Buy to let landlord who was originally fined over £31,000 by Coventry City Council has had their penalty reduced by around 90 per cent.
Tan Sandhu was first fined £31,499 by the Council for breaching the 2004 Housing Act. However, this was later cut to £23,649, before then being appealed at the Property Chamber, and First Tier Tribunal. The fine was then reduced to only £3,300.
Mr Sandhu converted his property, which is located on Walsall Street, in Coventry, from a semi-detached home into an HMO. However, an inspection from Coventry City Council found there were four breaches of rental law in the home. These included the lack of display of contact details of the relevant property manager, the requirement for keys in order to get out of different rooms in the property, the absence of heat detectors and smoke detectors in the kitchen, as well as no fire blanket, and an insecure door at the rear of the property.
An HMO (House in Multiple Occupation) is defined as having a minimum of three residents living in the property, who form more than one household, and where kitchen, bathroom and toilet facilities are shared with the other tenants.
Coventry City Council issued Mr Sandhu, the landlord, with notice on 20th November 2018 to take action on the issues. However, four months later, the Council found that the majority of the breaches were still there and had not been rectified. This left the council with no alternative but to undertake further action against the landlord.
The city council opted to then impose a fine of £2,100 as a penalty for failure to display the details of the property manager. This was in addition to a fine of £29,399 for breaches to rental law under Regulation 4, which details the duty of the landlord to undertake safety measures in a rental home. This total of £31,499 was later reduced to £26,649 when the landlord challenged these charges.
Mr Sandhu challenged these penalties in court, and appealed against the charges based on the grounds that these are excessive sums of money, which are not in line with the Government’s guidelines, or Coventry City Council’s own policies. He was successful in his appeal, and the fine was reduced to only £3,300, a reduction of over 93 per cent.
Phil Turtle, a compliance consultant at Landlord Licensing and Defence Limited, commented that this case is a very clear example of the misapplication of legislation by a local authority to satisfy their own purposes. The organisation specialises in helping landlords and letting agents avoid penalties and fines from councils across the UK. Thorough inventory property management can also ensure that letting agents and landlords are adequately protected from damage or missing items from investment properties, in addition to avoiding disputes with tenants.
Mr Turtle went on to emphasise that while his company cannot condone the actions of a landlord who does not understand HMO management regulations, and fails to comply with these rules, Mr Sandhu was treated unfairly by Coventry City Council. He stated that by attempting to extract £31,499 from the landlord, Coventry City Council had attempted to overcharge the landlord.
In fact, the Tribunal determined that the local authority were only able to fine Mr Sandhu a total sum of £3,300, which meant that the council had tried to overcharge the landlord a huge £28,199.
While in this case there lacks tangible proof of causality, it is interesting to note, however, that whereas fines from the court are distributed to central government, local councils get to keep the fines collected from landlords as part of their income stream. Phil Turtle notes that this could affect the objectivity of local authorities across the UK.