Guardians can Get Rent Back!

LEB building cambridge heath road bethnal green
LEB in building Cambridge Heath Road, Bethnal Green: home to 30-40 “guardians”

Guardians, who live in disused properties, can Get Rent Back with a Rent Repayment Order (RRO) after a recent decision by The First-tier Tribunal Property Chamber in London (FtT), in the first case of its kind. Decision:

Flat Justice represented the Applicant, Ms Summer Oxley, at the hearing on 28th November at the FtT and the Decision was issued on 9th December. Reflecting the strengths of the arguments presented by Flat Justice, the Tribunal awarded 90% of rent be paid back by the guardianship company, Live-In Guardians Ltd. (LIG). Ms Oxley was awarded £4,937.40 of rent to be repaid within 28 days. The Tribunal commented:

We find that this property is an HMO and that the respondents should have known that before letting it to individuals.” (§50 of the Decison)

LIG’s barrister argued at the hearing that the occupants or “guardians” were neither tenants nor licensees but their occupancy was part of a service agreement. The Tribunal rejected this argument but did not agree with the Applicant that she was a tenant (§44). Although, in apparent contradiction, they did accept that she had exclusive occupancy (§47)… The question of tenant or licensee may have to wait for another case…or the Upper Tribunal if this case is appealed.

In a sworn statement submitted by LIG’s solicitors to the Tribunal in October, the company denied having applied for a HMO licence. However, research by Flat Justice showed that LIG had applied for a HMO licence at Tower Hamlets in July. This was admitted at the hearing by the company’s solicitors, Waller Pollins Goldstein. LIG was recently added to the Mayor of London’s Rogue Landlord database after a fine by Westminster council:

Live-In Guardians claims to run 30 guardian properties in Central London Zone 1 and dealt with 12,000 enquiries from prospective guardians.

Although there have been a number of attempts to make RRO applications against guardianship companies before, none have got as far as a hearing. Nicola Gillin, a member of the advisory board at Flat Justice CIC, led a number of such RRO applications against Camelot, another guardianship company. But Camelot immediately issued cheques to settle the cases. Camelot is now in liquidation following another court case.

The need for guardianship companies to respect the HMO licensing regulations means that they will now have to comply fully with safety requirements of such properties and that Local Authorities (LAs) can inspect and enforce their compliance. In this case, the company, LIG, had provided no evidence of  any Fire Risk Assessment, fire drills, fire training nor any certification for the safety of the electrical installations.

Suspects Police HQ
Inside LEB: “living units” were made from single sheet plasterboard with surface wiring. Also used as a setting for C5’s “Suspects” police HQ