Judge Clears Up HMO Licensing Confusion

A judge has settled an argument about when a house in multiple occupation is defined as not having a licence. 

The question has dogged housing courts as the offence sets the time limit for starting proceedings and serving court papers on landlords. 

Now, one appeal case had gone before the High Court to resolve whether court proceedings should start within six months of when the offence occurred or when the complaint arose.

In the case, a district judge had ruled the proceedings out of time at the first hearing. 

The judge took the offence date as when the council first visited the property rather than the date of the last visit some days later.

In the appeal by Luton Council against the decision, the High Court ruled renting out an HMO without a licence is a continuing offence - one that takes place over time - rather than happening on a specific date. 

The court noted the decision was reinforced by the housing officer having to visit the HMO over several days to gather evidence of the offence to establish the property was an HMO that required a licence.

As the appeal was held at the High Court, the decision is binding on lower courts and closes a loophole that some landlords have tried to use to avoid prosecution. 

However, Nearly Legal, the website reporting the case, suggests that confusion over whether a claim is in time can be avoided by not leaving starting proceedings until the last minute.

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Licensing of Private Rented Properties

The Housing Act 2004 introduced licensing of private rented premises. It is compulsory to license larger, higher-risk dwellings, but local authorities are also able to license other types of rented premises, including other lower-risk HMOs and individual houses and flats, if they can establish that other avenues for tackling problems in these properties have been exhausted.