Landlord not guilty of any offence in Houses in Multiple Occupation prosecution
Our landlord client was being prosecuted by summons for various offences under the Houses in Multiple Occupation Regulations. They had let a two-bedroom flat to a couple who had in turn, without the landlord’s knowledge, sublet to up to 12 people.
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 they could. They 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 took instructions and 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, namely a couple.
We made representations directly to the council asking them to review the prosecution. We provided evidence we had collected such as photos and invoices, plus witness statements. 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. We made a successful application for 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 landlords should seek legal advice immediately and ensure that they are represented by a solicitor 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. This should provide sufficient evidence for a successful defence against any prosecution under the Houses in Multiple Occupation Regulations.
To avoid prosecution under the Houses in Multiple Occupation regulations 2006 landlords should always ensure that the tenancy agreement is properly drafted so as:
- To allow only one residential unit in the property
- To prohibit subletting
- To allow frequent landlord inspections on notice
- Keep written and photographic records of their inspections