By Manjit Rai and Anna Tomasik – Park Homes Advisers at LEASE
The majority of park home sites are owned and managed by fair and professional individuals or businesses. On a well-run site, enforcement action will not be a common issue.
Unfortunately, there are also some circumstances where conditions on a park can deteriorate; these may have an effect on the amenities of the site, and may include or result in licencing breaches or poor health and safety standards. After more than 50 years without legislative change, the Mobile Homes Act 2013 amended the legislation to provide effective enforcement powers to local authorities. This is an incentive for good practice park management and should deter non-compliance.
There may be some instances where the local authority has to intervene and take enforcement action against the site owner. Anna Tomasik and Manjit Rai, Legal Advisers from LEASE, have put forward some key questions to Mr Nat Slade, Local Enforcement Officer for Arun District Council to explore issues around enforcement of site license conditions on Fully Residential Park Home Sites.
Q1: What examples of enforcement have you come across in recent years?
Some key examples are: Maintenance backlogs and instances of unacceptable disrepair, site access and car parking problems, nuisance caused by residents (to the detriment of other residents) not addressed by a park owner, insufficient fire safety, and excessive noise and dirt due to works undertaken by a park owner on adjoining land. We have also investigated allegations of harassment.
Q2: How do you become aware of potential licensing and/or trading standard breaches on park home sites which may result in the necessity to take enforcement action?
We visit park home sites from time to time dependent upon their respective compliance records. We also follow up on alerts by third parties, in particular complaints from residents. There tend to be better links with residents on sites with qualifying residents associations.
Q3: If park home residents want to inform their local authority of issues that may warrant enforcement action, how can they inform you?
This can be done by phone, letter, email, or completion of a form on our website. Each local authority will have different contact details. What we need from residents is specific information, including any steps they have already taken to bring the matter to the attention of the site owner. Supporting evidence, such as photographs and copies of correspondence, is also useful.
Q4: What steps should residents take before getting local authority involved?
We would expect residents to have addressed the matters of concern with the park owner directly or through their residents’ association first. If the informal route does not result in reasonable improvement, I would recommend addressing the concerns to the park owner in writing, requesting a written response by a set date (e.g. two weeks from the date of the letter).
Q5: How many compliance notices to park homes sites has your local authority issued over the course of the last 24 months? If none, why?
None. The matters we have become aware of have been dealt with by site owners without the need for serving compliance notices or prosecuting breaches of them.
Q6 What if a compliance notice is served and the site owner does not agree with it?
The site owner has the right to appeal to the First Tier Tribunal (Property Chamber) within 21 days. Please note that if the works remain outstanding, the local authority will consider proceedings in the Magistrates Court. It is a criminal offence to fail to comply with a valid compliance notice. The mere threat of being issued with a compliance notice is an effective motivator for site owners to comply.
Q7: What financial penalties can be imposed on a site owner, following a successful prosecution for breach of the site licence?
The penalty for a contravention of a site licence is an unlimited fine.
Q8: Are you aware of any site owners having had enforcement action taken against them?
Our neighbouring Council has recently been successful in prosecuting Frankham Real Estates and its director Royston Cooper, for failing to comply with a compliance notice. The notice was served in relation to breaches of the licence conditions at Luckista Grove which left residents with intermittent electricity and water supplies and with a sewage treatment plant that was producing terrible smells in warm weather. The roads on site were also too narrow at points and were pot-holed and un-drained, so were muddy and flooded whenever there was wet weather. Mr Cooper and Frankham Real Estates pleaded guilty at Worthing Magistrates Court on Friday 22 June and were fined a total of £15,000 plus costs and a victim surcharge.
Q9: What do you see as the main barrier(s) to successful enforcement action (if any)?
On some sites there are express clauses in the pitch agreements entitling the site owner to pass on any costs of complying with licence conditions, including legal costs, to residents by way of a variable service charge. Where compliance costs are significant, this could cause hardship to residents e.g. if installing flood prevention measures.
We have found it difficult to prove harassment of residents by site owners. We do not believe that the definition in the legislation affords the level of protection intended by parliament, and have been lobbying for a simplification of the legal definition.
Q10: What could be improved to ensure more effective compliance with licensing condition and/or trading standards for park home sites?
- Amend the Mobile Homes Act 1983 to prevent variable service charges being levied in addition to pitch fees.
- Simplify the definition of “harassment” contained in the Caravan Sites Act 1968.
Q11: Are there further points you wish to highlight from your perspective?
Reasonableness pays dividends. If a park home owner complies in the first place, they will have happy residents who will ensure that the park enjoys a good reputation – which is in the mutual interest of park owner and park residents. If residents have concerns, they are best advised to address them directly with the park owner. Where this fails, the local authority can be called upon to identify whether licencing breaches or health and safety non-compliance need to be corrected. In most instances, this should succeed without the need for actual enforcement action, given that it is usually in the best interest of park owners to avoid it.
The ownership of some sites has been fragmented into freehold, head leases and relatively short duration leasehold interests held by different limited companies. These allow site owners to issue limited duration pitch agreements to residents, with no obligation in law on the owner to extend the term of the lease. It is not always obvious that these pitch agreements only enable people to reside there for a limited duration. Because there is a right to reside indefinitely on sites where there is no ownership fragmentation, many residents have bought mobile homes with limited duration pitch agreements unaware that they will be evicted at the end of this period. The government launched a call for evidence in 2017 on this matter and is due to publish its response shortly. We hope it will include legislative reform to close this loophole.
We would urge any prospective purchaser of a mobile home to engage a solicitor acting exclusively for you in the purchase of your mobile home. Don’t use the site owner’s solicitor. Your solicitor can check that the site has planning permission and a site licence for residential use; that you have the right in perpetuity to station the mobile home on the pitch; to establish what the pitch fee is and if variable service charges can be levied on top. Additionally, it is worth speaking with existing residents about their level of satisfaction with how the site is managed.