HMO Prosecutions – The Burden of Proof

If a landlord lets out a property in good faith and the tenants subsequently sub-let rooms, making it an HMO without informing the landlord, an offence is committed. The property is now an unlicensed HMO. But who has committed the offence? Who is liable? Is it just common sense?

In the case of Mohamed & Lahrie v Waltham Forest (2020), a local authority prosecuted landlords Mr Mohamed and Ms Lahrie, for operating an unlicensed HMO. The landlords claimed that unknown to them, their tenants had sub-let part of the property, so the landlords could not have known that it was now being used as an HMO.

The landlords’ argument was rejected at Magistrates Court. Applications for judicial review at High Court were also dismissed.

The landlords argued that they could not be expected ‘to continuously monitor and police his tenants’ occupation of’ the property, but the court disagreed.

Implications – Strict Liability

The findings of the courts in this case effectively establish that operating an unlicensed HMO is a strict liability case.

What Does This Mean?

In law, generally, the prosecution must prove two things: that the defendant committed a criminal act and had criminal intention, that is, they were aware that they were committing a criminal act. This is known as actus reus and mens rea, respectively.

The exception to this is when a crime is categorised as one of strict liability (also known as absolute liability). In this case, it is not necessary to prove that the defendant was aware they were committing an offence in order to convict.

This case sets precedent that local authorities need not prove that the landlord is aware of a property being used as an HMO in order to prosecute for operating an unlicensed HMO.

What to Do

As with all property matters, common sense and simple logic is not enough to keep landlords on the right side of the law. It is crucial to engage legal assistance to advise you in your property affairs at every step of the way.

Ardens Solicitors are highly experienced in all matters of property law. For advice, assistance or representation, please contact our Head of Dispute Resolution, at or on 0207 100 7098.

Our solicitors are fluent in English, Polish, Urdu, Punjabi, Hindi and Gujarati.


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