Breaching a planning enforcement notice is a crime and, as one residential landlord found out to his cost, offenders are likely to find themselves on the painful receiving end of confiscation proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002.
A house that the landlord purchased for £615,000 as an investment property had at some point been converted from a single dwelling into nine flats without planning permission. He was adamant that the conversion works had taken place before he bought the property, but that was disputed by the local authority.
The council served him with an enforcement notice requiring him to carry out various works aimed at restoring the house to a single dwelling. After the extended deadline for compliance with the notice came and went, the council prosecuted him. He was convicted of breaching the notice and was ordered to pay a £10,000 fine and £10,000 in legal costs.
At a subsequent confiscation hearing, the council contended that his benefit from his criminal conduct – in the form of rent received from tenants of the flats – came to £455,414. The council asserted that he could well afford to pay that sum on the basis that his realisable known assets totalled over £3.4 million.
The landlord contested those figures and, following a hearing, a judge made a £270 confiscation order against him. He did so on the basis that the wording of the summons issued against him restricted the scope of the confiscation order to rent received on a single day. The summons alleged that he had failed to take steps required by the enforcement notice ‘on or before 4 February 2014’.
Upholding the council’s challenge to the judge’s ruling, the Court of Appeal noted that no one had suggested that the house had in fact been used as nine residential units on one day only during the period following the date for compliance with the enforcement notice. Any such suggestion would have been preposterous.
The judge was wrong to conclude that the summons was confined to the commission of an offence on a single day, and was thus also wrong to limit the confiscation order to one day’s receipt of rent. The Court gave directions for a further hearing at which the confiscation proceedings would be redetermined.