Legal Battle Over Unite's Unlicensed Student Homes

Property giant Unite faces thousands of lawsuits to reclaim rent for failing to license student accommodation.

Unite lost an appeal against six students who won a rent repayment order awarding them just over £23,000.

The Upper Tribunal Lands Chamber heard that Unite failed to licence the purpose-built shared homes for three years at North Lodge, Haringey, London. The accommodation has flats of between two and ten bedrooms with shared facilities housing up to 528 students.

The three student blocks in Haringey have more than 200 unlicensed HMOs, which would cost £110,500 to license.

Due to a legal mix-up between Haringey Council and Unite, the flats were not registered as HMOs under the borough’s additional licensing scheme.

Student legal and community group Get Rent Back urges students who rented rooms at North Lodge to apply for rent repayment orders (RROs) that refund up to 12 months of rent. RRO claims are allowed when a landlord has committed a housing offence.

The group highlights other Unite blocks that allegedly should have had HMO registrations but were not licensed as HMOs in Liverpool, Oxford, Nottingham, Newcastle and Coventry.

Unite manages 157 student properties throughout the UK, employing 1,200 people and housing more than 70,000 students. Adjusted earnings for the year to December 2023 were 13 per cent up at £184.3 million, and pre-tax profits were £102.5 million.

Rent repayment orders

Other rent repayment order cases before the First-Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) in February included:

Other cases heard by the First-Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) in February included:

  • Kamal Chowdhury - HMO management offences at Uxonden Hill, Wembley, North London - Appeal against £5,000 financial penalty denied.
  • Prime Land Property Ltd—Unlicensed HMO offences at Station Road, Waltham Forest, East London—Appeals against two financial penalties were denied. One penalty was raised from £7,500 to £10,000, and the other remained at £2,500.

What are property tribunals?

Property tribunals are specialist courts responsible for resolving disputes involving property and land.

The First-Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) deals with issues such as rent increases, leasehold disputes, rent repayment orders, and appeals against judgments handed down in county courts.

The Upper Tribunal or Lands Tribunal handles appeals from the First-Tier Tribunal.

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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.