Saturday 20 July 2024
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Nottingham landlord facing costs after letting agents misunderstand council scheme

A Nottingham landlord has branded a council scheme to stamp out rogue property owners “a minefield” after an inspection left him needing to fork out hundreds of pounds in additional costs.

He claims he may now have to evict tenants to comply with what he says are “confusing rules”.

Frank Knowles, who rents out a two-bed apartment in Standard Hill to two tenants, says he thought he would “do the right thing” and allow the partner of one of the tenants to move in. She had been struggling to find a property in the city.

Letting agent Smooth Moves, which manages the property, suggested she be added to the tenancy agreement and an additional £100 was added to the rent, bringing the total to £600 for three people.

However an inspector conducted an unannounced visit and informed the tenants and Mr Knowles the set-up was in breach of Nottingham City Council’s Selective Licensing rules.

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The Labour-run authority says Selective Licensing was put in place in 2018 to crack down on bad landlords who leave properties in poor or unsafe conditions.

It says the letting agent should have understood the rules surrounding Selective Licensing.

The agent has declined to comment. But Mr Knowles says it has admitted to him it made a mistake.

He also says “bureaucratic” rules have hampered what he believed to have been a gesture of goodwill.

He said: “I accept there are rules and I do accept the letting agent did not know what these rules were, but nevertheless the whole situation is ridiculous,”

“I think the only legal way to do this is for me to evict all tenants because I am breaching my license.”

As three people are now on the tenancy agreement Mr Knowles was informed by the council he required an Additional License, with the property now being deemed a HMO (House of Multiple Occupation). The standard fee for an Additional HMO Licence is £1330 for five years, paid up-front.

Mr Knowles says the council also failed to inform him he would have to apply for planning permission to change the use into a HMO, which comes with a £452 fee.

He claims he may be forced to evict all tenants because he is now in breach of both licensing and planning regulations.

And while the council says he may apply for a Temporary Exemption Notice to give him three months to decide what to do next, he maintained this would be “kicking the can down the road”.

Mr Knowles says he would also lose the remaining year on his current license for the property, with no refunds offered for his payment, should he press ahead with a new Additional License.

He would then have to pay to adhere to planning regulations, with no guarantee his application would be approved.

Giles Inman, of the city’s landlord association EMPO, argued the regulations act as “barriers” to landlords who want to help their tenants.

He said: “The council did not mention planning, I told him that, so he could have paid the £1,300 for Additional Licensing but then he would have had planning officers knocking at his door.

“It is confusing. They have got a bureaucratic system here that you are very easily going to fall foul of.

“Agents are getting confused, everyone is getting confused. It is a minefield.

“With the cost-of-living crisis we are seeing a spike in tenants taking in lodgers and this is going to snowball. This issue is going to become a headache.”

The city council’s current Selective Licensing scheme is due to end in July 2023 and a new one is being drawn up in its place. Landlords who refuse to join face a fine and prosecution.

It has been subject to criticism, as well as an investigation by external auditors Grant Thornton to determine whether or not it is good value for money.

Concerns have been raised that good owners have been paying the cost for bad landlords, and Cllr Jane Lakey (Lab) previously said she had “yet to find” a report on the effectiveness of the scheme.

Responding to Mr Knowles’ case a Nottingham City Council spokesman said: “Mr Knowles’s issues are not illustrative of an underlying problem with the Selective Licensing scheme – they have come about because he acted on erroneous information from his letting agent. Both he and the agent have admitted this point in correspondence with the council.

“Licensing schemes are based on national guidelines and operate all over the country, including a number of major cities. They exist precisely to empower tenants and demand the highest living and safety standards of landlords.

“Nottingham’s has been in place for more than four years, with around 28,000 licences issued, and this is one of the only complaints we’ve dealt with of this kind. We are in regular dialogue with local landlords and letting agents through a forum where we can help answer any queries. The agent in question here could have called us at any time for clarity on this matter.

“We wrote to Mr Knowles last week to explain his options with our recommendation that he apply for a Temporary Exemption Notice, which will give him three months to decide what he wants to do next. There is no requirement for anyone to be evicted.”

Phil McGrath, Smooth Moves director, added: “We are currently awaiting further updates from the Nottingham City Council Selective Licensing Team on this particular situation so would be unable to comment any further at this time.”

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