An east London council has won a legal ruling that the penalties imposed by local authorities under their selective licensing schemes should be upheld by the housing court.
Waltham Forest issued penalties under its scheme to two landlords – known as Marshall and Ustek – of £5,000 and £12,000 respectively for failure to register properties.
The local authority can impose a financial penalty under section 249A of the Housing Act 2004, and has developed a civil penalties matrix comprising six bands of fines, depending on the severity of a breach and other aggravating factors.
The First Tier Tribunal (FTT) recognised the council’s policy, but still reduced the level of the fines. However, the Upper Tribunal ruled that the FTT must give “special” and “considerable” weight to the local authority’s decision and reinstated the original fines.
According to Judge Cooke, "The FTT is not the place to challenge the policy about financial penalties" and when determining an appeal, it must "start from the policy" and can only depart from policy under case-specific circumstances.
Judge Cooke also said the court must "Look at the objectives of the policy and ask itself whether those objectives will be met if the policy is not followed", and should "Consider the need for consistency between offenders, which is one of the most basic reasons for having a policy and an essential component of fairness in the financial penalty system."
Waltham Forest’s head of selective licensing and regulation, David Beach, said: “We felt there wasn’t real guidance there about how the tribunal was supposed to approach such appeals, and on the level of respect or how much regard they should have to give to a council’s lawfully adopted policies for setting the penalties.
“On the one hand the tribunal seemed to be saying the policy was fair and transparent, but then you turn to the next page and it’s like a page has been missed out, and they have set their own penalty. This is why we appealed.”
• At the end of January, Waltham Forest fined a branch of landlord agency Century 21 UK £25,000 plus £3,000 costs following the discovery of multiple offences at an unlicensed HMO.
Cameron Adams Ltd – trading as Century 21 Cameron Adams – managed over 100 properties in the borough, operating out of premises at 30 Church Lane, Leytonstone, E11 1HG. The agency pleaded guilty to seven charges at Thames Magistrates Court on Friday 24 January 2020.
Century 21 UK reacted by terminating the franchise agreement for Cameron Adams Ltd.
A co-director of Cameron Adams Ltd, Hasan Younis, was also recently fined £16,000 by the council following serious anti-social behaviour in a rented home in Leyton for which he was the named Licence Holder.