We received an enquiry back in April this year from an RRO Applicant that had conducted their own case at the First-tier Tribunal (Midlands) but they were not happy with the decision. They had applied for £4482.50 in rent paid whilst the property was an unlicensed HMO: the Tribunal awarded only £1494.17 on the grounds that… well it was hard to find exactly. They considered mortgage payments but had no evidence of these in front of them; they considered that the landlord had not been prosecuted by the council (Landlords hardly ever are); they also, apparently, took into account that the landlord had 10 HMOs they rented out: not quite sure how that figured in the 66% reduction, though!
Sometimes you think an RRO case looks pretty straightforward. That’s what we thought here and with the Applicant keen for us to manage the appeal for them we put together the arguments for their grounds. Remember this was before Vadamalayan so the arguments were not so straightforward: we provide these here for your interest. The FtT rejected our request to review the decision: only once has the FtT (London in that case) accepted a request from us to review a decision, so no surprise there. An application for permission to appeal was duly lodged with the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) (UT). Once granted we made the appeal. (NB: Flat Justice charges a contingency fee of 20%: for appeal-only cases, such as this one, the fee is charged only on an improvement in the award achieved.)
The UT hearing was conducted by video rather than being conducted ‘on the papers’. The Respondent landlord raised the point that the property only had two storeys not three and was therefore not licensable as a HMO until the Prescribed Descriptions Order 2018 removed that qualification on 1st October 2018. Our Applicant was applying for rent which covered periods before and after this change in the legislation. Although the legislation change was mentioned in the original decision, at §19, there had been no further discussion of storeys in the judgment. Indeed, the Tribunal found (at §42) “that the amount of rent paid by the Applicant during the relevant period was £4,482.50.” i.e. including rent paid before 1/10/2018, when the legislation changed. We therefore assumed that the FtT had decided at some stage that the property had qualified as a mandatory HMO before 1/10/2018.
It’s when you make assumptions that things can start to go wrong, of course. Judge Cooke spotted the anomaly very quickly and we had to agree that the property, having only 2 storeys, would not have been licensable before 1/10/2018. The amount of rent paid in the relevant period was then only £3,361.87. The full amount of this was duly awarded by the UT to our client in light of the intervening Vadamalayan ruling. UT Decision here.
So we more than doubled the original award: a success by most standards.
But we feel nonetheless chastened by the experience! RROs keep on teaching us that: (1) they are ALL different; (2) they all need meticulous attention to detail; & (3) ignore (1) & (2) at your peril.
Here is yet another example of money being deducted from an award for no apparent reason. It seems to me that tenants, who are doing the right thing by complaining and drawing attention to the squalid conditions in the private rental sector, are being shafted big time. But what is the reason for this? Why do judges keep handing down decisions that are both biased and unfair? The truth is that judges are part of an Establishment that seeks to protect its own property-owning class. A recent article in Tribune Magazine entitled ‘Government by Landlord’ by Solomon Hughes affirms that “around a fifth of MPs are landlords”. (Unfortunately, he doesn’t mention how many judges own rental properties, but I’m sure it’s quite a few.) Hughes cuts to the chase when he writes:
“Boris Johnson’s government is dominated by landlords, many of whom own multiple properties and make a fortune from rent. It isn’t a fluke that they support policies which harm tenants – it’s class politics.”
In his concluding remarks, Hughes states that the current Tory government would be “acting against its interests” if it supported tenants. Exactly! This, as far as I can see, is why poor, vulnerable, cash-strapped tenants continue to get screwed by these unfair and irrational decisions that are reported here at getrentback. If a landlord is unlicensed, he is guilty of a crime, and therefore must either pay back the full amount of serve time behind bars. All too often the blame is shifted onto the tenant for crimes committed by the landlord. This is wrong. A tenant who brings a case against a rogue landlord is doing the right thing and needs to be treated with dignity and respect, rather than being victimised by a system that discrimiates against the poor and downtrodden!