WHAT CAN HAPPEN?
Action relating to contravenes in a HMO are essentially enforced by two authorities. Principally by West Midlands Fire & Rescue Authority, and Coventry City Council.
Fines, are usually imposed on offence of the regulation, and can also be an accumulation of offences. This can lead to court cases, convictions, and prison sentences, for the “responsible person”.
Legislation places a legal obligation to ensure fire safety & management of your HMO’s is carried out by a ‘responsible person’. The Responsible Person refers to the person who has control of the premises in connection with “carrying of the business”, meaning, in the case of absentee landlords it may well be the managing agent. Failure to comply with the HMO management regulations can result in enforcement action being taken out against managing agents and landlords, or jointly.
In terms of enforcement a notice may be served if the enforcing authority believes that the responsible person or any other person with duties under the RRO 2005 and/or Housing Act 2004, have failed to comply. A prohibition notice may be served if the enforcing authority believes that the use of the premises involves or will involve a risk to relevant persons that is so serious that such use should be prohibited or restricted. Failing to comply with the requirements of the RRO where the failure places people at risk of death or serious personal injury in case of fire or failing to comply with any requirement imposed by an enforcement notice is an offence and may result in a fine or even imprisonment.
The penalty on summary conviction, for each separate offence, is a fine. In considering a prosecution for a breach of the management regulations, Coventry City Council will also consider whether to take action under Part 1 Housing Act 2004, such as:
Firstly enforcement teams will seek to establish who the responsible person(s) are. Once identified they can then impose unlimited fines through the courts, and the council can also seek to recover costs of any legal action.
Maximum civil penalty for offences, under the Housing Act 2004 are up to £30,000. The Council may decide to issue a civil penalty as an alternative to prosecution. In addition to these fines the West Midlands Fire & Rescue Service can also issue separate fines for the same HMO under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 Act.
RENT REPAYMENT ORDER
If you operate a HMO without a licence, your tenants may seek to recover the rent they had paid you. They could claim (back-dated) rent for the whole period where it had been operating as a HMO without a licence.
The Council may also seek to recover any housing benefit paid for the period that the HMO remained unlicensed.
The Council could also issue an interim management order on your HMO if they think that the HMO is unlikely to be licensed in the near future or that health and safety is an issue. They would essentially take control of the HMO, manage it and receive the rent from it.
REVOKING OR REFUSING LICENCES
The Council have the power to revoke or refuse you a licence if they have evidence to show that you have contravened housing law. At this point you will be deemed as “not a fit and proper person” to continue, and if you are a licence holder of other HMOs those licences could also be revoked.
Moreover, if you are deemed not be a ‘fit and proper’ person and therefore will no longer be able to manage your HMO property. It can lead to serving a Sec 21 or Sec 8 notice becoming invalid. Your property insurance can become null and void and therefore not pay out on damages or any claims. Additionally, under the ‘relevant persons’ section your mortgage lenders may be contacted, and your mortgage can be revoked. More serious breaches will result in a prison sentence.