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Redbridge Council has in the past “secretly and informally” flouted its own policy, court documents reveal.
Testimony from a senior officer in a 2019 court case reveals the council’s policy to try to resolve issues with landlords “informally” before issuing a fine was ignored “for a few weeks” that year.
A Freedom of Information request shows the council ramped up enforcement against landlords and managing agents in 2019, issuing 100 fines in the first six months.
In a ruling on July 4, 2019, tribunal judge Peter Korn decided the council disobeying its own policy was enough reason to overturn a £5,000 fine issued to a managing agent in that period.
Redbridge Council has yet to confirm how many other fines were issued without following policy, and whether they were cancelled or reviewed in light of the legal precedent.
In his ruling, Judge Korn wrote: “The published policy states officers will always try to resolve issues informally in the first instance, but that did not happen in this case.
“The [council] accepts that it has deviated from its own policy but states that there is no legal obligation to follow policy.
“However, we do not accept that it was appropriate or reasonable. The reversal in policy did not have the approval of cabinet and had not been published.
“The later reversal of this secretive, informal policy after only a few weeks does suggest that the [council’s] enforcement team realised either that the change in policy was not a reasonable one, or that in order to change the policy [they] needed to go through a proper process.”
The £5,000 fine was issued to Tizero Ltd, the property agent for an Ilford flat located inside the council’s selective licensing scheme, because it was found to be unlicensed.
The licensing scheme, introduced in 2017, requires landlords or their agents renting in areas like Ilford town centre, to apply for a five-year licence, which currently costs more than £600.
The aim of the scheme is to allow the council to check landlords are maintaining their homes properly and to crack down on disreputable landlords keeping renters in squalid conditions.
In the case of Tizero Ltd, Judge Korn ruled that it was not “a particularly serious case” that might justify skipping straight to the issuing of a fine.
He noted that Tizero’s director Michael Labinso was “merely helping his mother to manage the property and did not know that [it] needed to be licensed”.
He wrote: “Whilst it is important not to lose sight of the fact that an offence was committed, the circumstances are such that the offence was at the very mildest end of the scale.
“The [council] had discovered no other issues in relation to the property and had no evidence of any prejudice to the tenant and yet it served a notice of intent to impose a very significant financial penalty.
“Had the [council] first gone through a proper process it could then have been entirely appropriate… to impose a financial penalty.”
Redbridge Council was asked on August 9 to confirm when and why the policy was ignored and how many fines were issued in this time, but had not responded at the time of writing.