A tenant eviction specialist has warned that the Government’s proposal to introduce minimum room sizes will not prevent subletting scams which are often the cause of “rabbit hutch rooms”.
Landlord Action founder Paul Shamplina said the proposed new rules will require greater enforcement resources to be effective.
The Government’s consultation paper explores the options for extending the scope of mandatory licensing of HMOs to smaller and medium-sized properties.
Widening the net of properties to which the rules apply and setting a minimum room size of 6.5 square metre (70sqft), aims to make it easier for local authorities to raise standards in properties used as shared homes.
Shamplina welcomed the proposals pointed out that only a small proportion of landlords abuse the system in this way.
“Nevertheless, they are guilty of exploiting the vulnerable whilst profiting from the housing crisis, particularly in the capital. Therefore, anything which helps to eliminate this problem and impose proper sanctions in the case of violation, is a positive step forward.”
However, Shamplina said there are two key hindrances with the proposed new measures; enforcement and sub-letting.
“One of the biggest problems with implementing any new legislation is enforcement. Local councils do not have enough resources as it is, with environmental health officers already responsible for monitoring overcrowding, subletting, poor conditions, and most recently retaliation eviction. There is no room in our sector for rogue landlords, but to tackle the problem properly, legislation needs to be backed up by more boots on the ground,” he said.
Shamplina also said that the leading culprits of setting up uninhabitable rooms are not just rogue landlords, but tenants posing as landlords and subletting properties to unaware sub-tenants.
“Landlord Action has never seen so many subletting cases as it has over the last two years, with an 18% increase. This has been fuelled by sky high rents preventing some tenants from being able to afford even single-unit accommodation, forcing many to resort to bedsits or shared accommodation.”
In a recent North London subletting case handled by Landlord Action, partition walls were erected to create more bedrooms. Most rooms were barely large enough to fit a single mattress in, and the rogue tenant was subletting each “room” for £750 per month.
“Cases like this are not only damaging to the property and financially devastating for landlords, but are also extremely unsafe, creating untold health and safety issues, particularly relating to fire safety and sanitation issues,” said Shamplina, “They should also act as a reminder to landlords of the importance of carrying out thorough tenant referencing checks, as well as regular property inspections.”