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Yasmeen Abdel Majeed reflects on representing clients in the Tribunal

Earlier this month I had the opportunity through BPP’s Legal Advice Clinic to represent some clients at the First-tier Tribunal (Property Chamber).

Our clients had moved into a new flat where they were faced with several problems. At first, they had no working bathroom and had to use the toilets in the supermarket and shower at their local leisure centre. Then, it was discovered that their landlord didn’t have the necessary licence to rent out a house in multiple occupation (HMO). In addition, despite advertising the flat as having a live-out landlord, the landlord (Miss Buckley) had been repeatedly insisting that she lived in the flat with them, coming into the flat when they were gone and leaving her belongings there. Eventually, she sent them an invalid eviction notice.

Rent Repayment Orders

The clients had made an application for a Rent Repayment Order (RRO), which is essentially a refund of the rent that they paid during the period in which the alleged offence(s) were being committed. Section 40 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 lists both the control or management of an unlicenced HMO and the harassment of tenants as grounds for a RRO.

We had two avenues that we could pursue, so we decided to make the application on both grounds to give our clients the greatest chance of success. I helped the clients put together their bundle of evidence then I worked on a skeleton argument to submit to Tribunal and the Respondent.

The lead-up to Tribunal

Just two days before the tribunal, the Respondent obtained legal representation and submitted a skeleton conceding the application for an RRO on the basis of lack of HMO, but contesting the allegation of harassment. We then spoke to her lawyers and agreed that we could drop the claim for harassment and make the application based only on the lack of HMO. This meant that we could still obtain the desired outcome for our clients but that the hearing itself was going to be much simpler. There would no longer be a need for us to call witnesses and prove the much more complicated allegation of harassment. The Tribunal would now only need to be satisfied that the Respondent required an HMO licence and didn’t have one, and that the sum we had requested was appropriate.

What is an HMO licence?

An HMO is a building or part of a building which is:

  • A property where two or more households share a basic amenity such as a bathroom or kitchen; or
  • A building that has been converted does not entirely comprise of self-contained flats; or
  • A building that is declared an HMO by the local authority; or
  • A converted block of flats where the conversion does not meet the relevant building standards and fewer than two-thirds of the flat are owner-occupied.

Not every HMO requires a licence. By law, HMOs that consist of five or more people who share facilities will always require a licence. Whether or not other HMOs require a licence is decided by each local council individually, and will vary from place to place. In the Respondent’s case, her local council required all HMOs above commercial premises have a licence.

Outcome

As an agreement between the parties had already been reached before the hearing, the hearing concluded relatively swiftly. The Judge confirmed with the Respondent that she wanted to concede the application both in relation to the liability and in relation to the sum of payment sought. The Respondent confirmed this, then there was a brief conversation about when the payment should be made by. Judge Jim Shepherd  commended both parties for reaching an agreement in a way that was efficient and cooperative.

Judge Shepherd went on to say:

“The tribunal has no doubt from seeing Miss Buckley that she has learnt the error of her ways and will not again seek to let the premises to multiple households without a licence”.

This was a great experience for me. I had the opportunity to work directly with clients which was really rewarding. I got to work on my research, communication and advocacy skills in preparing the case and representing the clients at the hearing. This experience has also helped me become more familiar with the formalities and procedures of housing tribunal. I’m really grateful to BLAC for guiding me through the process and giving me this opportunity.

Yasmeen Abdel Majeed

Postgraduate Diploma in Law (PGDL)

The Tribunal decision can be read here: 

https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/media/60e6c5e08fa8f50c774581a3/49B_London_Rd.pdf

 

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