HMO Licensing – Not knowing if a licence is required is not an excuse
Lauren Walker, an associate in the Real Estate Team, looks at the recent decision involving breach of the licensing requirements for houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) and whether or not the owner needed to be aware of the licensing requirement.
In England, a property is required to have an HMO licence where it is occupied by five or more people who do not form a single household and where rent is paid. In Wales, as well as these two criteria, the property must also comprise three storeys or more before a licence is required.
If a landlord or the person managing or controlling an HMO fails to have an HMO licence for a property which ought to be licensed then they may face criminal proceedings and the local housing authority may prosecute and impose financial penalties. In some cases, rent can also be demanded to be repaid to tenants.
The recent case of R (Mohamed and another) v London Borough of Waltham Forest has confirmed that, where enforcement proceedings are brought for failure to hold a licence, there is no requirement to prove that the person(s) in control of or managing the property knew that a HMO licence was required for them to be in breach of their obligations. All that is required to be shown is that the person was in control of or managing an HMO which required a licence, but was not appropriately licensed. There is therefore strict liability for failure to comply with the HMO licensing provisions, irrespective of the state of knowledge of the person liable to comply.
It is therefore important to review the properties which you own, manage or control and ensure that, where a HMO licence is required, one is obtained. Lack of knowledge will not be a defence should you be found to be in breach of these requirements.
If you have any concerns about your multi-occupier properties and/or are looking to acquire a property which is an HMO, please do get in touch as our Real Estate Team will be happy to assist you.