NLA in action
1) The issue: NLA backs Humber Landlords Association in High Court challenge to Hull City Council
The National Landlords Association (NLA) is supporting the Humber Landlords Association (HLA) in its High Court legal challenge against Hull City Council’s new private-sector housing enforcement policy.
Hull City Council has taken an unusual approach in deciding to discard the standard informal stage of enforcement, usually used to resolve relatively minor issues related to disrepair in the private rented sector (PRS), in favour of moving directly to formal enforcement.
Government guidance encourages enforcement agencies to adopt an informal approach where suitable. Typically a tenant’s complaint to the local authority about a housing matter will be followed by an approach to the landlord in the form of a conversation or a letter outlining what action the authority expects to see in a defined timescale. Failure to resolve the matter will then be escalated and result in formal enforcement action.
However, in accordance with Hull’s new policy, in the event of a tenant complaint the Council will now move straight to enforcement by way of an Improvement Notice and charge a fee of at least £250 unless the landlord is accredited through the council’s accreditation scheme.
HLA believes the council’s change of procedure is unlawful and is challenging it.
We are supporting the HLA financially and practically in its High Court challenge because we have real doubts over the legality of Hull City Council’s decision.
We believe that the decision to ignore government guidance and go straight to enforcement is unfair and potentially unlawful and we are backing the HLA’s decision to challenge this in court. In addition, the NLA is deeply uncomfortable with the Council’s attempt to use its own independent and restrictive accreditation scheme to create a two-tier PRS in the local area – allowing only those who subscribe to the scheme access to support in the event of a complaint.
Local authorities are undoubtedly struggling to finance essential services, including enforcement action. So we can be sympathetic to Hull City Council’s desire to both save money and charge landlords for legitimate enforcement, but it seems clear that Hull has taken this decision to use landlords as a means of generating revenue, rather than to improve the quality of housing stock or outcomes for tenants.
A judge will assess the application for judicial review, probably in a few weeks, to determine if there is a legitimate case to argue. If permission to proceed is granted, then it’s a case of challenging the authority’s decision in the High Court.
2) The issue: NLA’s backing of member Peter Gaskin in appeal against London Borough of Richmond decision on HMO licence renewal
Like many thousands of NLA members, Peter Gaskin called our Advice Line in 2014, for help in a dispute with Richmond-upon-Thames Council over the fee for a licence renewal for an HMO and additional data requests. Fortunately, most calls to the NLA’s Advice Line can be resolved in relatively short order; however, Mr Gaskin needed a little more support and embarked on a process that has recently received a lot of attention – even though it may not yet be at an end.
Faced with a demand for information and payment which he deemed unreasonable, Mr Gaskin refused to pay the full fee or provide the additional data on the tenants that Richmond Council was requesting. The Council took him to court and were initially successful, but Mr Gaskin appealed.
Last month the High Court ruled that Mr Gaskin was providing a service and as such should fall under the remit of the EU Services Directive. This means that Mr Gaskin can challenge Richmond Council over the fee structure for the renewal of an HMO licence.
Since 2014 we have been working with Mr Gaskin to secure a judgement in his favour. We are pleased with this outcome, but of course this particular case may have some way to go before a final conclusion is reached. We continue to support Mr Gaskin with the specialist knowledge and experience at the disposal of the NLA team.
3) The issue: government consultation on longer tenancies
Even before the government’s eight-week consultation on longer tenancies drew to a close, rumours emerged suggesting they were about to mandate three-year tenancies. Just a few weeks on, there is talk in Westminster of significantly watering down the proposals.
We have submitted our response to the government’s consultation and continue to lobby ministers on behalf of landlords on the issues raised . There have been a lot of rumours in recent weeks and we have responded to all those pronouncements, offering a few suggestions of our own. However, at this stage all we can do is wait and see.
We expect a decision ahead of the Budget in December, but government timetables are notoriously difficult to predict.
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