Don’t Talk To The Council!!

A new Landlord: hounded, bullied, harassed and falsely accused of breaking the law – until we put the bullies and the idiots in their place. Unjustified Enforcement yet again!

Read this true story. Every landlord needs to know the council is wrong a lot of the time and will destroy you the Landlord – if they can.
For years, my message has been clear “do not talk to the council about your property licensing” and many of you say to me, “no it’s okay I have nothing to hide.”  Well, there’s a reason I said you should not talk to them.  Read on and you will see why.
Be warned, calling the council is often providing them information and intelligence they did not already have that they can and will use in evidence against you.

Here is the story:
A new first-time landlord buys his first buy to let property. It is 6 bedrooms, and one day be his family home, maybe in 3 to 4 years.

He places it for rent with three agents and one of them finds a tenant.

The tenant is a construction company based in faraway parts of the UK from the house with contracts based in the area the house is located.  They have teams of workers coming to the contracts from their hometowns far away and working away and returning to their loved ones most weekends to share their love and earnings.

The landlord is told by a well-intentioned person, who did not have all the facts, that he needs an HMO Licence as 6 people sharing is an HMO and that he must apply for a licence.
Confused and unsure, as he is a first-time landlord, he does what you all do, he calls his trusted and loved council for advice and help.  This was the first error in the story!

The council states in writing that if he is receiving rent, profiting from it and there are 5 unrelated people even though they work together then he must have a licence and make an application.
He then protests that they are living as a ‘cohesive unit’ and they are living like a family and the council pushes back again and sends him information on what is a family as under the Housing Act 2004 along with an exemption declaration to complete if they are family.

He looks at it and realises they are not family and then decides to make the application and completes this online in less than two hours and allows more than £1,000 to depart from his debit card into the council’s coffers as part of the application process.
A few days later the council confirms the application and asks for supporting documentation that the agent kindly provides as it was holding these and the council tells him he will receive a draft HMO licence in some weeks.

They mention in the email that the property is in an Article 4 area and that he would need to also apply for planning permission.   He is now distraught and confused.   A new landlord with a big £100,000 a year job and starting a family and property portfolio.  It was Baptism by Fire you might say! another problem in renting this property, oh the joys of landlording!
A couple of weeks later Planning Enforcement are in touch and want to know when is he going to make a planning application?   There was an ultimatum to a) prove existing use, b) make an application for change of use or c) convert back to C3 residential.

Like a good citizen, he calls the council and is barraged with accusations such as i) you are breaking the law, ii) you have created an HMO, iii) we won’t give you planning permission anyway, iv) the house next door is a HMO so there are too many and v) we have article 4 for a reason and you should know the law and what you are doing and on it went, with sly comments like “you need to know the law in this country”. (This landlord is British born and bred so he knows laws like many do).
The landlord was now shaking with fear, he was lost and unsure and so he calls the agent for help. (Incidentally, the day before I had another call from a different landlord client, dealing with the same council, who had told me that the same enforcement officer had been personally abusive to him and his wife and made comments about their intelligence, background and race and called them criminals whilst trying to fine them £30,000 without any evidence!)

A few weeks passed and a draft HMO licence was issued with no property-specific conditions and some side emails telling the landlord what works needed to be done to be a compliant HMO.
The agent engaged Landlord Licensing & Defence and I gathered the facts, spoke with them and the landlord, and considered all the information.

This was interesting and I suspected that this landlord had been completely duped by the council, and that he had been misled to further the council’s  own agenda. I could see that this property did not classify as an HMO nor did it need a licence, nor did he need to do all the works the council was insisting it required, not did it require planning permission! This was a classic house with lovely features set over three floors in a lovely town centre.  He wanted to keep it as it was for his future home.

It was on the same day that the council had set the limit to expire for the works to be completed that the full HMO Licence was granted and the same day that the agent engaged me.
The landlord had not made any representations, at the draft licence stage as, like most landlords starting out with HMO, they do not understand the responsibilities they have and the power the council has over them under threat of prosecution on trumped-up licence conditions.

So, looking at the situation, there was an investigation to be done and I had to get my facts and I was going to get them and fix this situation, stop the bullying and get the matter sorted.
After some far-reaching investigation, an inspection of the property, interviewing the occupants, liaising with the agency, we went to planning enforcement first.
The client sent a letter saying he had appointed our firm Landlord Licensing & Defence to represent him on licensing and planning matters for this property.

Bully-boy tactics by planning officer
His letter was not well received, and an angry reply came back from the planning enforcement officer stating that after all these weeks that he expected a planning application or evidence of prior HMO use or to have confirmation that the property would be returned to residential property and he wanted an answer now.

An interesting response, so I wrote to him explaining my appointment and that I wanted some time to speak to him and time to process things after that.   He agreed to a phone call.
When I called him, we had a conversation, he went into a tirade, he became agitated, then he started bullying me.  I took a moment to break his pattern and explained to him that this behaviour was going to stop in that instant and that he was never going to speak to me or anyone else like that again.  He was stunned!

I went on to tell him that I had received two complaints from clients who had come to me as they had found him impossible to communicate with.
I explained that I would be silencing him as I have many other bully-like officers in councils across the country and I was there on the phone defending my client’s innocence in the matter for which he had no evidence except for an HMO Licence Application, which I was convinced was forced nonsense.

I reminded him of the council’s code of conduct and the law relating to interacting and dealing with those with whom he comes in contact.
He eventually calmed down and became respectful, communicative and explained to me that he had targets to meet and he had to have results and that this case needed to be solved with one of his ultimatums.

When he realised I was going to help him reach his targets, he got excited and I can say interactions ever since have been like dealing with a loving puppy.
Except now this case will be closed and he will get none of the results he wanted.

The reason being is that for an HMO to be in breach of planning, (which in itself is not the issue, the breaking the law element is not complying with an enforcement notice), an HMO has first to be formed following one the HMO tests as defined in the Housing Act 2004.

The investigations and result showed that this property’s occupation, did not pass the Standard Test for a HMO under the Housing Act 2004 and therefore, not only did it not need planning in the Article 4 area, as it was not a HMO, it also did not require licensing as it did NOT fall under any  Additional nor Mandatory HMO licensing scheme as it does not meet the standard test for a HMO nor any of the meanings of “house in multiple occupation”.

Faced with our conclusive evidence, the licensing department of the council has agreed with us (without us needing to appeal to the First-Tier Tribunal to appeal against the decision to grant a HMO Licence) and as a result  they are processing our request to revoke the licence as the standard test is not met and will refund the licence fee to the landlord.

A fantastic win and no licence nor planning needed.
The exact opposite of everything the new landlord had been told, convinced of and misled to believe by council staff.
So, you may ask what was the secret and how did we overturn against such opposition?

The secret in this particular case is that in the standard test the living accommodation needs to be occupied by those people so occupying the property “as their only and main residence or they are treated as so occupying by reason of undertaking a full-time course of further or higher education or as a refuge from physical or mental abuse or violence”, and none of them was for any of the above.

This meant that as they live somewhere else and that somewhere else is their only and main residence, they could not possibly be occupying the property as an HMO.
For God’s sake, the council officer should know this, the planning officer should know this, and they should know how to evaluate the situation rapidly, but of course, there is no fun if you don’t treat the landlord as a criminal and intimidate him.

So, when I shout: “DON’T CALL THE COUNCIL” and you do, you get yourself in all sorts of trouble that you don’t need to.
If the landlord had called us at Landlord Licensing & Defence instead of the council, he would have:

  • never have made the application,
  • never needed to pay the fees for the defence that he has had to pay for and would
  • never have had the heartache he’s had.

Occupants Harassed and Intimidated by Council
The occupants, by the way, told me they have never felt more harassed, intimidated and unwanted as a result of all the pandemonium caused by those ignorant, rude and incompetent council officials and staff who clearly are trained to a standard that is embarrassing to see, experience and hear.

Ex-council employee concurs
When I aired this situation in a group on Facebook one person made these comments. “Having worked in councils for many years I can confirm that I fully agree with this. Councils have recently expanded their HMO teams to take on the additional work due to the changes in Mandatory HMO licensing in October 2018 and they often redeploy staff from
other areas of the council. Often these staff have little training or experience of housing work and they are enforcing the law against us.”
Pretty damning from one of their own!
As a bit of light relief, the same guy posted this:

  1. What’s the difference between the council enforcement officer and God?
  2. God doesn’t think he is a council enforcement officer.

Talk to Representation not the Council
Back to being serious. These council people are vindictive bullies, out to destroy landlords and their businesses. They are out of control and acting way beyond their legal remit. We will not stand for them doing this to our clients!

If you have a question do avail yourself of the opportunity to book a 20 minutes’ free consultation with us to learn what needs to be done.  and select initial assessment halfway down the page

You guessed it, if I call the council for you, then you can guess I will get a very different result and I will not allow any abuse nor intimidation or unorthodox behaviour.

Des Taylor
Landlord Licensing & Defence

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