Phil Turtle Landlords Defence

20 Jun 24

Contributed article Gabriella Van Jennians of

Dawn-style raids, more powers than the police and issuing £105,000 fines —councils wield considerable authority in regulating landlords.

Phil Turtle, compliance director from Landlord Licensing & Defence deals with councils daily and issues a stark warning to landlords.

With more than 160 pieces of legislation and 400 regulations, landlords may sometimes find themselves in hot water and struggle to keep up with compliance.

Landlord Licensing & Defence deals with hundreds of cases of non-compliance and can help educate landlords on meeting their legal obligations.

Councils have more power than the police

When it comes to property inspections, Phil explains that councils have more power than the police.

He tells Property118: “All tenants have the right to quiet enjoyment but only from the landlord not from the council.

“A council can still inspect a property even if the tenant and landlord refuse to give permission.

“Councils have more power than the police to enter your home.

“The Housing Act gives councils entry under Section 239 which gives them the ability to go in and inspect because of an official complaint to determine whether any function under parts one to four of the Housing Act should be exercised.

“If the council think anything is wrong in the property or if anybody has complained, they can go in under Section 239 in 24 hours.”

Phil explains that when dealing with an unlicensed property, councils do not need to give 24-hour notice.

He adds: “If the council believe that there is an offence under Section 72 which is anything to do with HMO licensing or Section 95 (selective licensing) and they have reason to believe the property is unlicensed, they don’t need to give notice they can just turn-up and demand entry.”

Phil explains the shocking way some councils will enter the property.

He says: “The council will do a dawn-style raid at 5 in the morning with eight or so officers dressed to look like police uniforms, and they’ll threaten their way in.

“We hear so many stories that councils tell foreign nationals that if they don’t let them in, they will get deported.

“The officers will barge their way upstairs to count how many people are in beds and claim they are all living there.

“Councils seem to think that an unlicensed HMO is second only to murder!”

Phil adds that if a landlord or a tenant obstructs this entry it will be classed as a level four fine costing up to £2,500 – and they can still enter the property!

He said: “If you refuse entry they simply go to the Justice of the Peace (Magistrate) and get a warrant and enter by force.”

Councils interview under caution

Phil adds that it is not common knowledge that councils can interview people under caution.

He explains: “Landlords just don’t seem to understand that this is going on and landlords will say they have a good relationship with their council.

“Those same council people will invite you into a meeting which turns out to be an interview under caution because councils can do that the same as police.

“You’ll go into a small room with all the recording apparatus, and they will say: “You do not have to say anything. But it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.

“Many landlords won’t realise they have done anything wrong and will talk without realising whatever you say WILL be used against you.”

Phil emphasises that should a landlord be invited to an interview with the council, they shouldn’t go without first seeking professional advice.

He explains: “It is a Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) interview  and the purpose of it is to extract evidence the council haven’t got.

“If you’re invited to a PACE interview by the council, don’t respond without seeking professional advice from experts like us.

“Never attend alone; we can arrange representation for you. Most landlords don’t fully understand the law, so having professional support is crucial.”

Landlord issued with £105,000 fine

Phil has inspected thousands of properties across his career but explains one of the worst cases he ever had to deal with.

He explains: “The worst case I saw was a terraced house used as a five or six-person HMO, and it was in pretty bad shape.

“The tenants were unhappy, and the council took five years to act, leaving them in mortal danger.

“When I checked the property after the landlord was fined £105,000, it only took me a few minutes to see that the place should have been condemned and the tenants moved out right away.

“Most of the fire alarms had been taken off the ceiling, and none of the fire doors fitted properly with huge gaps in them and if a fire had happened in the property, then several of the people there would have died.”

Phil adds that the council did nothing for five years whilst the tenants suffered.

He tells Property118: “The council had written every year to the landlord to say they needed to license the property and if you don’t, we will enforce strong penalties.

“That’s five years of the council doing this and doing nothing else and just sending the landlord a letter once a year.

“The landlord thought it was a joke and there’s no need to do anything. Finally, the council got its act together and issued these £105,000 worth of fines.

“However, the council still didn’t do anything to protect the tenants, they just left them there.

“When councils issue these fines there is no requirement from the landlord to fix anything, just the threat that if they don’t, we will come back and get more money.”

Phil explains how the Landlord Licensing & Defence team managed to repair the house.

He says: “It was me and my team that made the house safe for the residents, not the council they did nothing at all other than issue fines.

“The daughter of the landlord and my team managed all the renovations and made the property safe.

“Within four weeks we got new fire doors on every door, a new fire alarm system and got rid of all the damp and mould.

“The council had five years to improve this property and all they were interested in was the money.

“In the end, we managed to negotiate with the council and get the fines down to £50,000 but it’s still a lot of money and a big chunk out of the landlord’s pension pot.”

160 pieces of legislation and 400 regulations apply to landlords

Phil explains many landlords don’t realise how many rules and regulations they need to follow.

He says: “There’s about 160 pieces of legislation and more than 400 regulations that apply to landlords.”

The main laws affecting landlords are:

  • The Housing Act 2004
  • The Landlord and Tenant Act 1985
  • The Housing Health and Safety Ratings Systems – which is how councils inspect the property (Part 1 of the Housing Act)
  • Houses in Multiple Occupation (England) Regulations 2006
  • The Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005
  • The Building Safety Act 2022

Phil says: “Unfortunately, the way the legislation and regulations work is that most of them tell you what you can’t do but don’t tell you what you need to do and that’s what makes it such a minefield.”

Fire precautions not up to standard

Phil adds fire safety measures are the top non-compliance issue: “We inspect thousands of properties and in most of them, the fire precautions are not up to standard.

“This is dangerous for tenants and bad news for landlords, who could face fines of up to £30,000 for inadequate fire prevention measures.

“If a fire happens, more and more landlords are being prosecuted and even given jail sentences.”

Importance of fire safety

One recent court case in Sheffield saw landlord Zahir Ahmed being handed a suspended prison sentence and community service for fire safety violations at a property he owned.

The incident, which occurred in February 2022, involved a fire that trapped 11 people inside the building.

Everyone was rescued by firefighters but one of them sustained injuries during the blaze after a staircase collapsed.

A subsequent South Yorkshire Fire and Rescue investigation revealed a lack of fire alarms, emergency lighting and proper fire doors in the property.

The single staircase which collapsed was the only escape route.

Phil says: “Having a fire risk assessment, particularly for HMOs, is essential for landlords to meet their legal obligations and ensure the safety of their tenants.”

“Landlords should develop a plan to mitigate these risks and ensure safe escape routes for tenants in case of a fire.”

Landlord Licensing & Defence can help landlords carry out a compliance check and they also offer a free booklet for landlords to give to tenants to help them understand why  fire alarms and fire doors are so important.

Phil says: “We are here to help educate landlords. If they ask for a compliance inspection, we’ll go over all the fire and health safety rules and let them know exactly what they need to do to make the property compliant.

“It’s simple things that sometimes landlords forget such as have they fitted restrictors on the upstairs window to stop a child from falling out?

“Have they fitted handrails on the staircase, so if granny comes to visit and trips have they got something solid they can grab onto?

“It’s essential to do a compliance inspection as you don’t want to end up with multiple  £30,000 fines.”

Councils are strapped for cash

Across the country, selective licensing fees range from £800 to nearly £1,200 in some cases.

Whilst councils claim selective licensing fees are not income-generating, Phil explains councils can charge what they like.

He says: “Each council is independent, and we’ve got 340 councils with 340 sets of different rules, and each make their own licensing schemes.

“Councils then do what I like to call ‘creative accounting’ as you get different types of selective licences some three-year licences or one year and they are often between £800-£1000.

“For HMO licences, they charge £2,500 in some places.”

“It’s just taxation, we all know councils are strapped for cash and going bust and two big sources of income for councils are licence fees and fining landlords and keeping the cash.

Previously when approached by Property118, Nottingham City Council told us licensing fees are not income generating but according to its annual expenditure report, the council spent  a whopping £4.2 million on selective licensing between 2020/1 and another £2.8 million in 2021/22.

Councils are money-driven

Phil explains the council’s approach to dealing with landlords is that most do not want to educate landlords as they are money-driven.

He says: “Like any organisation, councils are money-driven, and they don’t educate landlords because it’s shooting their business in the foot.

“If they educate landlords on what they need to do then they are not going to go wrong, and the councils won’t get the fines.

“The days are sadly gone when councils were staffed by good old fashioned environmental housing officers who were all highly trained people and true professionals in their discipline and their interests were health and safety and good homes for tenants.”

Phil adds that council enforcement officers do not understand how to deal with housing issues.

He says: “However, now we have an enforcement and revenue approach first and they don’t really care about the tenants.

“I have attended some of the enforcement courses that are run for council officers and the councils definitely seem to believe  that all landlords are criminals.”

Landlords feel let down by a Tory government

With the announcement of a snap general election, Phil says many landlords feel let down by a Tory government.

He says: “We’ve had 14 years of a Tory government that has done no favour to landlords whatsoever.

“The Tories have taxed landlords to the edge of existence, over-regulated them and supported all these licensing schemes that are just another tax and completely fail to get the real rogue landlords simply putting up rent for all tenants.

“It makes you think can Labour do a worse job? But that remains to be seen.”

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