Selective HMO licence enforcement: Has the local housing authority followed its own housing enforcement policy before imposing a financial penalty?


In the recent case of Ekweozoh v Redbridge London Borough Council, Ms Ekweozoh appealed against the decision of the First Tier Tribunal to confirm a financial penalty imposed by Redbridge London Borough Council for letting her flat without a selective HMO licence.

Ms Ekweozoh lived in Canada and let out her flat in Ilford.  The part of Ilford where the flat was located became part of a selective HMO licensing regime introduced by Redbridge Council.  Local housing authorities have a discretion to extend the requirement for HMO licences to houses which are not HMOs by designating all or part of their district as being subject to selective licensing.  This is done under Part 3 of the Housing Act 2004.  This may be done for example in England where an area has a high proportion of private rented sector properties occupied under ASTs and there are poor housing conditions or large amounts of inward migration or high levels of deprivation or crime (see here for our earlier article clarifying different types of HMO licensing:

Ms Ekweozoh was unaware of the extension of selective HMO licensing and the requirement to have an HMO licence for her flat.  In fact, Ms Ekweozoh had letting agents who managed her flat and they were also unaware of the requirement for an HMO licence.

Redbridge Council discovered that Ms Ekweozoh's flat was tenanted and wrote to her at the flat (where she did not of course reside) and council officers visited the flat and left calling cards.  The estate agents then notified Ms Ekweozoh that she required an HMO licence.  The estate agents applied for an HMO licence on Ms Ekweozoh's behalf in relation to her flat but Redbridge Council served a final notice on Ms Ekweozoh for the issue of a financial penalty for the offence of managing a property required to be licensed without an HMO licence.

The Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) set aside the First Tier Tribunal's decision to uphold the financial penalty because the First Tier Tribunal had not addressed its mind as to whether the local authority's policy on informal resolution had been applied and therefore whether the financial penalty should have been imposed at all. The local authority's own private sector housing enforcement policy stated that "Officers will always try and resolve the matters informally in the first instance...".  Informal action includes warnings.  The Upper Tribunal was clear that the First Tier Tribunal ought to have looked at whether the financial penalty was appropriate in the first place in view of the local authority's enforcement policy.

So for those with the responsibility for holding HMO licences, it is important to be up to date with the HMO licensing regime and if faced with a situation of non-compliance, to also refer to the local authority's own enforcement policy as local authority enforcement action should be in accordance with this.

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The objective of the financial penalty regime, as explained in the guidance, to support good landlords who provided decent, well-maintained homes and crack down on a small number of rogue or criminal landlords knowingly letting out unsafe and substandard accommodation, was not advanced by the imposition of a financial penalty in the present case.
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