How to deal with council officers in HMO inspections

Introduction

This booklet has been produced for both Landlords and council officers. We focus in particuar to HMO licensing inspection issues.  After extensive experience of dealing with council officers due to HMO licensing and various inspections it is clear that both Council officers and many Ladlords are not clear about the real role of the council officers. The issue is that the officers tend to abuse their position and act irresponsibly, sometimes even violating the law and attampting to overstep theoir real power.

The good nes for the Landlords is that in any ervent the real power of the coucil officers are very limited. They cannot fine you , thay cannot do much really. The reason is that in order to be able to do anything they need to start porsecutions and prosecutions are very hard indeed even in those cases where the defendant is not amounting to a real defense. In most cases when the lardlord would amount any defense at all it would be almost impossible for the council to be a winner in a porsecution case. Therefore when yhou see their threats of fines up to 30K and so on it is only an empty thereat. They would need to sart prosecutions and those are very difficult unless a serious incident had taken place, like a fire or a building collapse  that injured or killed people etc.

In the famouns Book “The artd of War” it is said “know your enemy and you will win every battle” or better even “the best outcome of a war is such a war were you win without even fighting” nd this is the casue with the council. In most cases no matter what the officers come up with  the re is almost nothing that they can do and issuing an enforcement notice could be dangerous, becasue if it is issued on the wrong gorunds then:

you may decide to simply ingore it and they would need to start prosecutuoins, and the prosecurtrions would fail . At that point you could sue successfully retroslectively for issuing an unlawful enforcement notice.,

If the enforcement notice is unlawful, then you can decide to fight it with a simple letter or email pointin out how the enforcement notice is unlawful. It is even better to ask based on what law the enforcement notice is iuissued, aty that point if the enforcement notice is not lawful then if the council does not widthdraw it they are liable for civil  lawsuit.

 

How crazy, out of touch and ingnorant, arrogant council officers can be. Do not give in.

What I found over the years is that council officers go around their inspections fault picking, that is all they do. Some council officers are better than others at thir job, but you may find some officers that have lost the plot altogether. What do do in s#uch cases? This is when the following story will help you. In 2012 I had a council offocer visit in one of my several GHMOs in Nottingham. The officer decided to make a room not habitable, thjjis was based on the fact that the boiler was in the loft above one of the habitble rooms. Thereofre in order to access the boiler you had to go through the room. Because of this the room must not have been habitable. His argument wars that if the boiler stopped wroking and it required maintenance the tenent could have denied access to the boiler and therefore the whole house would have been without heating . Basically this was once again based on no law and this happens all the time. If you look at anty report form the council officers after their visits what you find is that most of their requests of works are subjective and based on NO LAW. They basically made it up! But going back to that case, the council officer tried to make one room unhgabitable based on the boiler beeing in the attic of that room.

I still keep the email he sent somewhere stating this. To this I replied with a email copying so many people I can harldy remeber. I pointed out how if it were true that in order to have a rooms habitable.

All I had done in my reply is pointing out that most rooms in HMOs have interlinked smoke detactrs in eacjkh room that require periodic access for various reason and if it were true that something that is placed in an habitable room needs acccess for maintenance  fvor the house to be operationan is in the room therefore it is not habitable then each HMO with a smoke detector in everyroom must have none of the rooms not habitated. Therefore th ewhole #HMO would be ammty by law. It was really absurd, and of course there was no law stating that the boiler could not be located  in an habitable room or in the attic of the habitable room. Basically the officer made it up.

Afgter I sent that email I heard nothign for years and no no idssue was ever raised on the matte rand the room had beeen habitated eversice for over 10 years without any issue at all.Obviously other council officres visited the house several times and we never had any issue, with this , do you know why? Once again becaus ethe council officer MADE IT UP! There was no law no regulation nothing that prohibited that room to be habitable , absolutly nothing. Imagine if I just rolled over and accepeted it, I would have lest in the region of 70K ove rthe years in lostr rental income,. Therefore it is important to stand your gound and never roll over to unreasonable requests.

 

Why fight back , is it worth it.

 

How to establish whether a request from a council officer is lawful or not.

You will find the council officers send you long reports, and they look overwhelming with loads of jurgan. Most of the time it is 80% nonsense do not worry.

So the question is how to fight back the nonsense? Simple, ask them to state for each requests what specific law they are using to make that specific request. What they sometimes say is , it is a request made under “housing act 2004”. The problem is that housing act 2004 has limited and specific scope therefore what they can ask for is very limited to the legislation, but what they so sometimes is saying that under “housing act 2004” you hav eto repoint the entire building. This is ofcourse not true. Housing act 2004 does not say anything about the exetrion appearance of t abuilding at all.

This does not mean to mention a general law or statutory instrument that is not relatable , for each request it has to be clear that the law or regualtion clearly s grants that theat specific request be compied with. Fopr expaple iuf they ask you to remove a fridge form a corridors wbcasure it is a fire risk sk, they must show how what law or regulation states that a fridge cannot be pkdes ina  fire expaper route. Their request must not be subjectove it has to be stated in the law clearly how their request is necessary. For example of the fridge to be removed from a fire escape route, law or regulaiton must state theat a fridge cannot be plced in the fire escape  route . I had a caoucil officer plus aht efire officers asking for fridges fto bne removed from the corridor but never managed to find any law or regualtion to back up that request. They simply mentioned  that the fridges caused an obstruciton and both the council officers and the fire brigades said so therefore it was true. Tho this I replied , well use your oewn eyes and see how ytou are both making this up, the fridges do not cause any obstruction at all! I can even make a video and make it public to show it, how about even you come use your eyes again and maybe you realise that anyone including you or anyone elese can pass though no problem?To this nothing, no reply!

I had aa notice sauying that under housing regulatgion 2004 I had to repaint the outside of the house. This if of course not a lawful request, because whether something is well painted is a subjective matter and there is nothing in the 2004 housing act on HMOS that involes safety due to the paiting of the exterior of the property.

In essence you will find every now and then that

 

 

The council officer is never powereful at all.

If the council officer becomes unreasonable do not be scared of antagonise him/her and point out how fooling he/she might be acting. elll them intheir face with no feart as a the time of writitng theyre ids almost nothing they can do . But Why they are not powerful?

It is because all they have to do is enforce the laos andit is very easy to complay with the law. In the unlikely case you are not 100% complaient with some regulations thay must allow you time and speakce in order to comply. And remementr in the worst case scenario it is very hard to porosecurte uopi. TYhrye havbbe no power to fine you. Any monerary penaly must be issued by a successful porsecution. Prosecutions are difficeult , expensive for eh council and if you fight back they may even lose on porcedural mistakes.

 

How do the coucil take action against?

Assuming that you have applied for an HMO license you should not fear any council officer, because rthey have no power to iisue fines. Any punishment can only be enforced thrhouffgh the courts. In case you have not applied for a license and theere if a fire  or somebody died in the porperty then they can act no matter what. It does not matter whether you are a smalll or big ladlord, the council after an incident is sometimes  under poloitical pressure to be seen to have taken some action, to calmm down possible outcry. Therefore once again, always apply for amnm HMO license and comply with all fire  regulation in  your building/

This is not a hard and fast rule but the council prefer to take to court those landlords who are very small and will not amount to any defencse. They are very scared of taking a large landlord to court. First of all remember that the council does not have any real power to issue fines, they can only start prosecutions and court proceeding like you and me can. In the same way at but at higer costs. Also remeber whenever a coucil does anything in court they end up spending like crazy because they have to emply lawyers that are not in house. Sometimies the council has inhouse lawyers but they are few and far in between and they tend to leave the council very fast for some reason.

So whatever action they need to take they require a court order almost every time. Therefore when it comes to take action first of all they usuially first need to try whatever they can thjrough voulaountary cooperation. Then faiing that they are left no option other than take  court action

 

 

What is the job Of an HMO

 

What happens when the council is taken to court.

What you will see i