For some reason that, quite frankly, escapes me, assorted ‘powers that be’ have been non-committal on whether the Housing Act 2004 provisions on HMOs, licensing etc., and also the Part 1 enforcement of conditions and HHSRS, apply to properties occupied by property guardians. Local authorities, the London Mayor’s office and even MHCLG have all been “well, maybe they do, but we’re not being categoric”. The MCHLG Factsheet for property guardians says, for example:
11. Local housing authorities have responsibility for enforcing housing standards in residential properties, using powers in the Housing Act 2004. Those powers do not usually apply to non-residential buildings but where a property is occupied or intended to be occupied as a separate dwelling and used for cooking and sleeping local authorities may have the right to inspect the property and take action if it contains hazards. If you are concerned about hazards in the property you occupy, you should contact your local housing authority, who can consider whether their enforcement powers apply in your particular case.
12. The property may also be subject to licensing requirements under mandatory house in multiple occupation (HMO) licensing or selective licensing schemes. You should check this with your local housing authority.
This is doubly odd, because lawyers (not just me) have been pretty certain that HA 2004 does apply. See, for example, the section on Housing Act 2004 here, by Prof Caroline Hunter.
We have previously noted Camden insisting that Camelot obtained an HMO licence for a property occupied by guardians, but now there is an actual prosecution for failure to licence.
Colchester Borough Council prosecuted Camelot Guardian Management Company Ltd (Camelot Europe) for failing to licence an HMO and for multiple breaches of HMO management regulations. On 28 March, Camelot pleaded guilty to 15 charges.
As well as the failure to licence the property, a former care home which at one point had 30 guardians living there, Camelot also pleaded guilty to charges relating to a faulty fire alarm system, blocked fire escapes and sealed doors. In addition, guardians only had one kitchen and shared bathrooms lacked hot water.
Sentencing will be in the summer, when we’ll see what levels of fine are imposed – the maximum fines are unlimited for these offences.
But I understand that a number of the former guardian occupants of the property had already brought applications for Rent Repayment Orders on the basis of the property being an unlicensed HMO, and that these applications were settled by Camelot before hearing at the FTT. (An RRO can be for up to 12 months rent, or as here, licence payments.)
Overall then, this is likely to be financially pretty painful for Camelot.
Granted, this was a guilty plea, so there was no legal argument on the application of HA 2004, but on the other hand, the guilty plea suggests (as has been my view) that there isn’t much in the way of legal argument to make on the non-application of HA 2004.
This will hopefully embolden local authorities to toughen up on licensing requirements for properties occupied by property guardians. Since October 2018, the ‘three stories’ requirement for mandatory licensing has gone, so it is now even more likely that a large number of properties occupied by guardians would fall under mandatory licensing (5 or more people in two or more separate households, and shared facilities).
The list of issues with the Colchester property suggests why this is important. HMO management regs and HHSRS hazard enforcement await…