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Portsmouth City Council Abusing PRS Tenants' Rights


In 2005, my wife Iva and I were renting a house which the landlord was also marketing for sale. When home alone one afternoon, Iva came out of the kitchen and was shocked to find 3 strangers standing in the middle of the lounge. The sales agent had been asked by prospective purchasers for a same-day viewing, he assumed no-one was home, did not call in advance, did not ring the doorbell, but simply entered our home without notice or consent. It was a shocking, traumatic experience for Iva and an unpleasant memory that still gives her the shudders all these years later. That experience informs the way we approach entry when it is needed to our tenanted properties, that is, with great care and consideration for our tenants' privacy and sensibilities.  

What Is The Problem

Landlords, agents, contractors and housing officers who enter let properties frequently become too familiar with doing so, and can very easily forget what the experience is like for the tenant whose home it is. Not all tenants mind other people coming into their home uninvited, but others do feel it very strongly as a violation of their privacy and personal space even when there has been advance notice and a fairly good reason given, especially if it is someone coming into their home that they have not previously met. But it is getting harder and harder to be properly respectful of tenants' rights to "quiet enjoyment" now as increasingly PCC are driving a lot more violations systematically. This is happening in 3 ways:

1. With shared houses, ie smaller HMOs let on joint tenancies, PCC strongly encourage landlords and agents to test smoke alarms monthly in the way that would be necessary if part of the building remained in the possession of the landlord, as is the case when rooms are let individually, but is inappropriate with a joint let of the whole house. Managing agents commonly send a random office junior round a number of houses on a monthly cycle to effect this without a thought for the tenant's common law right to "quiet enjoyment". A tenant might be in a closed room on a video call, or sleeping after a night shift when the alarm is sounded. If the visit has slipped the mind of the tenant, they might be going between the bathroom and their bedroom not fully dressed and extremely taken aback and feeling rather vulnerable when finding a stranger in the hallway. This horrible practice is unavoidable in HMOs with individually let rooms. But joint tenants who are unrelated with legal possession of the whole house have almost same legal rights to "quiet enjoyment" as families, with just two well-defined exceptions: (1) Tenants are obliged to allow the HMO Manager access to perform duties explicitly defined in HMO Management Regulations, (2) the council can use Section 239 powers of entry to inspect a Licenced property. Monthly testing of smoke alarms is neither, and is inappropriate also because BS5839 code of practice identifies routine testing as normally to be performed by the "occupant", and the occupant can, of course, choose to do that when least inconvenient, and without any unwarranted intrusion. Why do PCC insist on this insidious practice in shared houses? Well, we believe it is simply because they want identical paperwork submitted for all types of HMO; it's easier for themselves.

2. PCC's communication around HHSRS inspections is terrible from a tenant standpoint for all HMOs, but most egregiously again with shared houses – with many more of those now subject to Licencing and inspection, affecting roughly an additional 12,000 Portsmouth residents. PCC will communicate a planned HHSRS inspection date/time to the HMO manager and allow them to request that to be rescheduled within reason if inconvenient. The HMO Manager will, of course, communicate the planned date/time of inspection to the tenants. The tenants may communicate agreement, but often make no indication of how they feel about the intrusion which is naturally a highly unusual event from a tenant perspective. The tenant will generally not understand their rights or what due process should be. PCC expect the HMO Manager to provide access to the property on the planned date WITHOUT any communication direct to the tenants who, in the case of a joint let, have possession of the whole. In these communications to the HMO manager PCC tend to allude to their Section 239 powers of entry as if they plan to use that process, but then they omit to send the section 239 letters in the week before and expect to enter by invite whilst communicating principally with the manager, rather the tenant whose consent is needed for an invited entry. This is unfair to the tenants, they are being misled and essentially tricked into believing PCC are using section 239 powers of entry when they are not, and the HMO manager is being misdirected and passing on misleading informaton to the tenants. I believe strongly that to be fair to the tenants, with every HHSRS inspection visit, PCC should always follow the section 239 process fully after date and time has been agreed with the Manager. That is, PCC should send a section 239 letter directly to tenants circa one weekprior to the inspection (preferably with a more explanatory cover letter) and have a letter of authorisation for the entry in their hand on the doorstep in all instances that the inspection has been instigated by themselves. Anything short of that is an abuse of the tenants' rights.

3. On re-inspection visits when no HHSRS issues raised – which sounds like it never should happen, but it does -- again PCC resort to bluff and bluster to gain entry when they have no right to, abusing tenants' rights in the process. Sometimes, on HHSRS inspection visits, observations will be made and actions raised for the HMO Manager to address points on compliance with HMO Management Regulations only; that is, with no reference to Housing Act 2004 or HHSRS. HMO Management Regulations do not provide PCC any powers of entry, so any follow-up on Management Regs actions should be by non-intrusive means, say by requesting copies of invoices or photographs as demonstration of completion, and not through an intrusive re-inspection unless the property is vacant.

It is important to remember PCC only have powers of entry if they have sent both manager and tenant a Section 239 letter at least 24 hours prior to the inspection, and they have an authorisation letter with them which should be presented on demand. This is all defined in section 239 of Housing Act 2004. It would be a good thing generally for residents of Portsmouth living in HMOs if both tenants and HMO managers were to start insisting on PCC following that due process more closely.

And from now onwards, I believe PCC will be systematically violating Tenant's GDPR rights too. HMO Licence Conditions with new and renewed licences since December now require HMO managers to hand over to PCC on demand all of the Tenants' personal information as will have been collected in tenant referencing and right to rent checks. This will include copies of the Tenants' passports and might include their bank details. PCC claim the rule which allows them to request/pass all information they have freely between internal departments extends to having the right to demand any/all personal information held by a Landlord or Agent -- without the Tenant's consent or knowledge. This is overriding all protections provided by the Data Protection Act 2018. Once PCC have those passport and bank details, yes, they will be able to pass that around any department and file it in all sorts of ways, and the Tenant might never know they have it. It's the most grotesque abuse of power!

There are numerous other ways that Portsmouth residents living in HMOs are being disadvantaged through the poorly thought-through implementation of HMO Licencing. Topics for another day, but suffice to say: As someone with the experience of living in a variety of HMOs for 13 years before I was married, I am utterly appalled at the level of insensitivity for the tenants impacted in PCC's war on landlord's. 

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