The balance of power in overheated rental markets where demand outstrips supply tends to shift in favour of landlords. As a High Court ruling showed, however, those involved in renting out defective or hazardous homes are likely to feel the hard edge of both the criminal and civil law.
A couple with four young children complained to a local authority about the state of their rental property. A housing enforcement officer visited the house and identified serious hazards, including defective heating, faulty wiring, inadequate smoke detectors and a bed bug infestation.
The property’s long leaseholder and its managing agents were served with improvement notices under the Housing Act 2004, requiring them to complete specified remedial works. Both received substantial fines after being successfully prosecuted for failing to comply with the notices.
Further inspections of the property, however, revealed that the criminal proceedings had not had their desired effect. The required remedial works remained incomplete and no or minimal steps were said to have been taken to improve the tenants’ living conditions. Faced with that impasse, the council resorted to the civil law, seeking a mandatory injunction to compel the defendants to comply with the notices.
Granting the order sought, the Court was satisfied that the defendants, who had failed meaningfully to engage in the proceedings, were in knowing, flagrant and continuing breach of the criminal law. Their disregard of the requirements of the notices had real-world consequences for the tenants, who continued to suffer unsatisfactory and possibly unsafe housing conditions.
Given that the defendants had shown no intention to comply with the notices, the Court found that nothing short of an injunction would be effective in bringing them to heel. They were further ordered to pay the council’s legal costs. Any breach of the injunction could amount to a contempt of court, punishable by up to two years’ imprisonment or an unlimited fine.