This article was produced by Stephanie Pugh from Capital Law.
Rent repayment orders (“RRO”) were first introduced by the Housing Act (“HA”) 2004. A RRO is an order made in relation to a dwelling which requires a landlord to pay to the applicant (the tenant or local housing authority) an award as a result of an offence committed at a time when the property was let to the tenant.
An offence, for the purpose of the HA 2014, is committed where a landlord carries out duties of the kind carried out as a landlord, such as collecting rent and arranging for repairs or maintenance without obtaining a licence required under the HA 2004.
Applications, Awards and Purpose
An application must be made within 12 months of the date of the offence and the reward paid varies. The maximum claim made under a rent repayment order is 12-months rent, this is used in circumstances of a serious breach of provisions, whereas less serious breaches will result in a rent reimbursement of a lesser term. The payment is also dependent on the behavior of the parties, where cooperative landlords receive a lesser penalty and devious tenants receive a lesser award. Such applications are dealt with by the Residential Property Tribunal (Wales), an independent tribunal for resolving disputes relating to private rented and leasehold property. Applications made by tenants, and not licensing or local authorities, require the landlord to be first convicted of a licensing offence before the application can be reviewed by the Tribunal.
These provisions are in addition to the alternative relief of a rent stopping order for offences committed under the Rent Smart Wales provisions. This stops rent being paid by tenants for a period where the landlord of their rented dwelling is unlicensed.
The availability of RROs not only deter landlords from breaching licensing provisions, but they also have the effect of encouraging tenants to speak out against wrongdoing and allows them to feel compensated when such does occur. An RRO can be ordered against a landlord in addition to a fine when a landlord is found operating unlicensed, thus further increasing their effectivity.
The current system is evenhanded and effective, the provisions are flexible enough to react in proportion to the offence committed and can be further mitigated or exacerbated depending on the cooperation and attitude of the parties. Nevertheless, improvements can be made.
In 2016, the Housing and Planning Act 2016, which only applied to tenancies in England, made the process for applying for RROs both faster and more accessible. This introduced further offences from which a RRO can be made. These include;
- Violent re-entry;
- Unlawful eviction and/or harassment;
- Failing to comply with an Improvement Notice served upon them;
- Failing to comply with a Prohibition Order served upon them;
- Breach of a banning order.
Further, the Housing and Planning Act 2016 allows an individual tenant to apply for a RRO following one of the above offences, or non-licensing, without the local licensing or housing authority first prosecuting the landlord for a breach of licensing provisions. This significantly widened the scope where tenants could be recompensated for wrongs against them and sent out a clear message to landlords that they owe a duty to their tenants to operate in a professional and law-abiding manner. The 2016 Act provided great assistance in evening the balance of power between landlords and their tenants.
The scope whereby an RRO can be claimed in England is wide and includes almost all circumstances where the landlord has either breached licensing provisions or committed a serious wrong against their tenants. These provisions would be significant to the tenants of Wales, and similar provisions should be implemented here.
A rent repayment order is made to the Residential Property Tribunal, via an application that can be found here; https://residentialpropertytribunal.gov.wales/sites/residentialproperty/files/2019-11/HWA6-en.pdf if you need advice regarding the application process, contact your local authority or Rent Smart Wales and obtain free advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau.