Tenants asked to pay for HMO licence

A lettings agency has been heavily criticised by a property tribunal judge after it asked four HMO tenants to pay for the cost of licensing their property.

The comments have been made by First Tier Tribunal Judge Shepherd about East London and West Essex firm Churchill Estates and its property manager Rory Wheeler after the firm’s handling of the HMO tenancy caused the landlord to be issued with an £18,159 rent repayment order.

It is somewhat surprising that the [landlord] through Churchill Estates sought to obtain the cost of obtaining a licence from the tenants. This is very unorthodox and questionable,” the judge said

The hearing followed an RRO claim by three tenants who had lived at the property on Brookdale Road in Walthamstow, East London (pictured) for ten months during 2020/21.

The tribunal’s report on the case revealed that the property had previously been successfully licensed under a previous scheme operated Walthamstow council, but had not been re-licenced when a new HMO scheme had subsequently been introduced.

“It is clear that Churchill lettings who were managing the property on behalf of the [landlord] were fully aware of the need for a licence for the premises because at one point they asked the [tenants] to pay for the cost of obtaining one,” said Judge Shepherd.

The tribunal also heard that when the three tenants moved into the property they were not served a gas safety certificate or a ‘how to rent’ guide.

Also, none of the rooms had fire doors, smoke detectors were not in all of the rooms and there was no fire blanket in the kitchen nor a working carbon monoxide alarm.

Churchill Estates told the tribunal, in mitigation, that the period after the first lockdown had been difficult as it had prioritised chasing tenants for rent arrears, that it had utilised the council’s ‘grace period’ for licensing, and that they were waiting for the landlords to apply for planning permission to use the property as an HMO.

But these arguments were rejected by the judge, who said “the Respondent is plainly a professional landlord as evidenced by the fact that he obtained licenses for other properties.

“He and Churchills should have known better and should have licensed the property at the outset instead of putting [their own] interests first.”

The landlord has 28 days to appeal the decision.

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