been introduced he would have applied. The council never wrote to him as the owner, they never put it on the council tax bills where there is so much space to write adverts for such schemes. The tenant was never disadvantaged nor was the house unsafe, all that had happened was he should have applied for a temporary exemption notice if the landlord had been told. A good agent manages the property now and it is not a HMO either.
- This landlord never secured any of the tenants’ deposits in the HMO because the rogue agent disappeared, the agent also permitted more than 4 people to live in the property and hence it needed a HMO licence too. Claims for Rent Repayment Order, three times deposit and fines from the council for no licence too. Choose your agents wisely, let me know if you need a good one. I know loads.
As you can see this is the type of work our firm deals with and each and every one of those landlords above is just like you, a good citizen doing what they thought was the best they could.
Most of our clients are the biggest and best landlords in the country who know things change so rapidly that must have a specialist like us on speed dial to advise act and defend when the enemy attacks.
DO NOT JUDGE, we are helping Landlords get out of trouble when they get into it. Every landlord makes genuine mistakes, drops the ball and SOME get away with it and OTHERS do not.
The wrong day, the wrong moment, the wrong tenant and anything of the above can happen to you or your portfolio. Councils are ruthless and unforgiving and will destroy your business in one inspection.
Landlord Licensing & Defence
Landlords in need of professional help in matters with councils can contact Landlord Licensing & Defence at firstname.lastname@example.org, tel 0208 088 0788 or landlordsdefence.co.uk/contact
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