Property owner liable to pay council tax after tenant fled
The High Court has ruled that the owner of a property was liable for council tax after the tenant renting it fled suddenly.
At the end of 2016, there was a fire at the premises and it was discovered that it had been used for producing large quantities of cannabis.
The tenant disappeared, having not paid rent. The property was subsequently sold to a new owner Ms Gill, who submitted a planning application for change of use.
On the application she stated that the property had been left empty since the fire, although it was sometimes occupied illegally by travellers and had been subject to vandalism.
The local authority held that she was liable for council tax between March and November 2017 on the basis that there had been nobody resident and therefore she was liable as the owner under the Local Government Finance Act 1992.
Ms Gill submitted that the tenant was still the tenant, and so was liable to pay the council tax.
The case went to the High Court, which ruled in favour of the council. It held that the question was not whether a tenancy agreement had existed or been valid but whether, as a matter of fact, at the relevant time there had been anyone resident at the property.
The evidence was that the property had been empty since the fire; it had suffered break-ins, but nobody had been using it as his sole or main residence. As nobody was resident, Ms Gill, as the owner, was liable to pay council tax.
It was residence, not entitlement to reside, that was the relevant factor. The continued existence of the lease did not help Ms Gill.
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