The WID Revival
From Ben Reeve Lewis
Being on the other side of the fence from most readers of Landlord Law Blog, by which I mean working for local authorites, I occasionally like to share some of the things that are trending in council meeting rooms across the country.
Recently my gossip line has been feeding me information of the increasing interest in the revival of a mainly long dead enforcement animal, Works in Default (WID).
What is WID?
In essence, and without getting legalistic, it is a bit of official machinery which allows a local authority to carry out works to a property when the landlord refuses or fails to carry out repairs or even remove rubbish from their garden and then billing the property owner for it later on.
10 or 15 years ago many councils had WID teams but cuts to council budgets mean few now operate and there isn’t the pot to do the works even if there is money to employ people to do it.
Until now……I am seeing a groundswell of interest which I will call “The WID Revival”.
Not exactly a massive tidal wave but certainly not just a ripple either. Think the Severn Bore.
The underlying law
The law underpinning this is the old Public Health Act 1936 and the Building Act 1984, which allows councils to charge interest and expenses on the WIDs, register it as a charge on a property and force sale in a way that recovery of the local authority charge takes precedence over the mortgage.
This was established and upheld in the case law of Bristol CC v. Virgin and others (1928) where the courts held that the local authority charge “Binds all estates and interests”
The Environmental Protection Act 1990 also has its hat firmly in the ring on this as does the Housing Act 2004 which allows for enforcement on improvement notices and brings with it the power to redirect rent.
How it works
So to Illustrate in an admittedly crude way, the landlord refuses to replace the boiler that has been broken for 6 months. The council serves notices. He still doesn’t comply, saying it costs £1,500 which he hasn’t got.
The council do a WID. The landlord is happy because the job is done and it didn’t cost him a penny.
Then he gets the bill for £3,000. that’s £1,500 for the repair then admin costs, repair costs, expenses and interest on top.
Or how about all that stuff dumped in the garden? Landlord ignores notices under the Environmental Protection Act or section 215 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990.
Council hires a skip for £100 and clears it then bills landlord for £1,500, including hire of person to clear it, admin costs etc etc.
Or if you really want to push the boat out, that £20,000 hole in the roof that becomes £30,000 and ends up being a charge on the property that forces sale. The local authority get their £30,000 leaving a similar sized hole in the remaining mortgage because the council’s charge takes precedence over the it.
I confess I don’t know how these extra costs are lumped on. I would imagine the formula to be “Think of the highest number you can without laughing, and double it”
Benefits of a WID
You see the thing is, as any environmental health officer will tell you, a prosecution for these various offences doesn’t necessarily mean the job gets done but with a WID the neighbours/tenants are happy and the recalcitrant landlord has been punished.
The solution is quick and results in income generation for the council. Its also probably a lot cheaper than a prosecution as well, although you can do both.
Of course as with anything of this kind the procedural wheels can come off in many ways if the paperwork isn’t done correctly or the case law misunderstood.
Also there is the thorny issue of debt recovery. It’s done in the normal way. Up to £10,000 money claims on line, up to £25,000 Fast Track thereafter bailiffs or forced sale.
For these reasons and budget cuts council officers have shunned the practice for many years but I am seeing discussion documents doing the rounds in quite a few councils and talk with officers at meetings and conferences who say they are dipping their toes again.
Coming to a bad landlord near you?
These kinds of enforcement actions only target the bad landlords and poor properties so the vast majority of landlords need fear nothing from them.
You can’t barge into a property and do them. Notices have to be served and ignored first and no enforcement officer wants to do days of paperwork only to lose the case for want of having not followed procedures.
You would have to be a pretty stubborn or thick offender to end up on the wrong end of this particular legal pitchfork.
So watch this space. Councils who may be reluctant to go down the Newham blanket licensing route are still looking for different ways to tackle poor properties and WIDs are a nice little Swiss army knife for the toolbox.
You may start hearing more about these.