3 August 2017

First shared house prosecution costs landlord £4,500

A court has fined a landlord £3000 and ordered him to pay over £1200 in costs after letting a Brighton home as a House in Multiple Occupation (HMO) without planning permission.

This is the first successful prosecution by Brighton & Hove City Council’s planning enforcement team on an unauthorised conversion of a house into a small HMO.

The council says it underlines the authority’s tough stance on maintaining balanced communities across the city.

Owner James Trevor Ford of Maidstone Road, Horsmonden, Kent, had made no attempt to secure permission for the change of use at 64 Upper Lewes Road, Brighton. He claimed the house had already been accepted for use as an HMO. However council records showed that it was listed as a single family dwelling.

The property was let to six students. However the council makes clear legislation only addresses a property’s use. The occupations of tenants  is not relevant under the law.

Council officers were alerted to the unauthorised HMO by nearby residents. The planning service issued an enforcement notice at the end of last year which required the owner to return the house to its original purpose by 26 April 2017.

Mr Ford failed to comply. On 5 July he pleaded guilty at Brighton Magistrates Court and was fined £3,000, ordered to pay costs of £1,270 and a victim surcharge of £170.

The property was let via the Brighton Accommodation Agency.

Councillor Julie Cattell, chair of the city’s planning committee, said: “This case sends a strong message that we’ll go to court if we must when HMOs are let without proper planning consent.

“Students are a vital contributor to the city’s economic and cultural life. It’s very important letting agencies familiarise themselves with planning rules.  It’s unfair to give students serious accommodation problems by letting them unauthorised shared houses.

“We are grateful to residents for bringing this to our attention. We understand this house is now vacant which means it should soon be available for family accommodation, as originally intended.”

In April 2013 the council assumed special powers meaning landlords need planning permission to convert houses to HMOs in five council wards.  These are Hanover and Elm Grove, Hollingdean and Stanmer, Moulsecoomb and Bevendean, Queens Park, and St Peter’s and North Laine.

Since May 2015 the council has also won at least 11 cases where landlords have appealed to the government against the authority refusing permission for HMO conversions.

Last month the council refused retrospective planning permission for an HMO at 9 Whichelo Place, in the Hanover area of Brighton. In March this year a council report said that since the new rules were introduced, 270 planning investigations have been launched, resulting in 24 enforcement notices, requiring HMOs to stop operating.