Council was premature in fining landlord over licence breach

A local authority had been too quick to fine a landlord for failing to register under a licensing scheme.

Instead, it should have followed its own policy of taking informal action as a first step.

That was the decision of the Upper Tribunal (Lands Chamber) in a case involving Ekweozoh v Redbridge LBC.

Ms Ekweozoh owned a flat in which she had lived for two years before moving to Canada in 2007. For the following 10 years the flat was managed by a professional agent and was let to the same tenant.

In mid-2017 the area became the subject of a selective licensing scheme, which required landlords to obtain a licence to lawfully let their premises.

Ekweozoh did not know of the introduction of the scheme and the agent did not tell her, subsequently claiming that it too had been unaware of the scheme.

In August 2018 the agent let the flat to another tenant without obtaining a licence. The local authority then made unsuccessful attempts to contact Ekweozoh. When it eventually managed to inform her of the scheme via her agent in early November 2018, she immediately obtained a five-year licence.

Six months later the local authority served notice of its intention to issue her with a £2,500 penalty for failing to obtain a licence before letting the flat.

Ekweozoh appealed to the First Tier Tribunal (Lands Chamber) (FTT), arguing that the local authority had failed to follow its own enforcement policy, which indicated that informal action, such as issuing a warning, would be taken before a financial penalty was imposed.

The FTT dismissed the appeal, holding that the local authority had taken informal action by attempting to contact her, and that the penalty was appropriate.

The Upper Tribunal overturned that decision.

It held that the FTT should have begun by looking at the policy and considering whether the local authority should have taken informal action such as issuing a warning before imposing a financial penalty.

Instead, it began by asking itself whether the level of the penalty was appropriate, without addressing the prior question of whether any penalty should have been imposed at all.

Its evaluation of the case and its exercise of discretion were thus flawed, and its decision to uphold the penalty had to be set aside. The appropriate disposal was for the local authority to deal with Ekweozoh 's failure to obtain a licence informally, without imposing any financial penalty.

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