April 6 is one of two dates in the year when we often have new regulations coming into force (the other is 1 October).
Today (6 April 2017) we have new regulations coming into force under the Housing and Planning Act 2016.
As these deal mainly with providing Local Authorities new powers to deal with rogue landlords they should, hopefully (if you are a landlord), not affect you too much – assuming you are a good landlord.
However, it is as well for you to know what they are, as they can be VERY expensive.
Tenants – these new rules are potentially good news for you.
The new Fixed Penalties
These new rules allow Local Authorities to levy a financial penalty of up to £30,000 for various offences under the Housing Act 2004 instead of bringing a prosecution.
The offences are:
- failure to apply for an HMO licence;
- breach of a licence condition;
- breach of the HMO Management Regulations;
- breach of a Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS) enforcement notice; and
- using unlawful force to seek an eviction.
Note that if there are several offences (as there may well be, for example, if you have breached several of the HMO management regs) there will be a separate penalty notice for each one – which could rack up to quite a sum, even though is it not expected that the penalty will be for the full amount every time. The government will, I understand, be publishing guidance on this, although I haven’t seen it yet.
If you find yourself on the wrong end of a penalty notice, you will have 28 days to make representations to your Local Authority. If the Local Authority decides to go ahead, you then get another 28 days to appeal to the First Tier Tribunal.
If you find yourself threatened by this, my advice would be to book an early advice call with one of the solicitors from Anthony Gold via our Telephone Advice service (see below). If you deal with things early on it will normally save a lot of heartache (and expense) later. This is NOT the time to quibble about the cost of an advice call.
Rent Repayment Orders
We have had these for quite a few years but they have previously been limited to situations where landlords fail to apply for an HMO license when their property is licensable. Now though they will be available for the same offences as the penalty notices above.
Rent Repayment orders can be REALLY expensive. You don’t want one made against you – imagine having to pay back a whole years worth of rent!
However, it is now going to be easier for both Local Authorities and tenants to apply for these. The application will need to be made to the First Tier Tribunal, and the FTT will need to be satisfied beyond doubt that the offence has been committed. However, so long as they are satisfied, it is not necessary for the landlord to have been prosecuted.
The rules are slightly different depending on whether there has been a prosecution or not. If the landlord has been prosecuted and convicted, then the FTT will in most cases be expected to order the whole sum claimed, normally 12 months worth of rent.
Where there is no prosecution the tribunal can order what they think is reasonable.
Don’t think that these orders are going to be few and far between. The legislation places a duty on the Local Authority to seek a Rent Repayment Order whenever they can and to help tenants to do so by providing advice or even conducting the case for them. It COULD happen to you.
If you are a tenant:
If think your landlord comes into any of the categories above – go and get advice from your Local Authority housing advice service. It’s free. Ring the general switchboard for your Local Authority and ask for the department which provides housing advice for private sector tenants. They should put you through to the right people.
If for any reason they are not helpful, you will find other sources of advice and help listed in my post here.
Note however that you can only get a rent repayment order if you have paid the rent. If you are on benefit, the money goes back to the Council.
The implications for Local Authority Enforcement work
Local Authorities have been much criticised over the years for failing to do much if any, enforcement work, which has meant that landlords have largely ‘got away’ with poor standards and failure to comply with the rules.
However, these days are coming to an end. The main reason Local Authorities have failed to do proper enforcement work is a lack of resources to fund it. Under these new rules though, they will be able to keep the penalty notice fees and the rent repaid.
It will, therefore, be very much in their interest to do as much enforcement work as possible. The income from these penalties will allow them to take on new staff and start enforcing the law properly.
It is CRITICAL therefore that (if you are a landlord) you are fully up to date with all your legal obligations, particularly those which will allow Local Authorities to impose these penalties. Don’t think that just because it has not happened in the past it will not happen in the future – it will.
Only those landlords who are fully compliant with the law will be safe. Make sure this is you!
Note – Government Guidance on the civil penalties and rent repayment orders can now be found here.