As of next week, the Housing and Planning Act will come into force in England. The changes will be effective as of 6th April 2017. The amendments are as follows;
- The widening of Rent Repayment Orders
- New fixed penalty notices.
Rent Repayment Orders
A rent repayment order (RRO) is a means for tenants to reclaim up to twelve months rent where a landlord rents out accommodation which should be licensed, but is not. However, a landlord must be found guilty in court or in a tribunal. The Rent Repayment Order can now be sought for a wide range of offences including the following;
- failure to apply for a HMO;
- breach of a licence condition;
- breach of the HMO Management Regulations;
- breach of an HHSRS enforcement notice; and
- using unlawful force to seek an eviction.
When making the Rent Repayment Order the Tribunal must be satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that a landlord has committed one of the offences listed above. However, the landlord does not have to have been prosecuted through the courts for a Rent Repayment Order to be made. In other words, a local authority or tenant can seek a Rent Repayment Order against a landlord who they believe has committed an offence even though they have not been prosecuted for it.
Where there has been a prosecution or the local authority has issued a penalty notice for an offence then any discretion of the Tribunal is very limited and they are expected to order the entire sum claimed, potentially all the rent for the last twelve months.
The new provisions also place a positive obligation on a local authority to consider seeking a Rent Repayment Order where they can and they are also able to assist tenants by providing advice or even by conducting proceedings for a Rent Repayment Order.
The new fixed penalty provision allows local authorities to choose to levy a financial penalty of up to £30,000 in respect of any offence under the Housing Act 2004 instead of seeking to prosecute. This applies to the same offences listed above. The penalties are for each offence committed, so landlords could face multiple fines of up to £30,000 for multiple offences. However, each offence may not see the maximum fine imposed. Local authorities will be given government guidance to assist in setting an appropriate penalty for each offence.
Other Clauses in the Act.
The Act includes provision for the introduction on annual Electrical safety certification (much along the same lines as the Gas Safety Certificate)
Oxford City Council, like many other authorities, have always maintained that one of the reasons they have been unable to enforce additional licensing is because the Housing act prohibits the use of licensing fees for enforcement. They have also bemoaned the fact that fines imposed by the courts have not been available to them for resourcing further enforcement. These new powers of imposing a levy might change the game. As far a electrical safety certification is concerned, our advice remains to get one done now whilst five year certification is still available. For further information on this see the Pain Smith Blog