(Like councils prosecuted those who housed the homeless during Covid)?

18 Mar 2022

Thousands of people appear to be being set up for prosecution by un-caring and revenue greedy councils on the back of the UK response to the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine.

“Couldn’t possibly happen,” we hear you say.  Sadly, many councils have ‘previous’ on this. 

Here’s the problem: 

Under the Governments draconian legislation on the management and licensing of HMOs (Houses of Multiple Occupation), the Housing Act of 2004 declared that any rental property with three or more occupants (including children) would henceforth be designated as an HMO unless ALL the occupants were all related by bloody or sexual union.

In a homeowner situation its slightly different.  You are permitted two lodgers – but the second you have three or more lodgers (and that includes children) your house immediately becomes an HMO.

So, if any homeowner takes in three refugees from Ukraine, then they are 99% certain to create an HMO – with disastrous consequences. And if they are renters then just one refugee creates an HMO.

Hundreds, if not thousands of good people doing their bit to help the poor displaced Ukrainians are going to become HMO landlords without knowing it.

And the second your property becomes an HMO you’ll be breaking the law in ways you ‘ve never imagined.:

  1. You are immediately legally bound by the Management of Houses in Multiple Occupation Regulations (England) 2006 as amended.
    These have requirements for fire doors and fire alarms that your property almost certainly will not have.
    The standard Council fine for not meeting this under Regulation 4 of the HMO regulations is £28,000!
    There will be many other aspects of the HMO Management Regulations that these homes will not meet.
    At Landlords Licensing & Defence where we assist accidental landlords and others with these situations the average fine we see is £50,000 or more.  
  2. If the property is in a council area that has an adopted ‘additional licensing’ every HMO needs to be licensed whether it is three occupants or 30 occupants.
    The average fine for not having an additional licence is £12-15,000.
  3. If the property has five occupants or more it requires a mandatory HMO licence.  Again, the average fine for not having this licence is £15,000.
  4. And, if all the above is not enough, your property will automatically change its Planning Permission class from ‘C3 residential’ to ‘C4 small HMO’ which only allows up to 6 occupants. 
    However, if you’ve now got seven or more occupants (adults and children) after you’ve taken in a distressed Ukrainian family, then you’re in breach of planning too.
  5. Worse still, you’re in trouble if your property is in a council area where they have made an ‘Article 4 Direction’ to remove the automatic change of C3 residential to C4 small HMO (under what is known as permitted development).

Under Article 4 direction, you are not permitted to change your property from a family home to a two or more family home without full planning permission.  (Which is usually impossible to obtain, because they brought in the Article 4 direction to stop HMOs!)

So immediately you’re in breach of planning and if they enforce against you, they are likely to use the Proceeds of Crime Act to take away any ‘financial’ gain you had from your illegal HMO.  So there goes your £350 a month and a lot more besides in fines.

But the councils will let us off

History is not on your side. 

Councils have a long and disgusting history of placing homeless people with landlords and the homeless department ‘forgetting’ to tell the landlord they will need an HMO licence, and very expensive upgrades to fire doors, fire alarms and many other things.

Did I mention that they Council gets to keep all the money from the fines it enforces? One could imagine corruption occurring.

So a year later, (because this maximises their corrupt-like revenue take) along comes a different Council department called ‘housing enforcement’ and not only issues a £12-15,000 fine for not having an HMO licence, they also issue fines of an average of £50,000 for failures under the HMO Management Regulations.

Then, in the case of all those homeless people for whom the Council was paying the rent during Covid through housing allowance the Councils issued a Rent Repayment Order and this gives them back ALL the rent they paid the landlord over the 12 month period.

The Councils maxed out with this cynical strategy over the COVID lockdowns where they persuaded empty hotels and B&Bs to take in homeless people and then did exactly this ‘fine and claw back’ strategy bringing many of these businesses to the point of bankruptcy.

You can read about one example here. 

No Pity

We see councils do this on a daily basis to accidental HMO landlords where their tenants have kindly ‘let a mate move in’ when their relationship broke up.

The Councils have no pity.  They are only interested in revenue. 

They are rapidly replacing the old-guard of pragmatic housing officers with young bullies called housing enforcement officers.  And some of these really are the nastiest version of humanity you’ll ever meet.

So, will Councils respect the families helping out the poor Ukrainians?

I’d like to say yes – but all the evidence is to the opposite. And here’s why:

  • The Housing Act 2004 definition of HMO has not been suspended.  So, you’ll be breaching criminal laws.
  • The requirement to meet the HMO Management Regulations has not been suspended.  So, you’ll be breaching criminal law.
  • The requirement for Licensing of HMOs has not been suspended, so you’ll be breaching criminal law.
  • The Article 4 direction requirements for HMO Planning have not been suspended, so you’ll be breaching planning law.
  • Council Housing Enforcement officers are taught that all these criminal offences are ‘strict liability’ and their only job is to maximise fine revenue.
  • Council track record is somewhere between cynical and completely corrupt.

Anyone who becomes an unsuspecting HMO landlord by helping out, and then gets enforcement action from the Council should get an expert professional help immediately from Landlord Licencing & Defence or our competitors.  Do not go to a high street solicitor – they don’t understand the enforcement process relating to the Housing Act and Planning Law sufficiently.

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