Landlords beware tenants' waste operations

Landlords beware tenants' waste operations

The return of preferential creditor status for HMRC

A landowner has been fined and ordered to pay costs as a result of illegal waste operations undertaken by his tenants.


Mr Joyner leased land to two individuals who used it to operate a wood recycling business. Although approximately 10,000 tonnes of wood waste was brought onto the site, none ever left it. The operations were of a scale which required an environmental permit which the tenants did not have.

In early 2016, when one of the directors of the wood recycling business was sent to prison for a separate offence, the business ceased trading and Mr Joyner closed up the gates to the land. Mr Joyner’s enquiries with another wood recycling business informed him that the wood left on site had little or no commercial value and would cost up to £750,000.00 to clear. Mr Joyner took no action to deal with the waste and later in 2016 the wood caught fire. The fire burnt for several days and cost the fire and rescue service more than £28,000.00 to extinguish.

Mr Joyner was prosecuted by the Environment Agency and pleaded guilty to the offence of knowingly permitting the keeping of controlled waste without a permit in a manner likely to cause pollution to the environment or harm to humans.

Mr Joyner was ordered to pay a fine of £3,600, costs of £5,000 and £4,250 to the Devon and Somerset Fire & Rescue Service. The tenant operators of the waste business were convicted at separate hearings and sentenced to a fine and 6 month prison sentence respectively.

On top of the fines faced by Mr Joyner the Environment Agency (“EA”) is also taking action to require the clear up of the waste using powers under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The  EA’s increased powers allow the regulator to serve notice on landowners to require the clean-up of waste when an occupier can’t be found without incurring unreasonable expense.  This may be seen as an attractive ‘easy option’ by the authorities and the regulator.

Practical points

The significant fines and the risk of a criminal record are a warning to landlords about the dangers of granting leases to any tenants conducting waste operations. Mr Joyner was found guilty of knowingly permitting illegal waste operations, even though he did not know that the waste operations themselves were illegal. All that is required to be liable for an offence is to be aware of the waste operations themselves and to take no action to prevent them continuing. 

Before granting a lease to tenants who will undertake any sort of waste management or other regulated waste activities a landlord should:

  • Undertake full due diligence to ensure the tenant is a reputable operator.
  • Request copies of the tenant’s insurance to ensure it is covered for the operations it proposes to operate.
  • Consider obtaining a guarantor or deposit which can cover the landlord’s costs in the event it is exposed to fines or clean-up costs.
  • Regularly inspect the premises and keep up to date on the tenant’s operations. It is important to ensure the lease contains adequate provisions to enable the landlord to access the property to undertake inspections and to request inspection of relevant permits and licences. 
  • Act quickly if it is suspected that the tenant is undertaking any activities which it does not have the appropriate licences or permits to undertake.

Landlords should be wary when considering granting leases to tenants who intend to undertake waste operations and conduct thorough due diligence to protect themselves against liability for fines and clean-up costs.

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