The applicants were the tenants who sought rent repayment orders for three offences committed by their landlord:
- a) failure to licence
- b) harassment under Protection from Eviction Act 1977
- c) illegal eviction under the same Act.
They wanted 12 months’ rent in respect of each offence. While the first-tier tribunal were satisfied that the three offences had indeed been committed, it only made one rent repayment order. The tenants sought to appeal.
The Tribunal looked carefully at the wording of s44 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016, and specifically s44(3). The clause states that the amount the landlord may be required to pay in respect of ‘a period’ must not exceed ‘the rent paid the respect of that period’. While s44(4) allowed the Tribunal to look at a variety of factors when determining the amount awarded, such as the conduct of both parties and the financial circumstances of the landlord, this does not displace the upper limit set by s44(3).
On the facts of the case, the tenants had only ever paid 12 months’ worth of rent. They claimed that the 12 months was a measure for calculating the amount to be repaid, and then that amount could be applied to multiple offences.
The judge rejected that argument. S44 should not be understood as creating separate periods for each offence committed: the name of the order is a ‘rent repayment’ order, and so the amount paid should be a reimbursement of the rent, not multiple of the same sum. A distinction was drawn between such an order and the tenant deposit scheme, which does deliberately allow for multiples to be given. If Parliament had intended s44 to allow for multiples, then they could have legislated for it.
The judge went on further to say that the purpose of rent repayment orders is to deter landlords from committing offences, rather than to compensate tenants who have faced wrong (even multiple wrongs). Tenants are not reliant on rent repayments for remedy, as they have an additional right to claim damages from offences committed by the landlord.
The legislation around rent repayment orders is clearly set out in the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and there was little room for the judge to exercise discretion. Had the tenants no other remedies against the landlord, then there is the possibility that the judge may have been more willing to hear the claimants’ arguments. However, in the present case, the judge refused to apply the law in a way which it was not meant to be applied and would otherwise run contrary to the obvious and clear wording of the law.
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