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Landlord, occupier and local authority overcrowding options

This content applies to England & Wales

Action that can be taken on overcrowding by the landlord, an occupier and the local authority.

Action by the landlord

A landlord may be able to take possession action if a property is overcrowded.

Regulated tenants will lose Rent Act protection if the property is illegally overcrowded.[1] There is no similar provision in the Housing Act, so the landlord would have to rely on any clause in the contract prohibiting overcrowding.

Local authority landlords also have the power to evict tenants where the property is illegally overcrowded and the tenants have not abated the overcrowding within 14 days.[2] Eviction must be applied for within three months of the notice expiring if it has not been complied with. The court must order possession between 14 and 28 days of the hearing.

See the page on Possession proceedings for more information on possession.

Action by occupiers

The action an occupier can take depends on the type of accommodation s/he is living in.

Private sector tenants

Private sector tenants can make a complaint to the local authority's environmental health department and request that it carries out an inspection of the accommodation. Under the Housing Health and Safety Rating System (HHSRS), the local authority has a duty to inspect in certain circumstances; see the page on duty to inspect for more information. 'Space and crowding' is a hazard under the HHSRS and the definition of this hazard is broader than the overcrowding legislation. If the local authority considers the hazard to be a category one hazard, it has to take action. This could involve enforcement action against the landlord. For more information see the section on the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.

Local authority tenants

Local authority tenants can apply to the local authority for a transfer. When allocating accommodation, a local authority must give preference to people living in overcrowded conditions.[3] For more information, see the section on Allocation of LA housing.

As with private sector tenants, outlined above, local authority tenants can make a complaint to the local authority's environmental health department and request that it carries out an inspection of the accommodation. In some circumstances the local authority has a duty to carry out an inspection, but the local authority cannot take enforcement action against itself. For more information see the section on the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.

Homelessness

A person living in overcrowded accommodation may be able to make a homelessness application if it is not reasonable for her/him to remain in that accommodation. For more information, see the page on Reasonable to continue to occupy in the defining homelessness section.

Action by the local authority

A local authority has several options for dealing with overcrowding:

  • it can licence the overcrowding - see the page on Permissible overcrowding
  • it can prosecute the person responsible for the overcrowding - see below
  • it can carry out an inspection of the premises and serve an abatement notice. For more information, see the page on Local authority responsible for statutory nuisance in the section on the Environmental Protection Act 1990
  • a local authority can also take action under the HHSRS. 'Space and crowding' is one of the hazards used in the HHSRS, and the definition of this hazard is broader than the overcrowding legislation. For more information see the section on the Housing Health and Safety Rating System.

Houses in multiple occupation

Local authorities have special powers to deal with overcrowding in houses in multiple occupation. For more information, see the page on Overcrowding in the section on Houses in multiple occupation.

Overcrowding as a criminal offence

Offences related to overcrowding can be committed by the landlord or the occupier. The landlord will commit an offence if s/he causes or permits the premises to be overcrowded or fails to include details of the overcrowding provisions on any rent book (if applicable). An occupier will commit an offence if s/he causes or allows accommodation to become overcrowded.

Local authorities are under a general duty to enforce the provisions, but if the authority itself is committing an offence, it is possible for a private individual to take action.

[1] s.101 Rent Act 1977.

[2] s.339 Housing Act 1985.

[3] s.167(2)(c) Housing Act 1996, as amended by s.16(3) Homelessness Act 2002.

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