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Houses in Multiple Occupation Can Be a Legal Minefield Without Advice

Owners of houses in multiple occupation (HMOs) owe a battery of legal duties and would be wise to seek professional advice to ensure compliance. In one case, the freeholder of a tenanted property ended up in very hot water after refusing to provide information to a local authority and questioning its HMO licensing fees.

houseThe man owned a property that was in part occupied by members of his family but which also contained a number of residential units which he rented out. He held a licence in respect of the HMO under the Housing Act 2004 but objected when the council sought to charge him £1,799 for its renewal. He argued that the fee was unlawfully high and also refused to provide the council with the names of those occupying the premises on the basis that that information was not relevant.

The council told him that the fee was not negotiable and, after it threatened him with prosecution, he launched a judicial review challenge. In upholding his arguments in part, the court found that the council had no lawful authority to demand that he name occupants of the property on a renewal application and that he could only have been invited to provide that information voluntarily.

However, in otherwise rejecting his challenge, the court noted that the council had an express power to fix renewal fees in order to cover the costs incurred in carrying out its regulatory role. It was not permitted to make a profit on such fees, but it was not unlawful to charge the same for a renewal as for a first application. As a matter of domestic law, the owner was thus not entitled to refuse payment in full.

The council had also lawfully exercised its power under Section 16 of the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1976 to require him to state the nature of his interest in the property, and to provide the names and addresses of any other persons who also had such an interest, whether as lessee or otherwise.

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