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Commercial landlords beware!

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Commercial Offices

On 24th April 2018 the High Court heard an appeal by way of case stated in the matter of Stone and Salhouse Norwich Ltd. v Environment Agency [2018] EWHC 994 (Admin).

The case was brought after magistrates convicted the landlord and the directors of the business with offences relating to knowingly permitting the storage of waste without authorisation, under the Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2010. The offences came about after the tenant, who had been running a mattress recycling business, received an enforcement notice from the Environment Agency, ceased to trade and abandoned the site leaving 471 tonnes of mattresses in the property. The mattresses remained on site between 24th August 2015, when the business ceased trading, and 8th June 2016.

The Environment Agency was able to argue that during that period the landlord was operating a ‘waste operation’ which required authorisation. The regulations define ‘storage’ as to include storage pending disposal or recovery operations. The landlord had argued that they had not been carrying out a waste operation, the recycling business was not theirs and any attempts by them to engage with the Environment Agency should be regarded as attempts at a clean-up operation, only. They had simply ‘passively suffered’ the mattresses and denied knowingly permitting a continuing waste operation with the ‘consent or connivance’ of its directors, and that they had been unaware of the service of the enforcement notice.

In dismissing the appeal Nicol J held that the magistrates were correct to find there was still a ‘waste operation’ once the tenant had left the site and the landlord had ‘knowingly permitted’ it. It was found that no positive act was required; the landlord had failed to prevent the mattresses from remaining on site. The passive sufferance argument was rejected.

The decision in this case is seen as a tough outcome for commercial landlords who could be at risk of conviction if unauthorised activity takes place on their property. The landlord would need to be in a position to demonstrate they were completely unaware of the activity or that they had taken positive steps to prevent the waste operation from taking place.

As specialist lawyers dealing with environment agency prosecutions we encourage those involved in these types of complex investigations to seek early advice. If you do require assistance in dealing with environmental law matters or have any queries our dedicated team are on hand to assist you. For more information, visit our environmental law page or call 01616 966 229.