East Finchley landlords defeats RRO claim

A landlord has successfully defended a Rent Repayment Order claim by proving that his property had too few tenants to count as an HMO.

The ruling was made at the beginning of August by the First-Tier Tribunal Property Chamber.

Three former tenants of an East Finchley let, Thomas Pratt, Pavel Maciulevic and Ludwig Brouet, had claimed their landlord, Alec Mackenzie, should re-imburse them for rent paid during their tenancy. This had ended in May 2021, when the then occupants left voluntarily. It had begun in 2016.

When the tenants had consulted Barnet Council, they said they had been told that their landlord was not licensed under Additional Licensing rules to let an HMO.

There was no dispute the property was within an area of Barnet which was subject to Additional Licensing rules that required properties occupied as the main residence of four or more persons belonging to at least two households to be licensed as HMOs. But the landlord said he had not let the property to four or more persons, only to one, and at most three.

The tenants claimed that at various times six or seven people had lived in the property but could not produce proof of this or that it had been agreed to by the landlord.

The landlord’s counsel said he did not concede that the property was an HMO. He had only ever let the property to, at most, three people (the number of individuals on the first tenancy agreement, signed in November 2016) and so believed this was the number of people living there as their residence.

After being warned, in July 2020 that the property might be an HMO, he had applied for a temporary licence and had also sought to regain possession by serving a s.21 notice. But it was his position that the property was not let as an HMO and that Pratt and Brouet were sub-tenants of Maciulevic, who was the only tenant on the latest (2019) written tenancy agreement.

The tribunal agreed. After noting ‘a real paucity of evidence from the applicants’, it dismissed the claim of the three tenants saying it had concluded that they had failed to prove beyond reasonable doubt that the property was a house in multiple occupation requiring a licence.
‘It was also notable that there was no evidence at all from any other individuals who were alleged to have been in occupation of the property at the relevant time, who might have been expected to give evidence in support and which might have corroborated the case as to who was in occupation and when’, it said.

‘The tribunal has also concluded that the individuals named on the tenancy agreement (which in the relevant period was Mr Maciulevic alone, and was never more than three persons) were most probably the only direct tenants of Mr Mackenzie and Mr Harris (the joint freeholder), and that anyone else who was in occupation was a sub-tenant.