Tenants’ Rent Repayment Order applications dismissed by Tribunal
In late 2020, I was approached by a landlord for advice. Four tenants living in a private rented property in Charlton, South East London, had submitted Rent Repayment Order (RRO) applications to the First-tier Tribunal. Directions had been issued and they needed professional advice.
I carried out an in-depth case review to establish exactly what had happened. At first glance, the tenants’ case seemed quite strong. It was alleged they had been living in a licensable House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) but no licence application had been submitted. In the Royal Borough of Greenwich, a borough wide additional licensing scheme covering all HMOs came into force on 1 October 2017 (read here).
From examining the case file, I could see that an officer from the Royal Borough of Greenwich had written to the tenants in July 2020. The officer told them a completed HMO licence application had been received on 21 August 2019 and they had until 21 August 2020 to submit RRO applications to claim back their rent.
Tenants submitted RRO applications totalling £27,607
The four tenants followed the council’s advice and submitted individual RRO applications between 30 July 2020 and 21 August 2020. The total amount claimed was £27,607.
At this stage, it would often be the case of exploring any mitigating circumstances and/or seeking to negotiate terms of settlement. But this case was different. The landlord was adamant they had not committed a criminal offence and so I continued to examine the case in more detail.
Having reviewed all the documentation, I discovered that the HMO licence application had been submitted and the fee paid on a different date. It was not submitted on 21 August 2019. It was submitted on 5 July 2019 and supporting documentation submitted four days later. This raised the question as to whether the RRO applications were out of time as they must be submitted within 12 months of the alleged offence.
I agreed to act as the landlord’s representative. I requested that the Tribunal consider, as a preliminary issue, whether the RRO applications were out of time. This was agreed and the Tribunal issued amended Directions.
I then preparation a comprehensive bundle of documents, piecing together a detailed timeline of events.
When was the HMO licence application duly made?
Having mapped out all the correspondence, it transpired 21 August 2019 was the date the licence application was allocated to a council officer for processing and not the date it was submitted. When this was raised with the council, they indicated they could retrospectively alter the application date to 2 April 2020. This was on the basis they requested extra information nine months after the application was submitted. To me, this seemed unreasonable.
As a company specialising in property licensing, I was able to highlight several other HMO licence applications submitted to the Royal Borough of Greenwich where the date of application recorded by the council was 6 to 10 weeks after the date the applications were submitted. To me, this indicated a systems error and this information was shared with the Tribunal.
The Tribunal’s Decision
In a decision made on 26 January 2021, the Tribunal dismissed the tenants’ four RRO applications, saving the landlord £27,607.
The Tribunal found that the HMO licence application had been submitted no later than 9 July 2019 and the tenants’ RRO applications were out of time. The tenants produced no evidence or witness statements to dispute the case we presented.
The Tribunal’s decision contained some criticism of the council’s position. The Judge found it surprising the application was deemed incomplete for nine months due to an internal processing issue that the landlord was not informed about.
It is hoped the Royal Borough of Greenwich will reflect on their licence processing arrangements and the recording of licence application dates in light of this decision.
The HMO licence for the property has since been approved and the landlord remains compliant with the licensing scheme.
Tribunal case reference: LON/00AL/HMF/2020/0145P
The author of this blog, Richard Tacagni MCIEH CEnvH, is Managing Director of London Property Licensing and acted as the landlord’s representative. He can be contacted here.
Please note that the views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of London Property Licensing. These blogs are designed to stimulate discussion and debate within the property industry. This article does not represent legal advice and should not be treated as such.
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