At the CLT Housing Conference last Wednesday which I attended, some interesting points were made by David Smith (of Pain Smith Solicitors) in his talk.
Consultation for additional licensing
Local Authorities can apply for additional licensing powers but the regulations include requirements that proper consultation be carried out first with relevant parties, which should include, for example, local letting agents. If this is not being done, it is possible that any prosecution for failure to have a license (i.e. under the additional licensing powers) could be challengeable by way of judicial review as being an improper use of LA discretion,
The Housing Health and Rating System is a system of inspecting properties introduced by the Housing Act 2004, where properties are assessed against 29 ‘hazards’. Properties which fail the inspections and show ‘category 1 hazards’ are then served with enforcement notices. However Local Authorities have, in most cases, a duty to serve notice in advance of the inspection, on landlords or agents. If this is not done, then landlords can apply to the Residential Property Tribunal for the notices to be quashed, which in most cases will be granted.
Hazard score calculations
When doing an inspection under the HHSRS, Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) are supposed to do the calculations before embarking on enforcement and prosecution. Landlords being prosecuted, and their advisors, should therefore ensure that they ask the LA to provide its complete calculation of the hazard scores at the earliest opportunity along with some evidence as to when the calculation was made. If these are not forthcoming landlords may be able to successfully defend the proceedings brought.
Appeals to the Residential Property Tribunal (RPT)
Time limits for this are tight and rigidly enforced by the RPT, so landlords should not delay if they consider they have a valid case. Often time is wasted by referring the matter to MPs, local Councillors and the media. Although these can all be helpful in many matters, correspondence with them will not be accepted by the RPT as a valid reason to excuse late submissions. Note also that it is the date the paperwork arrives at the RPT which is the date calculation point, not when it is posted, so if there is any likelihood of a postal delay, you might want to consider delivering it personally or paying for a courier (note that the RPT are not on the DX - the private delivery system used by many solicitors and other professional organisations).
These are just a few of the points made by David in his talk, but enough to see that this is a complex area of law. If you have a problem relating to LHA or HHSRS, a good solicitor who knows his way around the legislation and has experience in the practice and procedure is important. Davids firm Pain Smith are well worth considering, as they are one of the few who have real expertise and experience in this area of work.