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The Oxford Magistrates’ Court recently ruled in favour of our client, a Landlord charged with failure to apply for a HMO licence with Oxford City Council. As a result of his failure to recognise the property as a HMO, he was further charged with breaches of the HMO Regulations, specifically those requiring that his contact details be provided in the property and security directions be complied with.

The alleged breaches were discovered at his property during a Council inspection conducted in April 2016 by a HMO Enforcement Officer. Our client strongly believed he was not guilty of the offences because he did not believe the property to be a HMO as defined by law. The Housing Act 2004 states that a HMO is a property rented out by at least 3 people who are not from 1 ‘household’, but share facilities.

A 2-stage test was applied at trial:

  1. Is this property a HMO as defined by law?
  2. Does the defendant have a reasonable excuse for his failure to apply for a HMO licence?

The Court found that ultimately the property was a HMO as defined by law, but held that the landlord had a valid defence of reasonable excuse, and our client was therefore declared Not Guilty!

The Court took into consideration the fact that our client was an honest man and a responsible landlord who was well praised in evidence by his tenants. The Court appreciated that the Council Tax Valuation Team (during a visit to the property in 2005) informed our client that his property constituted two separate properties for the purpose of Council Tax as they considered two of the flats to be ‘self-contained’. Our client’s reliance on this fact was explained to the Court, who took this into consideration when reaching their verdict. It was evident to the Court that our client had no financial incentive to illegally run the property as a HMO, as he would have been receiving higher rent payments if he had been doing so intentionally.

We appreciate the difficulties Landlords face regarding HMO law but this success case comes with a warning that ignorance of the HMO rules is not a defence.

It is important to keep updated as to the HMO Housing legislation and regulations and information can be sought from the local Council.

If you are still unsure as to the law or procedure, or face yourself being called into the Council for an interview under police caution or listed before a court, we do offer FREE 20 minute appointments for any new legal query and are happy to help. 

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