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Waste and HMO landlords

A recent local authority ruling has thrown some HMO landlords (House in Multiple Occupation) into worried confusion. Here’s why.

A shock

A newspaper reported how a landlord responsible for an HMO property in Essex took some grass cuttings to his local recycling yard, when he was informed that he was apparently behaving “unlawfully” and at least in theory, banned from using the site in future.

As an HMO landlord, he was meeting his contractual and legal obligations (as well as the requirements of some landlord insurance policies) by maintaining the grounds of the property in good condition. However, as he was acting ‘collectively’ for a number of occupation units within the property, his use of the local council’s facilities was considered by them to be ‘business use’ as opposed to ‘private use’.

The argument goes that, as a commercial entity, he should have disposed of his waste separately and through commercial waste channels.

A paradox

Paradoxically, had his individual tenants taken their own individual share of the grass cuttings to the local authority facility, it would have been perfectly in order for them to deposit it for recycling.

Although this may appear, at first glance, to be a piece of mindless bureaucracy and splitting of hairs, in practice it is a serious issue. Many landlords who have an HMO property clearly may now be faced with the prospect of needing to make special and potentially expensive arrangements for commercial waste disposal, as opposed to their existing practices.

If there is any comfort in this position for landlords, it is that different councils appear to have very different policies with respect to this subject. While nobody seriously questions that need to make sure that commercial enterprises behave responsibly as far as waste disposal is concerned, many councils would not consider that to include something as theoretically uncontroversial as grass cuttings from an HMO property.

The consequences

At the moment, it is far from clear as to how widely adopted this view is likely to become across different local authority areas.

The worry must be that some HMO landlords responsible for properties will simply start to move towards fly tipping if their local authority makes it impossible for them to use local domestic refuse sites. That surely would not be in anybody’s interests, be they council representatives, landlords or indeed members of the public with one eye on the environment.

Summary and conclusion

The position of the local authorities is, in principle, one that it is easy to sympathise with. Facilities provided for local private householders should not be abused by major commercial enterprises.

If, for example, a major manufacturing concern started to dispose of its waste products at a local taxpayer-funded site, then that would effectively be a taxpayer-funded subsidy to the business. Nobody would really argue for such a position.

On the other hand, whatever the legal technicalities may be, it is difficult to conceive of the typical landlord as being a major enterprise in terms of waste production.

At the present time, the legal position is, at best, unclear. Many HMO landlords will be watching this evolving situation with concern and hoping that a degree of common sense reality is introduced as fast as possible.

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