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Local Authorities

Enforcement of many of the laws, rules and regulations concerning private rented accommodation is in the hands of local authorities.

Although laws generally apply to the whole of England and Wales (Scotland has its own legal system and requirements in Northern Ireland also differ), the way in which they are applied can differ in detail from local authority to local authority (as do the amounts charged for landlord licences, for example). Landlords should be aware of the housing policies and housing priorities of the local authority or authorities responsible for locations in which they own rental property (these should be available via the relevant authorities’ websites).

Local authorities are responsible for implementing laws concerning:

private rented sector housing standards

  • landlord licensing
  • local housing allowance
  • private rented sector grants and subsidies
  • management of empty properties.

Some local authorities also run landlord-accreditation schemes.

Local authority duties are taken care of by various departments or local offices:

  • housing officers are local government officers with responsibilities for allocating social housing and dealing with antisocial behaviour
  • planning officers have responsibility for planning permission applications and enforcement
  • Building Control has responsibility for seeing building work complies with building regulations
  • landlord licensing teams deal with licence applications and licence enforcement
  • Environmental Health officers are local authority officers with responsibility for identifying and enforcing or coordinating enforcement of laws dealing with unfit or overcrowded private rental properties, with ensuring the suitability of HMO properties, and with illegal eviction and empty homes
  • local Trading Standards offices have statutory responsibility for enforcing a raft of legislation, including consumer protection laws. Local Trading Standards offices can be found by postcode searches on www.tradingstandards.gov.uk.
  • Landlords will probably have most contact with local Environmental Health departments.

Local authorities have various powers of entry and enforcement, made stronger by the Housing Act 2004.

Should they become aware of, or receive an official complaint of category-one (extreme) or category-two (severe) hazards within a property (see HHSRS), the Act calls upon them to inspect that property. If category-one hazards are found to exist, there is a duty to take “appropriate enforcement action”, and if category-two hazards are found, there is a power to take such action if deemed necessary.

This action could be serving an improvement notice requiring works to remove the hazard; making a prohibition order debarring use of all or part of the property as a residential dwelling; serving a hazard awareness notice bringing attention to the hazard and recommending remedial action; taking emergency remedial action to remove an imminent danger; making an emergency prohibition order; or even making a demolition order.

If a council intends to take action concerning a fire hazard in an HMO or the common parts of a building containing flats, it has a duty to consult the local Fire and Rescue authority.

It is an offence not to comply with these legal notices and besides a fine, non-compliance could result a court order for necessary work to be undertaken by the local authority at the owner’s expense.

Local authorities also have power to step in when local licensing requirements have been breached. If a property should have been licensed but has not been, and there is no reasonable expectation that a licence will be granted in the near future, the local authority can issue an interim management order (IMO). Ownership of the property is not affected, but the local authority takes over the management, standing in the place of the landlord (see the government booklet ‘Interim and Final Management Orders’, www.communities.gov.uk). The local authority will let the property as if it were the landlord, deal with tenants, collect the rent and pay all the outgoings for repairs, lettings costs and the like. It will pay the landlord the difference, if any, between the rental income and its costs. Authorities can also issue such orders when they intend to revoke landlord licences on certain grounds and there is no reasonable prospect that a new licence will be granted in the near future  Properties that do not need a licence are not entirely immune. On the authority of a Residential Property Tribunal, (the body to which appeals against IMOs can be directed – www.rpts.gov.uk), local authorities can take over management of properties which are the source of anti-social behaviour about which the landlord is failing to take appropriate action.

Landlords can ask at any time for IMOs to be lifted. If a request is refused, an appeal can be made to the Residential Property Tribunal.

However, IMOs can also be followed (after due notification and consultation – and with right of appeal) by Final Management Orders (FMOs). These can last for as long as five years. Again the council stands in place of  the landlords and accounts to him or her for any surplus income. Landlords have the right to ask at any time for an FMO to be lifted and, if refused, can appeal the decision.

Councils can take other action against those HMOs that do not require a licence. The Housing Act 2004 allows local authorities, where they consider there are too few rooms to accommodate everybody who lives or are likely to live at the premises, to issue ‘overcrowding notices’ ordering the landlord to reduce the number of occupants or to prevent new tenants being accepted.

Any property can be subject to noise abatement order if Environmental Health officers consider the level of noise from a property to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance. The notice could require the noisy activity to stop, demand steps to reduce the noise (such as insulation or volume control) or restrict the times of day that the noisy activity can take place. If the problem relates to the condition of the premises, the notice can be served on the landlord or owner of the premises. The person named on the notice has 21 days to challenge it in a magistrates’ court, after which he or she can be fined for each day that the noise continues.

According to the Environmental Protection Act 1990, noise becomes a nuisance if unreasonable and significant level of noise causes significant and unreasonable interference with the use and enjoyment of a premises. Where noise becomes excessive in volume and duration, or occurs at unreasonable times of the day, councils can investigate and assess whether or not the noise amounts to a 'statutory nuisance'. Nuisance law is criminal law, and penalties on prosecution may include a fine or forfeiture any seized noise-making equipment.

More likely, in the first instance at least, is an abatement notice. This is a legal document that requires the recipient to stop making unreasonable noise. It may also contain conditions to ensure that a nuisance does not occur in the future. Non-compliance with the requirements of an abatement notice is itself a criminal offence with fines of up to £5,000.

Councils can also take action to take control of and let out residential properties left empty for more than six months – the main homes of people temporarily living elsewhere for work or caring purposes are exempted, as are second homes and holiday homes, properties that are in the process of being sold or let, and properties that are going through probate.

Local authorities can only issue Empty Dwelling Management Orders with prior approval from a Residential Property Tribunal. Orders can be ended early if the owner decides to live in or sell the property.

Once an EDMO is in place the local authority concerned is responsible for any furniture remaining and must undertake any work needed to make a property habitable (recouping the costs from rental income).

Once a property is fit for habitation the local authority must seek permission from the owner for it to be occupied. If the owner is willing to allow it to be let, the authority may decide to return the property or to lease it from the owner, and charge him or her for the work done. But if the owner objects to letting the property, the local authority has the option to issue a final EDMO (if it does not, it must end the temporary EDMO). No further approval is needed from the RPT but the owner must be given 14 days to make representations. If the authority still goes ahead, the owner has the right of appeal.

Final EDMOs allow local authorities to take possession of a property for up to seven years, during which time they will let the property to whomever they consider appropriate. As before, local authorities must account to the owner for any net surplus from letting, after deducting costs.

Trading Standards offices are responsible for enforcing legislation concerning the safety of goods supplied in rented accommodation. This includes the safety of gas and other appliances (and the requirement for annual gas safety certificates) and compliance with the Furniture and Furnishings (Fire) (Safety) Regulations 1988.

While local housing authorities are responsible, under the Housing Act 2004, for rented property licensing and for administering the HHSRS, Fire and Rescue authorities have the responsibility of enforcing the Fire Safety Order in the common areas of residential accommodation (other than single private dwellings). This means Fire and Rescue  authorities have powers to inspect rented properties and to issue enforcement and prohibition notices where they deem them necessary.

LACORS (the Local Authorities Coordinators of Regulatory Services) has issued guidance on ‘Housing – Fire Safety’ outlining both fire safety requirements and how enforcement is shared between local authorities and fire and safety authorities. This can be downloaded from www.lacors.gov.uk.




The Landlord's Handbook has everything you need to know about being a landlord – go to www.harriman-house.com/thelandlordshandbook to purchase your copy.




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