Houses in Multiple Occupation offence – Landlord not guilty with twelve tenants in a two-bedroom flat
Our client was being prosecuted for offences under the Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006 . She had let her two-bedroom flat to a couple who had in turn sublet to up to 12 people without her knowledge. A house in multiple occupation is a property rented out by at least 3 people who are not from 1 ‘household’ (eg a family) but share facilities like the bathroom and kitchen. The legislation is here.
The matter was reported to the council who claimed that offences had been committed because:
- Firefighting equipment and fire alarms was inadequate
- There were no fire exit notices
- There was disrepair and exposed wires
Our client took possession of the flat as quickly as she could and then let it to another couple. However, these tenants also sublet to large numbers and the council investigation continued. A warrant was obtained and in September 2015 the investigators found 12 people living in the flat. Our client was summonsed.
We advised a full defence on the grounds that there was a reasonable excuse for not complying with the regulations, namely that the flat had been rented legitimately to a single household.
We wrote to the council asking them to review the prosecution, providing evidence we had collected including photos, invoices and accounts. The council refused to withdraw.
We collected evidence that our client was a genuine buy to let landlord, exhibited documents and photographs of works done after the first subletting and comprehensively prepared for trial.
At the trial our client gave evidence and produced the tenancy agreements and photographs. The court returned a verdict of not guilty on all charges, on the basis that she was unaware of the conditions in the flat. She was also awarded her costs.
“Rent to rent” problems are becoming ever more common and unwary landlords can find themselves having to pay very substantial penalties. In a recent case where 28 people shared the same bathroom and kitchen with no fire alarms or carbon monoxide detectors a £20,000 fine was imposed plus costs.
If the council start an investigation into Houses in Multiple ocupation offences landlords should seek advice immediately and ensure that they are represented at any interview. They should also gather together all the evidence to show that the property was let as a single residential unit and that it is the tenants who have created the overcrowding without their knowledge
As a minimum a landlord should ensure that the tenancy agreement is properly drafted:
- To allow only one residential unit in the property
- To prohibit subletting
- To allow frequent inspections on notice