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Landlords’ criminal Liability for occupiers’ abandoned waste

Mattress thrown on the street in the garbage. Garbage in the city. Print publication

27/06/2018

Salhouse Norwich Ltd leased a site to a tenant to use for a mattress recycling business. The tenant did not hold a waste exemption or environmental permit for their business operations. The Environmental Agency served an enforcement notice on the tenant in 2015 requiring them to dispose of the mattresses. The tenant ceased trading and abandoned a total of 471 tonnes of mattresses on the premises. The tenant had failed to comply with the notice and, despite Salhouse’s proposal to clear the site, the Environmental Agency charged Salhouse with the offence of knowingly permitting the waste storage without an environmental permit.

A director of Salhouse was also charged separately in his personal capacity, on the basis that the offence was either “attributable” to his neglect or the company acted with his consent.

The Magistrates Court convicted both the director and Salhouse and each received a fine and an obligation to undertake community service.

High Court decision

On appeal, the High Court upheld the Magistrates’ verdict, finding that the company and the director were aware of the presence of the mattresses on the land and had not ensured their removal, and that the continued presence of the mattresses following the occupier’s abandonment constituted a waste storage operation. It was sufficient for the Environmental Agency to prove only that the parties knew that the mattresses were there and that they had omitted to remove them.

WM comment

This ruling imposes an obligation on landowners to take positive steps to swiftly and effectively clean up their property if a former tenant or occupier abandons waste on it. As soon as a landowner is aware of the waste, they must take positive steps to return the property to its previous state or risk criminal liability.

Landowners could proactively work to minimise this by confirming that any tenant or occupier holds all requisite consents for its business and that it is a solvent and reputable company.

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[1] Stone and Salhouse Norwich Ltd v Environment Agency [2018] EQHC 994 (Admin)

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