Rogue landlords could face fines of up to £30,000 under new council powers.
Thanet council is expected to agree to adopt a policy under housing act legislation which will allow it to issue the civil fines for breaches including a failure to manage waste at a property or failing to licence a house in multiple occupation.
The legislation allows for a sliding scale of fines, dependent on the severity of the offence, from £1,000 up to £30,000.
The cash would be kept by the council to fund further private sector housing enforcement activities.
Council Cabinet members are expected to agree the policy at a meeting tomorrow (March 14) with the fines – which will be an alternative to prosecution – coming into effect from April 1.
At present, any fines from successful prosecutions are collected by the courts and passed to the Treasury. The council may be awarded some or all of its prosecution costs.
If the policy is adopted, the council will be entitled to retain all money collected. The housing act also has provision for banning orders, issued via a tribunal, and those who breach this face imprisonment, or to a fine, or to both. Now the council could impose the fine instead.
Penalties will be issued for
Failing to comply with an Improvement Notice;
Failing to licence a house in multiple occupation (“HMO”);
Knowingly permitting the over-occupation of a licensed HMO;
Failing to comply with the condition of an HMO licence;
Failing to licence a house subject to selective licensing;
Failing to comply with the condition of a selective licence;
Failing to comply with an overcrowding notice in respect of a non-licensable HMO;
Failing to comply with HMO management regulations.
Breaching a banning order.
The council had successfully prosecuted 11 private sector landlords in the 2018/19 financial year (April 2018 to December 2018). The total amount of fines and victim surcharges handed down by the Magistrates’ Court amounted to £41,820. This averages £3,802 per prosecution. The total amount of prosecution costs awarded to the council was £3,165, which averages £288 per case.
The sliding scale of fines will take into account severity and also the size of an offender’s portfolio. The report says: “While all landlords and agents are expected to be aware of their legal obligations, the larger the business is, the more proficient and professional the landlord or agent should be. Furthermore, offenders with a larger portfolio will have more assets and a higher rental income and as such the penalty should have regard to their ability to pay.”
Before imposing fine, the council must issue a “Notice of Intent,” which can then be appealed. The council can then decide to withdraw the fine or impose a lower or equal amount to that in the Notice of Intent, which will result in a Final Notice being served.
The same criminal standard of proof is required for a financial penalty as for a prosecution.
Payment within 21 days of the date the Final Notice will mean a 25% reduction.