Not surprisingly, there’s a little-known requirement among all the complicated property licensing regulations. Under section 67 and section 90 of the Housing Act 2004, local authorities can enforce that occupiers in a licensable property are to be given a 24/7 emergency contact number by their landlord or letting agent.
Taking Southwark Council’s Private Rental Standards (all licensed properties in Southwark must comply with these standards) as an example, it is clearly written as part of their licence conditions:
... landlords should available during business hours and must respond within a reasonable period of time. If unavailable, tenants should be advised and given alternative contact details, particularly as it is clearly also in the Landlords interest to be able to respond quickly in an emergency.
HMO Services advised that almost all mandatory licences granted by local authorities have a similar condition. This inconvenient truth is not just obscure, it is also a very expensive mistake to those issued a Civil Penalty Notice; up to £30,000 fine can be charged without the need for prosecution through the court system. In most cases, the license holder will be the landlord, but there are also letting agents who take on the responsibility as part of their agency services to the landlord. In the latter case, the agent will also be liable for the fines.
Can Landlords Appeal?
As the provision of emergency contact numbers is outside those set out by Schedule 4 of the Housing Act 2004 (otherwise known as statutory licensing conditions), we look at what recourse a landlord or agent has to appeal such additional conditions.
When a local authority restricts the license holder with such additional conditions, the landlord or agent can appeal and have their case heard by a First-Tier Tribunal. Should the appeal be allowed, and the Council wishes to overturn the decision, then the judicial process dictates that the Upper Tribunal will hear the case next. The Upper Tribunal will decide whether or not to confirm the decision. By this point, the case will surely be highly publicised, and a confirmed decision by the Upper Tribunal would be a binding one. It would then mean future licence applications with the same local authority will have to adhere to the Tribunal’s decision.
The fact that the provision of emergency contact numbers already exist in many Council’s licensing conditions (such as that of Southwark Council) makes it highly unlikely that an appeal on this would even be considered to have merit and heard by a First-Tier Tribunal; such a condition is likely to be viewed as reasonable and accepted as good practice by the Tribunal.
Not Just For Emergency Repairs
Environmental Health Officers at local authorities are trained to assess imminent risks of serious harm. They are most concerned with these at the first assessment appointment and a key part of their job is to decide whether there is any way to temporarily reduce the health risks. If not, they then have to consider if an emergency prohibition is required, barring occupiers from living there until improvements are made.
Apart from repair and maintenance issues, having emergency contact with the licence holder is important where the property is in such a state that to continue occupying it would risk life and limb. This is when the licence holder needs to be contacted to arrange a safer and suitable accommodation or approve an emergency hotel accommodation for the occupiers.
Consequences of Non-Compliance
The likely consequence of non-compliance is that the licence holder has a civil penalty notice issued against them. The specific penalty and fines imposed will depend on the policies of individual authorities. This could be up to £30,000 for failing to comply with the Housing and Planning Act 2016.
In the more extreme cases of neglect of duty or if there is a pattern of poor management, a licence holder may have their licence revoked. Where two civil penalty notices are issued, the local authority may apply for a banning order which would prohibit the licence holder, be they a landlord or letting agent, to manage any rental properties.
At this point, the licence holder could also be entered onto the Rogue Landlord database. Such reputational damage could have a huge financial impact and operational implications; the ability to hold licences going forward will be difficult and new licences are unlikely to be granted.
How to Provide 24/7 Emergency Contact Easily
Provide a list of landlord-approved and trusted contractors who are willing to attend to out-of-hours emergencies in the area at short notice. Consider choosing contractors who have access to the necessary keys or relevant key holding service.
Examples of contractors you should include:
- Alarm engineers
- Plumbers for leaks
- Heating engineers
- Drainage technicians
- Pest control for most eventualities
Or, you can have a single point of contact who is available out-of-hours and can take care of emergency requests for you, 24/7. Click here to find out how Fixflo teamed up with AXA Maintenance to keep rental properties safe, every day and night of the week.
Did you know that The Property Ombudman has updated the Codes of Practice? The main changes around how agents and landlords should manage repairs and maintenance can seem complicated, but not impossible to follow. We've turned them into an easy checklist. Download this Checklist for Repairs & Maintenance and become compliant with the Codes, step by step.