Students from the University of Leeds took their landlord to court and won back 12 months’ rent. They won the rent refund because their landlord had failed to license the HMO – House in Multiple Occupation.
Delighted postgraduate student Ben Leonard and his co-tenants discovered that the landlord was letting the property illegally, because it did not have a current HMO licence. It seems that their landlord did apply to Leeds City Council for a licence, but only when the tenancy was half-way through.
New HMO rules came into force effective 1 October 2018 on mandatory HMO licensing. This means that mandatory licensing has now been extended to cover most Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) occupied by five or more non-related people where there is some sharing of facilities. The rules may vary slightly from authority to authority but now affect properties with any number of stories, not just 3-storey properties as before.
There are also new minimum bedroom sizes of 6.52 square metres for one person, and 10.23 square metres for two people. The measurement of these rooms cannot include areas where the ceiling is below 1.5 metres in height.
Landlords must show that they are a “fit and proper person” to be a landlord, that is free from any criminal record, and the property must meet exacting safety standards, with regular safety inspections.
Landlords who don’t have a current HMO licence face fines of up to £30,000, and they can be forced to repay up to 12 months of rent to their tenants. This is done through what is known as a rent repayment order (RRO) instigated by the tenants. This was the case with Mr Leonard’s landlord.
When Mr Leonard reported the matter to Leeds City Council, the housing officer on the case informed him that the Council was taking court action against the landlord and he explained that they (all the tenants) were entitled to seek an RRO.
Having made their application, the tenants were obliged to provide evidence of their rent payments using bank statements and their tenancy agreement. To their delight, the evidence was accepted and the landlord was taken to court. He pleaded guilty and, after all bills were deducted, including an amount due to the landlord’s financial position, each tenant could reclaim around £2,000.
Following publicity received after winning their case, Mr Leonard told the BBC that he had received an “incredible” response on Twitter about the case. He said he had been inundated with messages from other HMO tenants who thought they may be in a similar position and that their landlords might have cases to answer.
The “screw” is gradually being tightened on the rogue landlord, which goes to emphasise the vital importance of following the rules when letting residential property.