A judge has settled an argument about the date when a house in multiple occupation is defined as not having a licence.
The question has dogged housing courts as the offence occurs sets the time limit for starting proceedings and serving court papers on landlords.
Now, one appeal case has gone before the High Court to resolve the question of if court proceedings should start within six months of when the offence took place or when the complaint arose.
In the case, a district judge had ruled the proceedings out of time at the first hearing.
The judge took the date of the offence as when the council first visited the property, rather than the date of the last visit some days later.
In the appeal by Luton Council against the decision, the High Court ruled renting out an HMO without a licence is a continuing offence – one that takes place over time – rather than happening on a specific date.
The court noted the decision was reinforced by the housing officer having to visit the HMO over several days to gather evidence of the offence to establish the property was an HMO that required a licence.
As the appeal was held at the High Court, the decision is binding on lower courts and closes a loophole that some landlords have tried to use to avoid prosecution.
However, Nearly Legal, the web site reporting the case, suggests that confusion over if a case is in time or not can be avoided by not leaving starting proceedings until the last minute.